Onstage, the D’Addario brothers take turns fronting the band on a shared guitar and hopping behind the drums. Here Brian lays into his brother’s ’64 Gibson Melody Maker. “I really want Brian to get one of his own,” says Michael, “so he doesn’t have to use mine live. It’s my guitar, you know?”
Photo by Matt Condon
The record has a unique sonic personality and the production obviously harkens back to the ’70s. How did you go about capturing that vibe in the studio?
Brian: That’s great to hear, because we were really after that. I have to credit the sound to Jonathan Rado’s production skills and the fact that we tracked to tape. Jonathan has a ton of great vintage studio gear, synths, and compressors, but that stuff doesn’t always make the process easy and he was a pro about it. The mixing console we used was really finicky and the tape machine didn’t always work so well. It was a semi-professional machine that used half-inch tape instead of 2-inch tape. The fact that Jonathan got it to sound as clean as it does with the equipment he had is a real testament to his skill as a producer and engineer. Now he has much better gear and I can only imagine what the result would be at this point.
On first listen, Do Hollywood struck me as something an early British Invasion band might have created if they’d somehow been influenced by the prog movement.
Michael: Yeah, that was certainly where we were at mentally at the time, and I still respect and love what we did in that style, but for me it got really easy to write things like that and I’ve decided since that it’s more of a challenge for me to have a little restraint, so that’s where I’m headed at the moment. Then again, if you’re into something, do it! I would never do something that felt unnatural just for the sake of a challenge, but I think the next album is going to be a little less progressive. There will still be that element, but it won’t be every song.
Brian, your songs seem to be the proggier, more complex ones. Do you typically compose your songs on guitar?
Brian: I actually wrote just about all my songs on piano for this record, other than “How Lucky Am I?,” which I wrote on guitar but is ironically actually only piano on the album. Live is a different thing and I have to make up for the instruments that aren’t there, like the synths and the strings, and I use the guitar to do that a lot. It’s exciting and a fun challenge for me to transcribe those arrangements to guitar. A lot of the time I have to use the guitar to fill out the sound live to compensate for not having that big arrangement. The other thing is a lot of the guitar parts on the album aren’t that substantial, like the chorus of “I Wanna Prove to You” has a guitar part that’s just a little single-string melody, which doesn’t service the entire song live.
What guitar gear did you use for Do Hollywood?
Brian: We used all of Rado’s gear in the studio. We didn’t bring any guitar gear of our own. We used Rado’s vintage Fender Telecaster for most of the guitars, and we also used an old Hagstrom 12-string electric a lot. Oh! And there was this weird, cheapo hollowbody from the ’60s that had only a neck pickup—I think it was maybe Japanese—but it has a unique sound that’s somewhere between an acoustic and an electric. We used that a bunch. You can hear it at the end of “A Great Snake.”
Though Do Hollywood isn’t necessarily a guitar-driven album, the instrument is used to add a lot of counterpoint and color. Do you have a specific approach to how you apply that—especially considering how the live show is so guitar-heavy?
Brian: There were times in the demoing process when I tried to use the guitar in a similar way to the guitar parts on certain Beach Boys records, specifically The Beach Boys Today! or Pet Sounds—records in which the guitar parts are very planned out and there isn’t much room for improvisation. I try to use it in the way you’d use orchestrated string instruments, and if I do throw improv parts in, they’re textural and typically just there to add fullness. But the prominent guitar parts are very thought-out and I usually try a few different options before settling on an idea.
Can you point out any examples of improvised textures?
Brian: I think the best one is on “These Words.” In the second verse after the chorus—it’s kind of subtle—but in between the vocals, there’s a Moog synth, and there’s some very clean electric guitar complementing what the Moog plays.
Describe the Melody Maker you both use live.
Brian: Well, that’s Michael’s, and he got it on eBay. I was very skeptical of using eBay to buy instruments ever since Michael bought this tiny Supro guitar. He didn’t know it was tiny until it arrived, and he had already paid $600 for it. I think he could have returned it, but he was all like, “No, it’s great! It’s great.” I think he wanted a new guitar so bad that he just settled for it, and it’s never gotten any use. So I wasn’t very confident in the idea of getting a vintage Melody Maker off of eBay, but it turned out to be a really great decision on his part because it’s a great guitar. Michael wants me to get my own, but it’s hard to bring myself to because this particular one is so wonderful.
Michael: It’s funny, because I bought that Melody Maker not really understanding the sound I was going to get out of it. I didn’t know that much about pickups when I got it, and I didn’t realize that the single-coils that came stock in those guitars have almost a Strat-y sound. I was always on the internet looking for old guitars. I wanted something vintage and I loved the look of it, but I was after more of a beefed-out growl, like what Joan Jett gets out of her Melody Makers—not realizing that her guitars were modified. So I bought the thing with that in mind, and when I got it I was like, “Whoa, that’s not what this guitar is at all.” I was a little unhappy about it at first, but it happened around the same time I started getting into Big Star and I realized that it worked perfectly for what I
was going for at that point. I love it even more than my dad’s ’67 SG, which has always been our measuring stick. We’d always buy new guitars and wind up going back to that SG because it’s such a cool guitar. But this Melody Maker is the one for me—it’s my guitar, you know? I’m pretty possessive of it and it means a lot to me. I actually really want Brian to get one of his own so he doesn’t have to use it live, and I tell him so all the time.
Have you modified the Melody Maker?
Michael: No, that’s how it came to me. The tuners are replacements, and the bridge was changed out for sure because it has the three holes where a Vibrola would have gone. That’s something a lot of people did in the ’70s, because the stock tuners and those Vibrola units were pretty bad at holding tuning.