What’s the story on the blonde Fender Bassman piggyback you guys use live?
Pete Townshend has influenced both Brian and his younger sibling, Michael, shown here giving an exuberant Who-inspired kick while digging into the band’s communal 6-string. Photo by Matt Condon
Brian: That Bassman comes from a friend of our dad’s. He was tired of having it in his house and said we could have it on a permanent loan, so we took it all over America! It’s a great amp. We don’t use any effects live, so it sort of informs how we play and adds some power to our style and changes the choices we would make, I think. For example, when we play the chorus of “These Words,” the part on the record is very atmospheric and has a bunch of delay on it, but live I have to do this kind of smooth, arpeggiated part to make up for it and get the same mood.
How would you guys contrast your personalities as players and songwriters?
Brian: Michael started playing guitar when he was 13, and I started when I was 7. I’ve been through a lot of phases and I’m at a point where I’m a little more excited by instruments I haven’t had around for as long. But Michael has such a love for the guitar right now that there’s a real excitement in the parts he brings to the table, so where I have a lot of knowledge and technique from playing it for so many years, Michael has a lot of exciting ideas that I think only come from being as deep and passionate about the instrument as he is at the moment. So, a lot of the time, we complement each other in that I can execute some of his ideas and he can inspire some of mine with his excitement.
Michael: I don’t know if people realize how good Brian actually is as a guitar player. He’s a whole lot better than me! But we just have a different vibe, and I feel like the things I gravitate toward playing I do better than he does, and he’s got that speed and power from his early influences.At the time we recorded the album, neither of us minded going off on musical tangents and doing things like throwing in time changes whenever we pleased—which is cool and can be interesting—but these days I’m more focused on writing songs that are interesting and unique while staying in the same place, simplifying things a bit without relying on time changes and tangents like that to add interest. I think Brian is still a bit more interested in the progressive style we had been working on when we wrote this last album—which is great, and something I like—but maybe not where I’m presently at so much as a writer. I feel like now I’m trying to prove to myself that I can write a song that doesn’t need too much movement to hook you in and keep your attention—like early Beatles songs do.
So artistically speaking you’re already moving past how you approached Do Hollywood?
Michael: Most of the songs on the record have that thing where they go through lots of different movements and changes—at least my songs do for the most part. Brian actually has “How Lucky Am I?,” which I’d say accomplishes what I’m after now. It’s a beautiful song that doesn’t travel too far from its main point. I guess “As Long As We’re Together” is one of mine on there that doesn’t rely on taking you to a billion different places to do its thing. To me, time changes and jarring movements in songs feel like an easy way to keep someone’s attention and are a little bit distracting.
Do you have any sort of overarching philosophy as a songwriter and composer?
Michael: I think it’s pretty much the same for Brian and me. I just want to write songs that stand on their own. We’re firm believers in the acoustic guitar test: We want our songs to work and come off well without all the bells and whistles—just performed with an acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment, you know? I also try hard to write things that don’t remind me immediately of someone else’s stuff, which isn’t always easy.
How did you two divide up the job of playing bass on the album?
Michael: We pretty much played bass on our own songs. I don’t think there are any that we switched on.
I really love the bass tone on “Baby Baby.” How did you get it?
Michael: That’s a ’60s hollowbody violin bass strung with flatwound strings. It’s an unbranded one, but similar to a Hofner. Half that song is also palm-muted, so it gets that chunk even more than just with the flatwounds. I remember for years not understanding why I couldn’t get that specific tone—even when I muted the strings—and I finally learned that it was the flatwound strings and it makes all the difference. So that bass is on a lot of the record. We also used a huge Silvertone bass with roundwound strings for a lot of really deep tones, and we used a Rickenbacker bass with roundwounds for some deeper sounds. But for most of that “plucky” stuff, it was the violin bass. I’ve also started focusing on my guitar tone a lot more, especially since making the record.
How so? What have you started doing differently?
Michael: Brian used to set up the amp for his sound live and I’d just roll with it. When Brian goes to take a lead, he just flicks the pickup switch and has it set up for his sound, which is usually a little quieter, clean sound. Then he also sets up a really huge lead sound, because he does a lot of big, sustained notes when he solos. For myself, I like a little more restrained sound that’s in the middle most of the time, so I’ve been focusing on getting a nice crunch sound on the cleaner side. I’m trying to tailor our amp settings more to my style when we switch, which I hadn’t done live in the past.
Do you guys ever talk about fronting the band at the same time?
Michael: Yeah, we talk about it all the time and we’d love to do that! We just haven’t found anyone who can pull the drums off the way we do.
The Lemon Twigs give a rousing show at Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, with the D’Addario brothers taking turns on drums and their cherished ’64 Melody Maker.
In this spirited live-in-the studio performance, Brian D’Addario pounds the kit, while brother Michael is out front on guitar. In the background, you can catch glimpses of the band’s ’60s piggyback Fender Bassman. “It informs how we play and adds some power to our style,” says Brian.