The Lemon Twigs’ Brian and Michael D’Addario say the idea for their ambitious new “Go to School” (4AD) album — musical, really — arrived naturally.
Yes, it is an epic tale about an outsider named Shane who goes to school and struggles to fit in, dealing with bullying as well as the usual teenage angst. Along the way, Shane sets his school on fire, which kills 100 students, and then he tries to find redemption and peace. Oh, and yes, Shane is a chimpanzee, whose parents are played on the album by Todd Rundgren and the D’Addarios’ real-life mom, Susan Hall.
“We were just following what the songs were putting forth,” Brian D’Addario says with a smile, as he leans forward on a couch in his record label’s lounge in Manhattan. “We were just writing songs with no context.”
His younger brother Michael D’Addario says school imagery was on his mind because at the time he was going to Hicksville High School for nearly 12 hours every weekday so that he could graduate a year early. “It was like I was consumed by those images,” says Michael, now 19, of songs like “Queen of My School” and “The Bully.” “They all seeped into the music and then we wanted to sew them together and have a thread of truth and meaning attached.”
For his part, Brian was writing songs with more universal themes. “ ‘If You Give Enough’ and ‘Home of a Heart’ and ‘Small Victories’ kind of shaped the morals of the record,” says Brian, 21. “Then, Michael wrote ‘This Is My Tree.’ We thought maybe we could tie these ideas together with the vehicle of a chimpanzee character. He could be this pure character who was in touch with his intuition and in touch with his soul, the reason being he didn’t have the things that humans had, where they have to analyze and break everything down to find what’s wrong with life, and they don’t really follow their instincts.”
Once they settled on that idea to connect what they had been working on, the D’Addarios realized they wanted “Go to School” to be a musical, like the ones they were part of growing up. As kids, they both did musicals at The Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset before graduating to bigger shows. Brian was on Broadway in “Les Miserables” and “The Little Mermaid,” while Michael was in the Broadway revival of “All My Sons,” with John Lithgow and Katie Holmes, and Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia: Part 2 — Shipwreck.”
“We love musicals,” says Michael, picking up a pillow off the couch and hugging it close to him. “We always have since we were kids. We’ve always been in musicals . . . And we felt like we had the energy at that age to take on something like that — to do a musical and do it in our basement and get all the string players over, something ambitious like that. And we had the time.”
They wrote, recorded and produced all of “Go to School” themselves at home in Hicksville, a completely different process from their well-received 2016 debut “Do Hollywood,” which made the Lemon Twigs one of indie rock’s rising stars.
Because they were able to work at home rather than an expensive studio, the D’Addarios were able to experiment with the songs, trying multiple takes that artistically referenced everyone from the Beach Boys to Alex Chilton and everything from glam rock to Broadway ballads.
“We toyed with the idea of adding narrations in between and that would’ve made it more of a concept record,” says Brian, adding that narration could have made the storyline clearer. But they decided to let the music speak for itself, adding, “It felt more like a soundtrack to a musical when we finished it.”
The D’Addarios said they would love to see “Go to School” performed as a full-fledged musical. “It really should be seen,” says Michael. “We both really like a play called ‘Assassins,’ where Lee Harvey Oswald is the narrator and everybody’s conscience. We’d need a narrator like that. That would be the only way a lot of these songs could be performed because they’re very much narration.”
The Lemon Twigs say they have already been approached about getting “Go to School” produced as a musical. However, that’s far down the line.
Their current focus is performing songs from “Go to School” on their upcoming tour opening for Arctic Monkeys, which starts in London on Thursday, Sept. 6, and on their own headlining tour.
“We’ve been playing a suite of selections from the album,” Michael says. “We start with older songs and end with older songs and the entire middle is the album.”
Brian hopes that the band will get to perform “Go to School” in its entirety at some point, bringing in a string section to handle some of the ornate instrumentation.
However, he also hopes that listeners will see the simplicity of the songs. “I just want them to hear it, and feel love and beautiful things inside,” he says. “I want people to recognize love as something they can experience all the time and that they can be the source of rather than other people. I’ve had really intense, beautiful experiences that have involved music and my hope is that other people can have that when they listen to our music. They don’t have to look at the story consciously. I just want them to listen to it and feel it.”