Interview with Lemon Knife


Your new album Ignite! was created as a commemoration to your wedding anniversary. Being a husband/wife duo, how does the dynamic between you, both personally and musically, contribute to the unique sound and style of Lemon Knife?

Mia: Us being a married couple means that we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and likes and dislikes, and individual personality traits that come into the band on a very intimate level. That makes it a lot more natural to collaborate than it would if we only got together to make music and participate in the band.

John: It’s also very convenient to live with your bandmate and be able to collaborate whenever inspiration strikes!

Your invigorating, unique, and yellow self-styled shows have gained a reputation for being some of the most fun. How do you approach your live performances, and what role does visual aesthetic play in them?

John: Our goal is to bring a lot of energy and keep people’s attention while conveying as much of the scope of our music as possible.  One thing we recently started doing was having the majority of our set (especially when doing a shorter set) be a medley of a bunch of our songs, so we can keep things moving with fewer breaks and also get a wider variety of material into the set.

Mia: Visually, we draw a lot on live performers we admire in a lot of ways. I know I in particular made a lot of discoveries via YouTube and other things on the Internet that allowed easy access to visuals, so from the get-go, I knew what a band I loved did on stage and it often added appeal. And honestly, I got right on board with the neon yellow idea–which really started with John’s suit–because it was a way to subdue stage fright, which I still struggle a lot with. It very much helps with donning a persona. It also makes things a heck of a lot more fun for everyone involved–you can’t take yourself too seriously in a bright yellow swimsuit cover-up…or watching someone in a bright yellow swimsuit cover-up…

Lemon Knife’s lyrics explore diverse themes, from shark attacks to apocalyptic astronomy. How do you approach the lyrical composition process, and what philosophical undertones or narratives drive your songwriting?

John: I write the majority of our lyrics, and I try to write them in a lot of different ways.  Sometimes, I’ll have an idea and start with that before we write any music, where other times we’ll start with an entire song minus lyrics and figure out the lyrics later.  Philosophically songs range from topics that I think would make an interesting story, to things in the world that are bothering me, to zanier themes.  I like making sure there’s some shades of grey in most of the songs though both in terms of morality and in terms of having some level of comedic relief in a lot of the more serious songs, much like the tone of a lot of movies I really like such as Pulp Fiction.

What’s your favorite venue to perform at?

Mia: Our vote goes to Liar’s Club in Chicago for sure! It’s a true rock club and has such a fun and energetic atmosphere to it–we absolutely feel like we fully belong on that stage. The people there are routinely terrific as well!

Do you have a specific process or ritual when creating new music?

John: We try to write in as many different ways as possible, since we come up with different material when we’re jamming together (one of our favorite songs on our first album, Black Site, was written by jamming together off the single-word prompt “Avalanche”), or going off on our own and writing things, or starting from a lyrical idea.  Since we’re just a 2-piece, we also have enough flexibility that we’ll sometimes come up with an entirely new direction for a song in the studio and just pivot to go with it!

Any favorite artists or albums you’re listening to at the moment?

John: We’ve really gotten into King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard recently and we’ve drawn some inspiration from their album release process, where they’re incredibly prolific but each album focuses on a specific style so the individual albums still stand out.

Mia: In terms of very new acts, we’ve also really enjoyed Yard Act–they are truly their own thing and good heavens, are their shows a fun time. 

If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be?

John: On the lyrics side, I would love to collaborate with Warren Zevon – his cynical but empathetic tone I think would be a great fit with me.

Mia: In my eyes, I think it’d be very cool and very inspiring to work with a guitarist on a one-off, and even better if it’s one that sings in a way that neither of us fully capture. Maybe Dave Grohl, or James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers? That’d be interesting.

What do you find is the most satisfying part of being an artist?

Mia: For me it’s just being able to fully jump into the imaginative part of the brain. Picking up some pedal or looking at some weird new instrument and going “what can I do with this?” is among the things I most enjoy in life. It’s a bit childlike, which I would highly encourage more people to embrace!

John: I’m just in it for the fortune and fame.  We’ll let you know when we get either of those!

What is the biggest challenge you find in today’s music industry?

John: I think at this stage our biggest challenge is just getting people to come out to shows, especially as a pair of introverts without a huge social circle to draw on.

Mia: Piggybacking off of that, it’s frustrating just how much of the music industry comes down to who you happen to know. This is a problem in a lot of artistic fields, to be clear. 

What’s upcoming for the project?

John: We have our next release, Earth, coming out on our first wedding anniversary (March 25, 2024).  It’ll be a 6 song EP where we’re returning to more of a focus on distorted, heavy bass songs.  And of course we’re still gigging wherever possible!

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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