Room 51 @ THE NICE ROOMS presents
"MONALISA TWINS: The Orange Interview"
Date of Article: 17th November 2017
© All Photos courtesy of MonaLisa Twins
Please click on each photograph in the article for a higher resolution image.
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The Nice Rooms is delighted to present an interview with MonaLisa Twins.
23 year-old twins Mona and Lisa Wagner front the band and, together, are one of the very few modern groups who continue the tradition of song-writing that took off in 1963.
MonaLisa Twins write modern songs in the 60s' Beat music tradition, reviving the genre with a fresh twist without sounding pop-ish or trivial. Their signature features are their close harmonies and their wiry, bright guitar sound. The mix of humour and depth in their music resonates with a wide range of international audiences.
Mona and Lisa's father is a musician/song-writer and, during the '80s and '90s, ran a recording studio producing renowned (inter)national artists. Both their father and their step-mother have concentrated on the Twins’ music and over the years have built up a full-time family business.
How It All Began
Edited from the original video MonaLisa Twins' Interview (2016)
(Edit Run Time: 58 seconds)
Mona and Lisa, welcome to The Nice Rooms.
You're currently based in the UK. I have to ask you 'Why the UK' ? and how popular are you in your home country of Austria ?
Lisa: This might sound funny but despite being born and raised in Austria our music never seemed to fit very well with the culture there. Ever since the very start, when we first began putting videos on YouTube, the majority of comments came from people in the US and other English speaking countries.
Mona: Looking back it makes a lot of sense: The music history in Austria is primarily classical and traditional. The Austrian media is also notorious for sabotaging their own music scene. As much as we love many aspects of our home country - for us it was the right decision to move to the UK. After all, it’s where our favourite music came from.
MonaLisa Twins' Discography
MonaLisa And Band Live In Concert (Released 2007)
2007 – at the age of 13 – the MonaLisa Twins played their first big live concert. Together with their parents they performed 24 cover songs from all kinds of musical genres and different eras.
"We'd had music lessons for a couple of years before but it wasn’t until that one performance that we decided to make music more than just another hobby. The concert was held in a small hall, and we played the show two times with each about 70 people attending." (MonaLisa Twins)
CD 1 Tracks
01 Knocking on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan)
02 Wonderful Tonight (Eric Clapton)
03 Der Kommissar (Falco)
04 Back To Life (Soul II Soul)
05 Tears In Heaven (Eric Clapton)
06 One (U2)
07 Stand By Me (Ben E. King/4 the Cause)
08 Aufsteh’n (Get up) (Seeed)
09 I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (Sandy Thom)
10 Goodbye My Lover (James Blunt)
CD 2 Tracks
11 Twist & Shout (Bert Russel)
12 All My Lovin’ (The Beatles)
13 House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)
14 Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan)
15 Michelle (The Beatles)
16 Love Is All Around (The Troggs)
17 I Will (The Beatles)
18 Proud Mary (CCR)
19 Samba Pa Ti (Carlos Santana)
20 Wild World (Cat Stevens/Yusuf Ilsam)
21 Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers)
22 Smoke On The Water (Deep Purple)
23 Alone (MonaLisa original)
24 Baby Blue (Bob Dylan/Falco)
"Knocking On Heaven's Door"
From the Album: MonaLisa Band Live In Concert (2007)
(Run time: 3mins 15 secs)
California Dreaming EP (Released 2009)
The EP was recorded by the MonaLisa Twins (aged 14 in 2009) to coincide with their holiday in the USA
" We put all our effort and time into making these tracks as good as we possibly could. It was quite challenging to cover such classic pieces of music history that everybody loves. We knew people would hate to see us mess around with these songs and not catching the original feeling. All of them are kind of hymns for a whole generation..." (MonaLisa Twins)
"Hotel California" (The Eagles' Cover)
From the EP California Dreaming (2009)
(Run time: 6 mins 31 secs)
When We're Together (Released 2012)
This album - recorded when they were both just 16 - is MonaLisa Twins' debut self-penned album of original songs showcasing the finest Rock ‘n’ Roll and Beat music, skillfully intertwined with Psychedelic, Folk and Latin genres of music. The album was inspired by the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel.
"It sure wasn’t easy at first. We played around with different chord progressions and harmonies, spent lots of time writing lyrics and arranging instruments until we, at last, came up with 11 new songs we were really pleased with." (MonaLisa Twins)
01 When We’re Together
"When We're Together"
Title Track from MonaLisa Twins' first self penned album of original material (2012)
(Run time 2 mins 27 secs)
MonaLisa Twins play Beatles & more (Released 2014)
"Over the last years we have built up quite a stack of YouTube videos, as well as a big live repertoire of cover songs that we perform regularly. We recorded some of them as studio versions where we were able to play more than one guitar each, sing multiple harmonies and on which Mona plays drums and percussion and Dad does the bass. For our live shows, however, we play in the classical 60s band setting with 2 guitars, drums and bass and 2 – 3 voices, sometimes joined by the Ukulele (Lisa) and the blues harp (Mona)." (MonaLisa Twins)
"God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys' Cover)
From the Album: MonaLisa Twins play Beatles & More (2014)
(Run time: 2 mins 50 secs)
Shortly following the release of MonaLisa Twins play Beatles & more you had a two year residency at The Cavern Club in Liverpool (August 2014 -October 2016) Do you have any standout memories of playing your very first gig at The Cavern ?
Mona: Walking down those iconic cellar steps, realizing we really are going to play THE Cavern Club for the first time was a 'somebody-pinch-me' moment for sure. Like for so many Beatles and 60s' fans, for us The Cavern was a bit of a holy grail of rock’n’roll music, and to stand on that stage the first time was unreal. The 99 gigs that followed in the two years after were a blast to say the least.
Lisa: Looking back on it now, it’s funny to think how nervous we were for that first show when later we’d grew so comfortable with that tight little stage. It became our weekend playground that we really grew and developed on. We had whole crowds sing our songs back to us, we had people cry with joy and shake with excitement. Every weekend the audience and atmosphere was different, and no two shows ever felt the same.
Bringing MonaLisa Twins' discography bang up to date: Orange was released on 29th September 2017 in both CD and Vinyl formats.
While listening to and playing all different kinds of music genres in our youth, we stayed with the 60s song-writing, something we think is way too much neglected these days. We wanted to write and play music that had the magic and the same impact on people that those classic tracks had on us.
I'm sure you've both been asked this many times before but for the benefit of readers of The Nice Rooms...Why "Orange" ?
Lisa: The idea came to us after watching the Stanley Kubrick movie “A Clockwork Orange”. We were curious about the title’s origins and a quick google search revealed that it used to be an old London saying. The title refers to a person who "has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or the Almighty State." So basically Orange stands for the living organism, juice and spirit, while clockwork represents the mechanic, controlling and static. We believe the world could do with a lot more Orange and a lot less Clockwork. When we make music or in fact when we do anything in life, we always try to awake a certain feeling of ‘being alive’ and taking fate into one's own hands, while not taking life all too seriously. Also, if you mix our hair colors together it makes orange, which we thought was rather cool, too.
Mona: On the colour wheel orange is also the opposite of blue. We’d rather make people feel orange!
Orange' is a breath of fresh air in the relentless sludge of today's pop music
Orange is your second self-penned album of original material...How easy or difficult was the process of putting it all together ?
Mona: 5 years had passed between the two originals albums that we released, and we have to say that writing the songs only took a fraction of that. Most of the years went into live-playing, moving to England and building up an online business. As for the songs, we had so many ideas bottled up inside that the writing of ORANGE felt relatively easy. We took a lot of time fine-tuning, arranging and recording the songs. Since we kept the arrangements of our debut album relatively simple on purpose, we never felt too worried that the second one won’t hold up to our debut album.
Lisa: In fact, we personally think we topped our first record, but of course, we were hoping that our fans would think that too. We wrote the first album when we were only 16 years old and are now 23, which is a time where lots of personal and musical development happens, so we weren’t sure how our “growing-up” would be received by our fans. To our delight, they seem to love it. Some of them admitted they have been a bit tense about what we would come up with, and they were quite relieved to not get a total replica of the first album nor a completely different kind of music. So, we’re already buzzing to write the next one and surprise them again!
..ORANGE" gives a more mature, sometimes satirical, yet overall still light-hearted approach to topics we all deal with. Love, community, doubt, the past and future, and the generally unsettling direction society seems to be taking. While staying true to quirky, melodic 60s song-writing, plenty of harmonies and twangy guitar licks, this album branches out into more psychedelic but also earthy, bluesy, even jazzy tones for a very experimental, tongue-in-cheek side of the MonaLisa Twins.
You collaborated with John Sebastian (Founder of The Loving Spoonful) on the album. That must have been a great experience..
Lisa: Working and being around John was a joy. We got a huge amount of work done, but he was always laid back and smiling and there wasn’t a dull moment! A true professional at what he does on top of that, and he was on board with all our crazy ideas (like filming in an empty restaurant in the middle of the night)! Between filming or recording sessions he would tell us stories like tie-dying Pete Townshend's white suit together with Keith Moon, followed by him casually talking about a cute dog he’d seen that morning. A genuine, down-to-earth legend!
Mona: Between “work” we were jamming on our guitars, and John was showing us some tricks and techniques when suddenly he would get up and grab our dad’s double bass. He would start playing and singing this really laid back, old blues song that sent shivers down our spine. We didn’t even know he could play stand-up bass but there he was. He just has this comprehensive feel for music, especially the blues, and it doesn’t matter what instrument, he can make it speak. Make it expressive. It was a magical moment and I don’t think either of us will ever forget it.
"Waiting For The Waiter"
MonaLisa Twins featuring John Sebastian on Blues Harp
This is the first single taken from the album "Orange"
(Run time 5 mins 52 secs)
I always ask this when artists release material on vinyl so I'm going to ask it here too...
...Why Vinyl ?
Lisa: We are very excited about the comeback of vinyl, and it was a no brainer for us to release the new album as an LP as well. There is something about having the big artwork to look at and the physical aspect of the needle running in the groove that gives putting on a vinyl record an almost ceremonial feel. It’s satisfying being able to “touch the music” and collecting your favourite records.
Mona: We also decided to make the vinyl disc orange-white coloured, so no two copies would look the same. The way the colour blends on each pressing is random, and we love getting photos of people showing off their unique discs. Just like with the music we love to take the groovy things of the past and bring them into the modern day and age.
ORANGE – I adore this record. Totally sublime. Top-notch electric guitar; fierce sounding chops and solos. Terrific songs – “Club 27” is a monster example of modern pop/rock. “Still A Friend Of Mine” gets to the heart and plays emotional havoc – beautifully constructed. The whole album is brilliantly constructed. There are five or six potential top ten hits on this brilliant album.
You've played many gigs all over the UK, Europe, America and Australia and have toured with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. Have you any funny stories from touring that you can share ?
Lisa: We had many moments that were Spinal Tap worthy. One that comes to mind was when the whole band got trapped in a dressing room. We were getting ready for a show and were about to go on stage when the door handle broke off and we were stuck. It was such a bizarre and funny moment and I’ll never forget the look on the face of a journalist who was there with us: Staring in disbelief, door handle in his hands. That’s when we heard a distant “Please welcome to the stage … The MonaLisa Twins!”. And that’s when they heard a distant “HEEELP!”
Mona: We also used to have dance competitions in the wings between sets. Who could come up with the worst dance moves to the theatre background music? We built up quite a repertoire! Touring with people who share your sense of humour makes the whole experience so much better, and those long car rides go by a whole lot quicker.
If you were to ask MonaLisa Twins what they are most proud of, their answer would be that they have done things their own way rather than sacrificing their creative freedom for any short term success.
Their collaborative hard work under the guidance of their expert team has paid off.
Every video they have released, every song they have written and every album they have put out on their own label is testament to the success of their musical ethos and vision.
Although never ones to shun any outside help, it's clear that the MonaLisa Twins' musical journey has not only embraced DIY but taken it to a whole new level as well.
MonaLisa Twins continue to produce high class quality music that people want to listen to.
The future is very bright indeed..
MonaLisa Twins Information:
Upcoming Live Event:
15th December 2017
In concert with and supporting Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
The Avenue, Chesterfield
1 Beetwell St, Chesterfield, Derbyshire, S40 1SH, UK
"Peel back the cover and savour every musical segment of this technicoloured Tour de Force" (TNR)