MUSIC I Lemonade’s Callan Clendenin: “What would Bobby Brown do?”


Spending four years between albums is can be a death sentence for an up-and-coming band. Since releasing their self-titled debut LP in 2008, Lemonade have spent the last four years mining their influences, listening to audience feedback, and ultimately reinventing their sound. The result? Their upcoming album, Diver to be released on May 29 on True Panther, is a departure from the textured, moody, experimental sound of their first record instead focusing on bright pop songs influenced by Caribbean calypso rhythms and sensual R&B vocals. It has the kind of vibes that you’ll want to add to your collection as we move into the summer months.

Before their upcoming performance opening for Neon Indian at First Ave. on Friday, May 4, I had a chance to talk with Lemonade lead singer Callan Clendenin about the process of making this record, what happens when you lose the keys to your van, and “What would Bobby Brown do?”

So you’re coming back to Minneapolis this week. 

Actually, we’ve never been able to play Minneapolis, so we’re pretty excited. Last time we were supposed to play Minneapolis with Delorean Alex, from our band, lost the keys to the van that we were all supposed to travel to Minneapolis in. So Delorean flew to the show. Once we found the keys we drove straight through but we missed our show. We were really upset. It was really awful. We were in a hotel in Vancouver in a not very fun part of town for like two days just hoping that we could figure out a way to solve our problem. 

That’s par for the course for all of our experiences as a band until now. Now we’re trying to do everything really strict and by the book and professional. Everything now, even with this record, it was a serious attempt at making something that sounded right instead of first impressions scattered about over a period of a couple days of recording. We would spend two days on each song, which is something we’ve never done before. 

Your new album Diver sounds much more focused and very mid-90’s R&B influenced. Also you released a cover of Shai’s song “The Place Where You Belong”. What prompted the switch from the experimental sound you had before? 

I just had to be real with the kind of melodies that I like to hear. I’ve never thought about this before now but our music was very impressionistic. I didn’t write lyrics until a couple days before we went to record, I would just be singing different stuff every night. It would be close to the same but not really the same. It was all about energy. I was never really thinking about being a vocalist until it occurred to me that everyone wanted me to be a vocalist and I was kind of blowing it. The last few years I’ve listened to so much experimental, noise, and electronic music so the only music that I would listen to with vocals was R&B. I’m allowing myself to be nostalgic with the R&B vocals that I really connected with when I was young. That’s the only singing that really connected with me. That’s how the melodies came out, it wasn’t intentional, but once I saw it coming out I went with it more and more.

The Shai cover just because it was in my range. I’d been singing along to it and I was hanging out with our bassist Ben (Steidel) since our other band member Alex (Pasternak) was out of town. And I was just like, let’s not write any Lemonade material, and just cover this Shai song. So we went in with our friends who recorded this album (Diver). That ended up being a test to see how it was going to work with them. We think it came out really well. So we decided to give these songs a very similar production treatment.

It’s been essentially four years since you released an LP.

That EP (Pure Moods) was a lot of material we wrote shortly after we released the LP (Lemonade). For the EP we wrote all of that Caribbean sounding stuff. Then we moved to New York and recorded it so that took another year. Our time cycle has always been lagging.  Which is crazy because our primary influences are electronic music and they don’t have that time cycle. If they had that time cycle they would cooked. You have a three-month window where your sound is really futuristic until every producer is making it.

What is it about your music or situation that allows you to have that prolonged cycle?

I think the reason that we get to do that now is because I wrote a bunch of love songs. There are different qualities to a direct emotional approach. I actually feel that way about electronic music when it actually does something emotional for me -which does happen. It’s a more personalized approach to crafting songs and that is what this record is. I see it as a pop record of songs rather than anything dance oriented.

The new album sounds more accessible. It seems like crowds that are hearing you for the first-time as an opener will be able to relate to this music more quickly. 

I know exactly what you’re talking about. There is this song that we wrote in Brazil. When we were in Brazil it occurred to me that our moody, spooky stuff wasn’t really vibing with Brazilian audiences because they like when you’re smiling and happy. That’s why we were brought down there because Pure Moods was a Caribbean happy record. While we were there we wrote some really happy music and everyone that would come by the house we were staying at would tell us how much they loved it. We got the feeling that it was something we were going to have to go with. It took us all a long time to accept the fact that people liked that sound, and now we’ve come around to loving it ourselves.

How have crowds been reacting to the new songs?

I’d say really well. Neon Indian has a good audience—a real solid positive audience. There aren’t any haters in the crowd. The set it starts out darker and gradually opens up to being brighter; people seem to really open up to it and by the end they seem enthusiastic. It’s felt good. Support tours are brutal so I’m glad that this one feels less brutal.

This tour has actually been like a crazy vacation. We’ve been out for over a week, like twelve days, and we’ve only played 5 shows. We DJ’ed a party at Coachella at the Ace Hotel. We played a house party on the coast between Santa Barbara and Malibu at this big beautiful surfer ranch house. It was really awesome. It has been kind of a California adventure.

I read that the three of you met at a casting call for Kids Incorporated. That can’t be true, is it?

[Laughing] Did we say that? That’s not true, but I always do that. I always tell people that Alex and I were child actors together. But the truth is that we were child actors we just didn’t go for it. Sometimes I just tell people that I had my own Disney show that was cancelled after the pilot aired and got bad reviews. No we actually all met from meeting in hardcore punk bands.

Who are some of your influences for this record?

With my lyrics and my melodies I would ask: “What would Bobby Brown do?” “What would Sade do?” What would PM Dawn do?” Those were all people I listened to a ton when I was young. It was something about the tones of the synthesizers and the vibes we were creating had a sort of moment when a lot of R&B was making tight, electronic pop music with a lot of sensual tones. I like things that are smooth. That was a big influence on this album; I just had to be able to get there.

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.