When life gives you ‘Lemons,’ start a rock band


Photo Courtesy of Chris Kramer

The Lemons, a Logan Square-based bubblegum-pop band, was voted “Best New Band” in The Chicago Reader’s annual “Best of Chicago” reader’s poll this past summer.

By Assistant Arts & Culture

With a name like The Lemons, it may be hard to believe that the Logan Square-based group can make sweet music. Playing bubblegum-pop songs reminiscent of the 1960’s, the band creates a unique sound. Formed in the summer of 2012 in bandmember John Lemon’s living room as a hobby, the band has quickly evolved into an up-and-coming staple in Chicago’s thriving music scene.

While some bands take themselves more seriously than others, The Lemons are handling their new-found popularity with ease. The Lemon’s self-described “sticky songs” genre of music puts a silly spin on the band’s approach to music. The band keeps its tunes short and sweet, never exceding two minutes. Lemon pun-inspired stage names such as Chris Twist, Kelly Lemone, Juicy James and Kimmy Slice reflect the group’s good-natured humor in a nutshell.

The Chronicle spoke with the guitarist of The Lemons, Chris Kramer—also known as Chris Twist—about the band.

THE CHRONICLE: How did the band get its name?

CHRIS KRAMER: We like bands that have foods in their names, so we wanted to be a food-named band as well. Lemons are nice because they’re full of Vitamin C and they give you energy and not scurvy.

How did the band evolve from playing in your living room to what it is today?

I lived in the same building as [guitarist] John Lemon. He has been living in that building for about eight years, and I’ve been there about two years. The apartment right below him opened and he let me know about it because I was looking for a new place to live. So I moved in underneath him and I brought some musical equipment with me, and he just started coming down and we played songs together. We started writing jingles about things in the neighborhood—just little businesses. We see places like the Viking’s Tea Shop and the New Wave Café, so we wrote songs about those [places]. He had songs he had written and wanted to record, so I helped him finish and record those , and they were pretty good. We came up with the band name, and that’s when we got Kelly and James and Esther to be in the band with us.

Your Facebook lists the Looney Tunes as an influence. How has the cartoon influenced the band?

I think one of my earliest exposures to music was through watching “Bugs Bunny” cartoons. Those cartoons are great because early on, they’d just be shorts before a film and they’d just use classical music and do cool animations to classical music. Just thinking about the pairing of sophisticated music with really enjoyable visuals. I think that’s something, maybe not to the same extent, but we try to combine easy carefree things with good music.

How is being in The Lemons different from other bands?

I think The Lemons is just like a family now, you know? We did a bunch of touring this summer and we spent way too much time together. Now we just all really love each other. 

Why did you decide to release your debut album Hello, We’re the Lemons on cassette tape?

Tapes are really cheap to make. You could hand-dub them or you could pay someone at a factory to do it for $150 and you get 50 tapes back. It’s hard to say no to that—that’s just economics right there— and tapes are just really popular right now for people who like rock ‘n’ roll music. Most of us in the band don’t listen to CDs ever, and vinyl records are too expensive to make. Also, we all drive cruddy old cars that still have tape players in them.

Why do you keep your songs so short? Is this a conscious decision?

We could have more verses in there, but the songs are just all about the melody, and the melody comes across in one verse and one chorus. Then you repeat it again because, you know, people won’t stand for a 15-second song. So then you have a 45-second song by the time you’re done. When you go see a concert, most bands are pretty serious about what they’re doing, but we just want to have a good time on stage, and hopefully people have a good time in the audience. So making fun of ourselves [is] a good way to spend a half hour.