Meet the MonaLisa Twins - Discussing Their New Album Play Beatles & More

The multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriters follow up their 2012 all-original When We're Together with a tribute to the music that inspires them.

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Refreshingly retro-oriented, the MonaLisa Twins (actual twin sisters Mona and Lisa Wagner) demonstrate their love for the sounds of the '60s on their new album, MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More. Though only 19 years old, the Austrian-born twins are already veterans of the stage and recording studio. They issued their first album—a family affair—at the tender age of 13, Live In Concert 2007, on which Lisa's guitar and Mona's drums were accompanied by their parents: Rudolph on bass and Michaela on saxophone and percussion. While that album explored music from various eras, Beatles & More collects live and studio recordings of '60s rock and roll standards—including seven Beatles songs.

The song selection was motivated by their fans, many of whom discovered the Twins via their popular YouTube videos, and a desire to access standouts from their energetic live sets in one place. Culled from live and studio performances recorded between 2009 and 2013, Play Beatles & More neatly functions as a "best of" for their longtime followers and also an ideal introduction to newcomers. Lisa and Mona share vocals duties, harmonizing beautifully throughout, and play guitars (Mona drums on the studio takes).

MonaLisa Twins band TMR.jpgTheir approach to interpreting these classic tunes focuses on staying true to the emotional core of the original versions while subtly applying their own style. Highlights include a delicate acoustic rendering of The Beatles' "In My Life" and a lengthy workout on The Doors' "People Are Strange" that allows their band members, Michael Mozeth (bass) and Phillip Wolf (drums), a chance to stretch out.

Recently the Twins have been gigging regularly in Liverpool, a dream come true for these young Beatlemaniacs (they'll be playing the famed Cavern Club in May). In the midst of their busy schedule, I had a chance to catch up with them and learn more about how they've managed to accomplish so much in such a short time.

How did you two wind up in Liverpool? Was this a trip that had been planned in advance?

Lisa: Originally we started off doing a tour of Ireland. We planned to stay there for three weeks, but [publicist] Tim Quinn called and said he had some really cool stuff going on in Liverpool that we could do. So we kind of came here on short notice and cut short the trip to Ireland.

Where have you two been playing?

Lisa: We’ve been on BBC radio, played some gigs at schools. We played at the Empire Theatre. Many things going on at the same time that we didn’t really know were going to happen a few weeks earlier. It all happened really, really fast.

Tell me a little about the creation of your brand new album, MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More.

Mona: We’ve been recording YouTube videos for the last five years or something. We just had a good amount of covers on YouTube. We thought we’d collect them all on one album. Some are proper studio recordings at our studio back home. And some of them are live recordings that were recorded in the last one or two years.

So the album is a compilation from a variety of sources?

Mona: Different years, different locations. Our fans kept asking us where they could purchase all the songs that were on YouTube. And it’s very difficult to put stuff on, for example, iTunes if you don’t have it on an album. So that was one of the reasons we decided to collect them in one place.

MonaLisa Twins concert TMR.jpgTake me back to the beginning—when did you two first start learning music and when did you first begin playing live?

Lisa: We started learning instruments when we were six or seven, when we started school. We really got into it when we were 11 or 12. Our first proper concert, where we played with our whole family, was in 2007. It was kind of like a time travel through the history of music, so we started off in the ‘50s and played songs from each era up to 2007. That was also the time when we discovered that '60s music was what we enjoyed most.

That's cool your parents were so supportive, learning to play so they could accompany you onstage.

Lisa: Yes, we started off as a kind of family band, actually. But that was only for two concerts. We’ve never been onstage together since then. Our dad still plays the bass in studio when we record stuff.

Mona, you play drums on your studio recordings?

Mona: I do, yes. But not live. For live concerts, we always get a good drummer.

You issued an album of entirely original material, When We're Together, in 2012. When did you both become interested in songwriting?

MonaLisa Twins When Were Together TMR.jpgMona: It was 2011 when we started writing our own songs. We concentrated on writing an album. The following year was when we started playing live properly—when we really learned how to be on stage and perform. That was the next two years.

Was there a lot of trial and error when you first started writing original songs, or did you both get the hang of it quickly?

Lisa: We did write a couple of songs quite early on. I thought they were good. There’s even one on our first album [Live In Concert 2007]. When I look at it now I think it’s cute, but I didn’t think it was as good as I always thought it would be.

Mona: When started writing songs, we didn’t really like them. We thought maybe we needed to improve our English, so we went to Australia for six months. And then I think when we came back we started to write lots and lots.

Do you have musical influences outside of '60s? Anyone more contemporary?

Lisa: I would say it is mainly the ‘60s. We also like some artists like John Mayer, The Moons. They don’t really so much influence us as we just like listening to them.

What is it about that era's music that you find so inspiring?

Lisa: I think the variety within that period of time is unique. When you think about the early ‘60s and then the late ‘60s, there’s so much development within that ten years of time. So many things you can draw from.

You both seem very partial to vintage gear as well, is that accurate?

Mona: We use lots of elements. Like our guitars are ‘60s guitars, but we use modern recording techniques. We try to take the best of both worlds and make good recordings with old equipment. We record digitally, but with old instruments.

What are some recent gigs that have been special highlights for you two?

Lisa: We played at the Liverpool Empire Theatre [March 23], quite a crazy day actually. This huge theater and we played there as part of a charity event [Michelle & Friends 25th Anniversary Show] so we just played a couple songs. But it was a great experience to play the Empire Theatre, which is a great building and everyone plays there. Everyone we look up to has played there before.

Mona: One of my favorites was when played at AERA in Austria [September 28, 2013]. It's a concert that we put a lot of videos on YouTube from, also on the album [Play Beatles & More] there are quite a few live recordings from that concert. It was just really nice because it was a big crowd of people that knew our music.

What's up next for you in terms of writing new material? And do you have any interest in trying to sign with a record label eventually?

MonaLisa Twins Beatles cover TMR.jpgLisa: We started working on new songs and we want to record them as soon as possible. After the release of MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More, that’s definitely the plan. I think we’ll start off with a couple of singles before we put out a new album. But that’s definitely something we’re working on.

Mona: We have our own label now, called Woolgoose Records. We just try to stay as independent as possible. We try to find ways to work around the music business as it is today. We have YouTube, the internet—we can do without the record label guys.

Seeing as you play a lot of Beatles songs, what do you two think of Beatles tribute bands?

Lisa: Being in Liverpool, there are lots of those kinds of bands here. I don’t really like that kind of stuff.

Mona: I think it might be fun sometimes to make it like a game, to come as close to [recreating] something as possible. But it’s not something that I would ever consider doing or anything that I think is worthwhile.

So, just for the record, no mop-top wigs or Sgt. Pepper costumes for either of you in the near future?

[Both laugh] No, not at all.

To order MonaLisa Twins Play Beatles & More or their other albums—and to keep up on the MonaLisa Twins' latest performances—visit their official website.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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