When the mop-haired sons of friends blossom into musical adolescents and form a band, you wish them luck, expecting them to go the way of most other teenage boys with testosterone-fuelled aspirations to musical immortality: straight into obscurity.
Over the next decade, you watch a few of their clips and see growing evidence of talent but, sadly, that is no guarantee of anything. Next thing you know, they’ve invited you to a gig, not in someone’s backyard, but at a fairly big venue, the bar of Wollongong Uni, and you go along, just to be supportive.
Backstage before the show, Oliver and Louis Leimbach, founders of indie pop duo Lime Cordiale, have perfect manners. They are middle-class white boys from Sydney's northern beaches and too smart to pretend otherwise.
They introduce their girlfriends ( an events organiser and a model training to be a primary school teacher ) and talk about the great surf they fitted in on the way to the gig. They laugh at your jokes.
Later, when they step onto the stage, you are completely unprepared for the high-octane, euphoric, animal reaction from the all-gender capacity crowd: their fans seem to want to simultaneously kiss and devour them.
Louis (left) Leimbach and Oliver Leimbach of the Sydney indie pop band Lime Cordiale. Credit:James Brickwood
In the days that follow, you find yourself shuffling through their albums and their hooky, breezy songs will take up permanent residence in your brain - especially Robbery (11 million plays on Spotify and seventh in the 2019 Triple J Hottest 100) and Inappropriate Behaviour (13th in that chart). Altogether they received four rankings in the annual listener-voted countdown which placed them in equal second with G Flip, behind Billie Eilish.
At 28, younger brother Louis (vocals) has the kind of androgynous magnetic stage presence that reminds you of Michael Hutchence; Oliver (Oli), his equally charismatic 30-year-old brother on lead guitar, has a touch of the Paul McCartneys. The audience knows the words to every song as if they were classics rather than one-season hits. Somehow, the rug rats you knew have become that most elusive phenomenon: genuine pop stars.
It took 11 years, which adds a sweet note of vindication to their Triple J chart positions. For almost a decade, the station refused to play their music. It was a serious roadblock. But the band persisted, developing a growing following for their pub gigs and tongue-in-cheek, off-beat videos.
"We said yes to everything," says Oli. "We did fiftieths [birthdays]."
A long way to the top: the brothers in 2014.
True millennials, they are vegetarian and preoccupied with offsetting their rebooted post-pandemic Australian and European tour, teaming up with renewables organisation FEAT to invest in a range of clean energy solutions. They’ve partnered with Made in Hemp to produce an exclusive T-shirt for sale at their gigs.
But being ethical does not mean they lack the post-performance adrenalin to party hard. Growing up listening to Kings of Leon, the Strokes and the Kooks and hanging out at music festivals at Bellingen and Woodford ensured "we believed in the rock star lifestyle," says Oli.
Oli (left) and Louis Leimbach: quoting and living by their mum's advice.
‘Yeah, but after six shows, sometimes I’d just like to go straight to bed,’ says Louis, laying his tousled head on the table. There is nothing mannered about him, but on stage, he adopts a strangely rounded, almost foreign accent and often rolls his eyes upwards, as if he’s either having an ecstatic vision or about to pass out.
The video for On Our Own, the first single from their new album, 14 Steps To a Better You, shows the band uncharacteristically suited up and observing social distancing. The pandemic scuppered their touring plans and forced them to rush back from LA and turn down a tempting invitation from rapper Post Malone, who signed them to his new label, London Cowboys, last year.
"We were meant to be staying with him at his mansion in Utah, maybe even be on his album. We missed out on seeing his fully stocked bunker," says Oli, who does most of the talking. "It was our biggest opportunity, but Chuggy (their manager and concert promoter Michael Chugg) told us to come home and then Mum told us to come back."
Our message has evolved: try to do something good, don’t waste space.Oli Leimbach
Not many bands not only quote but follow their mother’s advice. The duo are unembarrassed about how close they are to their parents. Perhaps because they come from a free-range, bohemian home, living first on Scotland Island and then on the Bilgola Plateau, they’ve apparently had little to rebel against and they display no anti-boomer condescension.
Asked to bring a change of clothes to the Spectrum shoot, they arrived with armfuls of shirts on coathangers and an iron, Oli ironing his trousers on a desk while our photographer set up.
Oli (left) and Louis Leimbach of Lime Cordiale
Karen Leimbach, their British-born mother, is a classically trained musician who plays the cello and directs three string orchestras on Sydney’s northern beaches. Oli had dreams of being an actor but was too impatient with all the waiting around so instead, studied clarinet at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Sneaking brass solos into their music gives the band a dimension beyond its easy grooves, flavoured with ska, funk and occasional reggae rhythms and enhanced by the jazz credentials of the other three members (James Jennings on drums, Felix Bornholdt on keyboard and Nick Polovineo on trombone and guitar).
Lime Cordiale’s distinctive sound is catchy and commercial, upbeat and well written with a psychedelic shimmer and a retro edge. Their songwriting is increasingly sophisticated, their lyrics and arrangements sharper and more mature, more ironic than earnest, more astringent, less sweet.
Louis Leimbach also produces distinctive lino cuts for Lime Cordiale's marketing.
After studying fine art at UNSW, Louis’ talents extend to designing their posters, T shirt and album covers in a series of distinctive lino cuts.
Thanks to their father, film producer and director Bill Leimbach, being US-born, Oli and Louis have American passports, which would make any future move there easy, but when it came to the pandemic, they preferred not to take their chances.
Young musicians: Louis (left) and Oli Leimbach.
Together with six others, they share a sprawling eccentric rented home in Elanora Heights, surrounded by rural properties with stables and golf courses. Theirs, however, boasts the unique distinction of a helicopter hangar, which has been converted into a home recording studio, as well as a helipad, swimming pool and overgrown tennis court to which they have added a newly built chicken coop and impressive vegie patch. It’s vintage domestic/surf grunge.
"Louis is a good cook," says Oli, cutting up slices of papaya and putting out nibbles for morning tea when I visit.
Lockdown has proved an unexpected bonus; they are ahead on their next album. "We are never bored," says Louis, adding almost wistfully, "I’d like to try it some day" while staring dreamily into the distance. "But we find it easy to get distracted here, so we often go away when it comes to writing, though it’s hard to explain why to our girlfriends."
Oli Leimbach studied clarinet at the Sydney Conservatorium.
Their favourite place to write and record is a farm near Macksville belonging to Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown, family friends since they were children. Oli dated actor Matilda Brown for a couple of years and Lime Cordiale played at her wedding last November.
‘We love the farm because there is no studio clock running, and because we can record and distort sounds from birds to frogs. But we also like writing in LA because they take your work seriously, like you have a real job.
"The vibe is infectious: it feels like anyone can blow up to be the next big thing. The hum you get from everybody’s productivity is helpful, especially when you are holed up in a crappy apartment."
The hum you get from everybody’s productivity is helpful, especially when you are holed up in a crappy apartment.Oli Leimbach on writing in LA
The brothers generally write in separate rooms "and then we come together to critique and compare. That’s as competitive as it gets," says Oli, who admits to being older-brother-bossy at times. "But we still go on holiday together," Louis adds gently.
They have no intention of going the fractious way of other brother bands such as Oasis. The ironic title of their new album, released this week internationally, suggests a playful awareness of the traps and pitfalls of positive psychology and personal development.
"It’s hard to be good, hard to offset your carbon footprint and be fun," Oli says. "We are all hypocritical, but we are trying to leave a smaller footprint doing what we love. We don’t want to be prescriptive, we are not fans of someone like [motivational speaker] Anthony Robbins — he’s too aggressive." He admits to meditating intermittently and to a faddish interest in trying things such as Wim Hof’s Iceman challenge (he lasted two weeks).
"Distance helps us feel more Australian and allows us to reflect on our country," says Louis. "We wrote Following Fools after reading an article by Tim Winton on toxic masculinity. We thought about how it applied in the surfing world. It can be so spiritual and relaxing but we also see so much anger and aggression and gross remarks; it can get ugly."
"There are messages deep in our songs, not upfront; we are not interested in just being political," says Oli. "We want to keep it summery," he says referring to their song Addicted to the Sunshine, which makes oblique reference to environmental issues and has a Beach Boys vibe. On Instagram, they encouraged their 106,000 followers to read Bruce Pascoe’s book on Indigenous agriculture Dark Emu.
Ecstatic fans at a Lime Cordiale concert.Credit:Scott Boucher
"We are aware that we are mostly playing to people who are younger than us," Oli says. "They are malleable and look up to us, so we try to make them realise you have to take responsibility for everything you do. Our message has evolved: try to do something good, don’t waste space, you don’t have to get a job to impress people."
Like their music, their relationship with their fans is wholesome rather than edgy. "It’s not about groupies in the old rock’n'roll sense," says Oli. "It’s about selfies and merch. It would be different if we went to clubs, but we are careful after a gig: we don’t go for a drink next door, we wind down somewhere else. Our girlfriends understand that connecting with our audiences is part of the job, but those relationships are deep, they are not threatened by any of it."
The release of the album comes with toe in the water to live performances; the 14 live shows announced for Darlinghurst's Oxford Art Factory this month sold out immediately (two shows a night, 70 socially distanced fans at each).
Money interests them "only to buy more tools, and to be able to pay people well" which means doing commercial gigs, such as a lucrative live-streamed show to launch a new range of Doritos flavours.
"We do very little branded content. In that case we just ignored the instructions to mention the product in between songs," says Oli. "We turn down lots of things, like being asked to play for the troops in Afghanistan. You can’t sing a song like Addicted to the Sunshine and do a gig for a coal mining or logging company." They speak fondly of lean touring budget days when they had to share a bed, like they used to on family camping trips.
They’ve watched other bands achieve fame too fast and burn out, and mention the unfairness of Indigenous bands who deserve far more recognition than they get. If it all goes pear-shaped, they have no plan B. Travel restrictions permitting, next year they’ll be playing arenas and stadiums around the world, exporting their sunny Aussie pop to a world thirsty for an uplifting cocktail. Just remember, I saw them before they were famous.
14 Steps to a Better You is out now.
Australian tour dates upcoming, depending on travel restrictions.