Jack Shepherd*

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Lime Cordiale: The Path Less Traveled

Oli and Louis are easy to love and hard to define. The shaggy-haired genre-blenders are in a purple patch thanks to their penchant for extraordinarily tender love songs you can dance to.

Lime Cordiale rolled into public consciousness more like fog rather than fire. Unsuspecting and then all-encompassing, the Leimbach brothers spent much of the early noughties playing pubs and house parties along Sydney’s Northern Beaches, stopping only to rehearse in their parent’s garage and fend off death threats from the neighbours: “You may not see Christmas” read one note left in the letterbox.

A potent blend of reggae and surf-rock – but with enough Jewish clarinet solos to halt any genre-based profiling – Oli and Louis are easy to love and hard to define. Shaggy-haired environmentalists with a penchant for extraordinarily tender love songs you can dance to, Lime Cordiale are breaking moulds that haven’t even been built yet.

Imagine then, the double-blinks which ensued when the duo dominated this year’s public-voted triple j Hottest 100 after years of dismissal from the youth broadcaster. Lime Cordiale took out four placings in the top 40 and were the number one most-voted Australian artist. For a band who only had occasional plays on triple j 14 months before that – and whose three of seven Gold-certified songs never received triple j play outside one spin – Lime Cordiale’s is an intriguing story.

Now with more than 1.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify, global streams over 100 million, a sophomore album that hit #1 on the ARIA chart, and a professional partnership with Post Malone, Lime Cordiale are in a well-earned purple patch.

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Oli Leimbach at home, strumming in the sun. (Photo by Jack Shepherd)

It’s early afternoon when the pair greet me at their home. Oli looks freshly showered, his long hair slicked back and damp. Time-honoured greetings aren’t allowed amid the COVID-19 pandemic but the brothers somehow make the absence of handshakes and hugs comfortable as they offer vegan treats and make tea and introductions to their housemates. With Louis in brown corduroys, and Oli in jeans and a short t-shirt, the pair look every bit a matched set, like two Seventies musos who could have just raided Sonny Bono’s closet. 

The house is an imposing structure. Nestled deep at the end of a cul-de-sac, the helipad, its runway, the pool, and its view across the National Park and the Tasman Sea suggest a level of opulence. But the house is rented, and the brothers and their eight housemates have turned the helipad into a veggie patch where they grow kale, zucchini, lettuce, and herbs. One housemate is tending to the vegetables and gives me a wave, his palm black with dirt.

The pair have converted the previous homeowner’s helicopter hangar into a studio and we’re now seated on furniture placed on what used to be the helicopter dolly – a rolling plate used to usher it to and from the helipad. The brick walls are covered in artwork by friends like Joe Brown, son of famed actor Bryan Brown, and from Louis himself. Louis graduated Sydney College of Fine Art after high school, and after meeting linocut artist Bruce Goold, developed a passion for the medium. It’s on display on almost every single piece of Lime Cordiale artwork, including the cover for new album 14 Steps To A Better You.

There’s a photograph of industry magnate Michael Chugg on the wall. Chugg heads up their management and label firm Chugg Music. Oli recounts their first ever meeting with him (after he attended their sold out show at The Metro). Chuggy said something along the lines of, “I love you boys and I really want to make it big with you guys.”

“It was a real cliché,” Oli laughs fondly.

 I ask what they imagine he’s thinking as he watches over them through the photo. Louis chuckles, “Get back to work! … And cut your hair!”

While both brothers carry an affable whistle-while-you-work demeanor, Louis lets Oli do most of the talking. Sitting back on the studio’s couch, it doesn’t feel as though he wishes he could inject himself into the conversation more; he’s happy to give Oli the floor and pipes up when he feels he can add value. I tell them what I’m thinking, that Louis must be the quiet one, an introvert perhaps.

“Oli’s probably the talker, which I’m pretty sweet with,” he smiles. “He’s an extrovert.”

Head along to a Lime Cordiale concert however and you’ll meet Louis The Extrovert. Between the harmonised vocals, equal parts gritty and soothing, Louis can regularly be found climbing the venue’s rafters; a young Michael Hutchence circa 1987.

Oli remembers Louis being more like this as a kid, the cheeky type with a bright and loud spirit. “School crushed him and made him quiet and shy,” he says pointedly, smoothing his hair over the top of his head. “They’re constantly telling you to shut up, be quiet, and sit down. You sort of figure you’ve done something wrong.” Oli stops to chuckle to himself, as if he’s looking a memory in the face. “He was like, a hell menace little kid.”

Lime Cordiale should be slumped over in melancholy right now. The pair were in America when COVID-19 started, shutting down borders and sending countries into lockdown. They had been touring the US with Tones And I and at this very moment were scheduled to be laying low with Post Malone at his home in Utah. The plan was for them to spend time in his studio collaborating on the follow-up to Post Malone’s global number one album Hollywood’s Bleeding. They had rented a car and were all set to leave just as the call came from back home.

“Chuggy and our family were telling us to come home since the rules were getting stricter,” says Oli. “Our insurance wasn’t going to cover us, and we didn’t want to get stuck in a hotel in Utah.

“The next day when we were at the airport, they announced a full lock in for LA,” he adds. “I don’t know if we would’ve really got out there in the end anyway.”

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Oli and Louis at their home studio. (Photo by Jack Shepherd)

On May 5th 2019, Post Malone was performing at Brisbane Entertainment Centre, his second show at the arena venue after the first sold out six months beforehand. Backstage his manager Dre London, a British expat who has been managing him since he was 18, was entertaining a host of Instagram influencers at his self-dubbed London Lounge. It’s a clever invention; invite a few of the internet’s local glitterati to a money-can’t-buy experience, offer them a buffet of drinks and canapes and encourage them to use their phones. The result: hundreds of photos and videos promoting the tour and Post Malone, fed directly to the eyeballs of millions.

Dre London seems like a guy who’s always “on”. Even as he’s partying backstage, he’s doing field research. At this particular gig he asked one of his female trysts who her favourite Australian artist was. She said two words that changed many lives forever: Lime Cordiale. 

After playing the band’s music all night, even Post Malone was requesting it be played again, and again, and again. Oli and the band’s manager Andrew Stone woke up to a stream of Instagram DMs from Dre London.

“The thing with guys like that is they might be excited for a minute, but they’ll move on to the next thing in 24 hours’ time,” says Stone, who helped launch Chugg Music in 2012. “We were like, ‘You’re coming to Sydney. Let’s have lunch today’.”

Dre London brought no less than two security guards to Sydney’s Altitude restaurant at the top of Shangri-La Hotel. Oli, Louis and Andrew joined them for a three-course champagne lunch and went straight to Qudos Bank Arena to meet Post Malone, play beer pong, drink Bud Lite and play Lime Cordiale’s discography over, and over, and over again.

Post Malone was riding a peak in his career at the time. Having sold out the majority of his 106-date world tour, his global success was at an all-time high. Yet, here he was asking Oli and Louis to break down their music and certain parts he liked most; he asked questions like, “What did you guys do with this song?”

“We took the band with us to the next couple of shows and he had a band set-up in the room so we could jam,” says Oli. “But we just watched him and his producer, he was super chill. I didn’t realise he was a bit of a nerd inside.”

The charm of Lime Cordiale is intoxicating. Dre London himself, a master communicator, can’t even put it into words. “Ever since we first met Lime Cordiale backstage at Posty’s show we knew there was something special about them,” he says. “It’s hard to explain, you just have this feeling in your gut.”

Asked if a Post Malone/Lime Cordiale collab is on the cards London says coyly: “Yes of course it just has to be the right organic song, like everything we do.”

Oli and Louis just aren’t the type to let schmoozing and honeyed praise affect their personalities. As their father Bill would later tell me in his American-Australian accent, wearing a Lime Cordiale merch hat: “They’re not starfuckers, it has to be the right path for them.” They’ve also been burned by the stinging limelight before; once when Capitol Records courted them all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles.

“We got to the top of the building in LA and played acoustic music for them,” remembers Oli. “They were like, ‘We’re going to make you big’. We got back to Australia and nothing happened. They just love taking you to dinner and spoiling you and just talking. It’s an American thing, but then we found out Dre was English.” 

Dre London was little talk and much action. He ditched Post Malone’s Auckland show and headed to Kingscliff near Byron Bay to catch Lime Cordiale perform live – his security guard in tow, of course. He watched on as 1,200 people sang every word. “After that, it was done,” says Andrew Stone.

In September 2019 it was announced that Post Malone, Dre London, and Chugg had partnered to form management company London Cowboys. Their first signing for America? Lime Cordiale.

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Lime Cordiale have converted an old helicopter hangar into a home studio. (Photo by Jack Shepherd)

While other successful Australian bands were lauded by triple j and the local festival circuit, Lime Cordiale were forced to take a different way forward.

“There’s this other theory around building bands live which is: the EP comes out, then in three months’ time we’re going to do a tour,” explains Andrew Stone. “Then we’re going to release something else, and then in three months’ time we’re going to do another tour.”

For Lime Cordiale, an initial snub from radio meant an initial snub from music festivals.

In the uncertain climate of the festival industry (even pre-COVID-19) promoters don’t like to take risks on artists who don’t get national airplay. Lime Cordiale had to change tact completely because the live music template wasn’t created with them in mind. Pre-pandemic, there wasn’t a week going by when Lime Cordiale weren’t on the road. The non-stop approach was working and as Lime Cordiale’s shows gained traction locally, other countries began to notice. 

After playing sold-out dates through the US – and after their planned visit to Post Malone’s studio –  the duo were set to tour again. The plan was to take in Europe another time, then it was back to the US for a support tour with Milky Chance. They’re now being asked to headline the festivals that gave them the cold shoulder just two years prior. 

They’ve quit their day jobs too. Oli is no longer a part-time music teacher and Louis is no longer laying bricks and cutting down dead trees – a role he says wasn’t exactly the safest job in the world: “There’s a lot of people getting their hands cut off, getting sucked into machines, ropes wrapped around peoples’ necks.”

I don’t think you could align two people more suited to the experience of well-earned ubiquity. Lime Cordiale launched their own music festival, The Squeeze Fest, in early 2018 to combat the festival snubs and to help other artists in the same position. “We knew a bunch of bands that also weren’t getting booked on festivals so decided we’ll make our own,” says Louis.

“If someone is not going to help you out or support you, you have to do it yourself,” adds Oli.

“If someone is not going to help you out or support you, you have to do it yourself.”

Now one of the most in-demand live acts to tour the local circuit, Lime Cordiale also owe their ascendency to a prolific writing and recording work ethic. For each of the band’s past two records, the pair had around 50 demos ready for the picking. Choosing 12-14 tracks from 50 demos means you essentially have 12-14 singles on a record. They write without boundaries, taking ideas from every genre and collaborating with writers whose past work is far removed from their own – e.g. rapper, producer and songwriter Maejor (Justin Bieber, Wiz Khalifa, will.i.am). They’re the kind of artists who use a long-haul flight to share ideas and workshop tracks, and when they get home it’s straight to the studio to experiment.

“We decided we can just make music that we like, and that our friends like. We don’t need to make it into a specific genre or make it radio friendly,” says Oli.

Take their new song “Dear London” for example. Leaning into their own originality, the track splinters with longing, narrating a landscape that only the heartbroken have ever seen. Through wistful vocals, choral backing, and a halo of muted clarinet and trumpets the track tells Louis’ story of the time he stayed with his model ex-girlfriend for a month in London.

“I rode a bike around for the month ‘cause she was really busy,” Louis smiles and looks down. “She kind of met someone else there at the same time which ended the relationship. He was another singer in a band.”

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Two of Oli’s favourite touring guitars. The 50s Harmony guitar on the right once belonged to US producer Gus Seyffert (Beck, Dr Dog). (Photo by Jack Shepherd)

The musical partnership of Oli and Louis Leimbach dates back to before they could even spell the word instrument. Born in the mid-Eighties just two years apart, the brothers were always going to lean towards creative sectors. Their father Bill is a filmmaker and his teachings can be seen all over the band’s LimeTV sketch comedy clips on YouTube. Meanwhile Karen is a classically trained musician with years spent in bands, then as a composer, conductor, and teacher.

“She’d have a picture with all the instruments on the wall and she’d ask, ‘Which one do you want to play’,” remembers Oli, who majored in clarinet at Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

Karen, who chats to me over Zoom a few days after I visit Oli and Louis, says Oli originally wanted to learn saxophone. “I said if you learn the clarinet you can play both anyway.”

“We decided we can just make music that we like, and that our friends like. We don’t need to make it into a specific genre or make it radio friendly.” 

Bill and Karen raised the boys on tiny Scotland Island in the Northern Beaches, population: 579. The pair took a boat over to the mainland to school and enjoyed the nickname their island home prompted: The S.I.K Kids (Scotland Island Kids). There must be something in the water over that end of Sydney. Ocean Alley and Flume both come from the Northern Beaches, and it was where the band scored their first big break.

The brothers won a local band contest in 2009, and as luck would have it, Icehouse frontman Iva Davies was a judge. Bill had a beer with him afterwards which sparked his five-year run as the band’s manager. “I said, why don’t you record them?” Bill, chatting over Zoom, wears his hair long-ish too and smooths it over the top of his head. I now see where Oli picked up the characteristic gesture.

Lime Cordiale signed to Iva Davies’ label and recorded their first three tracks at his Trackdown Studio, with Davies taking not only production reins but control over the band’s future releases.

“[The contract] said we have an “option” to do however many albums for them, but we didn’t know what the word “option” meant in a contract,” admits Oli. “It meant they have options but we don’t.”

Bill and Karen bailed their sons out of the contract. They paid $10,000 and were forced to mortgage the house to do it. Lime Cordiale paid them back this year though; with cash. “It was like, here you go, a big wad of cash,” Louis laughs. “It was a good feeling.”

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The most used room at the Leimbach house, the studio. (Photo by Jack Shepherd)

Arriving at the moment when much of the world was still isolating indoors, when live shows were far from returning to a normal consistency and capacity, Lime Cordiale’s second record was built up from home-studio sessions and writing spells at their parents’ place. 14 Steps To A Better You is an album about finding your way. Its moral compass points toward integrity, independence, humility; and acts as a reference point for anyone who stiffens at 12-step programs.

“We definitely try to steer people away from these toxic programs or feeling the pressure, like you have to get married and have kids,” says Oli.

“Marriage is great if it’s right,” Louis interjects, perhaps thinking about his girlfriend. “But it’s about the race to be married. I think a lot of people do it because nothing else going on is exciting, and they feel they need to do something.”

Oli and Louis brought in touring members James Jennings (drums), Felix Bornholdt (keyboard) and Nick Polovineo (trombone, guitar) for the recording, as well as longtime producer Dave Hammer. The group holed up on the family farm of Golden Globe-nominated actor Bryan Brown, a family friend of the Leimbach brothers. For two weeks they worked from twin studios, they surfed most mornings, and welcomed the lack of cellphone reception.

From the unexpected vocal distortion on “Elephant In The Room” (which features strings from their mum Karen), to the punchy surf-pop of “On Our Own”, this is an album which arrives in the midst of a global crisis yet the reprieve it brings feels like it was made just for it. Perhaps the best example of Lime Cordiale’s current ethos is on track five, “Addicted To The Sunshine”.

As the band’s first offering of a political viewpoint you’d be forgiven for thinking it was merely a break from just that. With a chiming guitar line and Beatles-esque sophistication, the music masks cutting commentary on our reckless attitude towards the environment. It doesn’t exclude those looking to dance along, but it hints at deeper things to come.

“It’s pretty hard writing an environmental song in a band,” says Oli, meditatively. “You almost don’t want to talk about it in the press releases, otherwise you’ll have haters. Maybe we’ll be an environmental band. We’re not a band that follows a lot of things in the world but tries to leave a trademark, a positive note.

“What’s the point of being around if you don’t plan on doing anything good?”

Lime Cordiale’s 14 Steps To A Better You was released in July, with the pair recently being nominated for eight honours at the 2020 ARIA Awards.