Lily & Madeleine
For now they don’t mind the youthful and/or familial focus. In time, the story will fade. That’s because the beautiful melodies of Lily & Madeleine shift the focus away from any gimmick or talking point. So even if you’re introduced to them as teenaged sisters who make music in the heartland, the reality is that the Midwest is buzzing for their incredible talent.
As the latest addition to Asthmatic Kitty, they’re in good hands. And obviously the future is bright for two girls who recently wrote their first songs. Here’s the story behind the music, their childhood and freaking out after meeting their hero, Sufjan.
Stereo Subversion: Indianapolis isn’t exactly a musical hotbed for most, but you guys have really surfaced nicely. It speaks to the music, but just curious if that proves to be difficult, or does that not even factor into where you’ve been able to move toward?
Madeleine Jurkiewicz: You’re right, there isn’t a huge music scene in Indianapolis, so I think we’re really lucky we’ve been able to make it so far. I think that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t met Paul Mahern and Kenny Childers of Bloomington. They are amazingly talented and have been in the business a long time, so they have been really influential for our entire career and we were lucky to have met them so early on.
SSv: What’s the musical upbringing for you two? What sticks with you now that was there then?
Lily Jurkiewicz: Both our parents love music, obviously. Our mom is musical. She still sings all the time. She sang in choirs and she plays piano and guitar. Both our parents played music around the house, so we were just around music all the time when we were younger. I don’t know, this might be weird and kind of cliché, but my life is kind of like a musical at home. We burst into singing all the time, mom and Madeleine and I, so I don’t know, it wasn’t even like a change in our lives, really, to focus on music because it’s always been there.
SSv: But there’s a difference between playfully bursting into song and then going into songwriting and your own craft, so at what point do you turn that page?
Lily: Well, when we met Paul, he had seen one of our cover videos and he thought we would have a good experience trying to write our own songs by ourselves, so he encouraged us to start that. So we wrote a song a day for two weeks during the summer, two summers ago, and that was our first time officially writing songs. But he was really the biggest factor because I had always wanted to do music, but I didn’t think it was possible and never felt official encouragement from anyone, so he was huge.
SSv: So you had never written songs before that?
Madeleine: No. We had never really written together or thought about starting a real career in music until we met Paul. And to be honest, like Lily said, growing up it was just such a big part of our life that it didn’t seem special. It was just like, “This is what we like to do all the time.” So when Paul said, “Hey, why don’t you try doing this for real?” we thought, “Maybe we do have something special here. Maybe we should take a look at this and see what we can do.”
SSv: So, Madeleine, you’re the older sister. Where were you headed before you went in this direction?
Madeleine: I was planning on going to college. Both my parents went to Indiana University, so I just decided to go there too. It’s a lovely school. So that was my plan. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so I thought I’d just go in with an open mind and figure it out as I went, and then all of a sudden our music took off, so now I’m still in college, but I want to do music full-time.
SSv: You mentioned the music taking off. When that first becomes a possibility, when someone like Paul says he thinks you can do this and then you’re actually doing it, and people start to respond, is that a very exciting thing? A fearful thing? Or does it not matter much because you weren’t planning on that happening and are just along for the ride?
Madeleine: It’s all those things. I would say that I have felt all of those emotions since we began. It’s super exciting to get to tour Europe and play for all these new people. That’s super cool, but it’s also kind of scary because we’re still new at it and sometimes I feel like I’m not doing it right. But is there really a right way to do it? I don’t know. And then also, yeah, to a degree I’m just kind of along for the ride. Right now we’re both balancing music and school and just trying to make both work. But overall it’s been really fun and exciting and I want that to continue.
SSv: How hard is that balance for both of you?
Lily: It’s pretty hard. Madeleine just started college so she’s still adjusting to not living at home, and I’m in my junior year of high school. I’m just taking AP classes and the SAT and ACT tests and all that stuff you have to worry about, you know? So it’s been tough and we’ve missed quite a bit of school, but we’re making it work, so it’s all right.
SSv: When you said the music took off, do you remember that moment where it felt like things were starting to gain traction and it was all moving beyond anything you had expected?
Lily: There was one morning where we were sitting at the kitchen counter and we got an email from Paul that said Asthmatic Kitty—Sufjan Stevens’ label—wanted to sign us. We were just shocked and surprised and thinking, “How do they know about us?” We’ve been fans of Sufjan forever, so it was crazy. At that moment I just felt like, even if we weren’t going to be huge, we still did something awesome with one EP, so I was really excited.
SSv: At that point are you hearing the label or even from Sufjan himself?
Madeleine: We have gotten to meet a lot of the awesome and really talented artists on the label and we got to meet Sufjan in early October, which was a dream come true because we have loved him and his music for such a long time, and to be on his label is such a dream. To actually meet him in person was cool; he is such an amazing person. We’re huge fans.
Being on Asthmatic Kitty is awesome, and I would say meeting all these artists and talking to these people in the business is one of the most fun parts, besides writing and performing. Meeting all these people is so awesome because there are a lot of people who are super passionate about music, not just artists, which is cool because I think there is so much more that goes into it than just the writing and performing, so that’s really cool.
SSv: So often what happens with artists who are young or related is that the story becomes more about those things than about the music, and sometimes that becomes a source of tension for them because people are focused on points of the story you wish would just blow over. Have you two found this to be a problem, or have you not had to deal with that too much?
Lily: I would agree that yeah, we’re sisters and we’re young, so it’s like a gimmick. People like family bands. But yeah, it’s mentioned in every interview, but maybe because we’re still just starting out it’s not aggravating. We’re just trying to let people know who we are and how it affects our music. But yeah, I imagine there will be a point where it’s like, “Yep, we’re sisters. Okay, let’s talk about the music now.”
Madeleine: I agree with Lily that it’s mentioned every single time we are mentioned, but I don’t mind it because we just started and I love working with Lily. It’s so easy to work with her and I couldn’t imagine it any other way, but it is nice to know that Lily and I support each other so much that I think if we decided later on we wanted to try and go different directions, we would both be okay with that because we support each other. So right now I kind of love being in a family band and I love working with my sister because it’s fun and we are like BFFs, so it’s super cool that we can both do this together.
SSv: I find it fascinating that you weren’t writing before someone said you could do it and then here you are. Were you surprised by what came out in some of these songs once you put yourselves to that task?
Madeleine: I guess I am kind of surprised. I wrote a little bit when I was younger, like silly songs, but I feel like writing the album and the EP wasn’t super difficult because I just have so much going on in my life right now that there is a lot of inspiration to pull from. Plus Lily and I work really well together. It’s nice to have my sister as my writing partner because we’re on the same page and she always knows what I’m thinking about. And also, working Kenny Childers who is super talented, that was really helpful too.
So I suppose sometimes I’ll try writing and it’s a little difficult, like right now, but I think that’s just because I don’t have my writing partners with me. But I don’t know, I suppose it’s a little surprising that we could come up with an album without having written before, but I feel like once Lily and I start writing together, it just is so natural and easy, and I think that’s because we’re able to bounce ideas off of each other. Sometimes it’s more difficult to write when I’m by myself.
SSv: What was the inspiration behind “Devil We Know?”
Madeleine: That is about letting go and accepting challenges or opportunities. When we wrote it a while back, I want to say last spring maybe, we were just looking back on all the success we’d had and all the opportunities we were given and so we wanted to write about how excited we were to accept these things. And there is a little bit of apprehension behind accepting all of these opportunities because it’s too crazy, like I don’t even know what’s going on. But the song’s about not worrying about that and just taking those opportunities because they only come once in a lifetime, so how could we not take advantage of it?
SSv: Did most of these songs come to you quickly, or did you have to labor over some of these?
Lily: This is the one we labored over the most. We wanted to put out an album in the fall, so we had to write fast so we could record and get all the cover art made and everything, so we were kind of in a time crunch. We were like, “We have to write a song fast! We have to make it good and first album-worthy.” But I don’t know, I feel like some of them were super easy and some were difficult. “Devil You Know” wasn’t so difficult. Once we got going it was fine.
But at the end of the last track on the album, we have like two minutes of silence and then we have this song we recorded and we intended for it to be part of the album, but we wrote it really fast and then when we recorded it it just didn’t sound how we wanted. It just wasn’t ready yet, so we released it unofficially at the end of the last song. That one was probably the hardest. That one was kind of frustrating. It’s a good song and I’m proud of that song, it just didn’t turn out how we wanted.
*Photo by Allister Ann