NB: A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the duo Lily & Madeleine for I AM THAT GIRL. The interview went up and can be found here. However, I thought it would be fun to publish the stripped down Q&A version that I did with the sisters. As all writers know editing is essential, so sadly a lot of really cool and interesting stuff had to be put away until another time when it was needed. That time, I feel, is now. I hope you enjoyed this stripped down version of my chat with Lily and Madeleine: two of the coolest girls I’ve ever met.
Could you tell me a bit about your new album ‘Fumes’?
Madeleine: We wrote it the way we wrote the last album. We wrote it pretty quickly, and with the same process really; it’s just the product is different than last time. It’s a little darker; you could say more involved. We put some more elements in there; we wanted to experiment more this time around.
Lily: In my mind I wanted to experiment all along but we never really had the time because we had to record. We wanted to put out something really fast with the first album and with the EP, so with ‘Fumes’ we got to kind of take our time. And I think in the future if we make another album I want to take even more time. Just because things change so much in the studio.
M: Yeah definitely. I don’t think we have never not been genuine, and we have never cheated ourselves or cheated other people. But the products that we’ve put out, like the previous EP and album, we did so quickly, I feel like they weren’t exactly what we wanted.
L: But it wasn’t a full representation.
M: It wasn’t a full representation.
L: But I’m still proud of it.
M: I’m still totally proud of it but it just wasn’t a full representation. So ‘Fumes’ is like a step closer to representing who we really are but….
L: But again… I don’t think ‘Fumes’ is even a completely full representation of us.
When I was listening to ‘Fumes’, the theme of running and movement was quite prominent, and I wondered if that was a deliberate strategy on your part or if it was more of a subconscious thing?
L: That was so unintentional, at least in my mind.
L: Someone mentioned it either on Twitter or in an interview recently, and I was like “Oh yeah”. I guess we do use the word ‘running’ in like pretty much every song but I didn’t realise it at all at the time.
M: It makes perfect sense as a theme of the album too. I mean we’re in the boat moving on the cover; ‘Fumes’ meaning like fuel for movement. It all makes sense thematically, but we didn’t intentionally do that.
L: No, but now it makes perfect sense.
M: Now it makes so much sense in that there’s a lot of movement in our lives right now. So I think that maybe we were just subconsciously thinking about it and it just came out.
As a listener your songs are quite vague in terms of who or what they are about, and I wondered if that again is deliberate or if it’s just the nature of being a band rather than being a solo artist like Taylor Swift who leaves clues throughout her music about who or what the song is about? For instance the title track ‘Fumes’, I think I read in an interview, where you said it actually isn’t autobiographical but about a friend.
L: Yeah, that depends.
M: When I first got the idea it was totally about a friend. So I would definitely say that we try to be more vague about things, and I think that it’s really neat the way that Taylor Swift is able to do that. It’s like a really special tool but I think it’s cooler, not that she’s not cool.
L: But it’s cooler for us.
M: It feels better for us to make things more vague so that people can add their own interpretations, and not that we’re against naming names or being super specific, we just don’t have that urge.
Do you think it happens because you’re in a band so you can never be super specific because you are sharing the music and the stories?
M: Yeah, that’s true too because sometimes Lily will bring me some lyrics and I will totally assume it’s about one thing that she’s doing, and the she’s like “That’s funny because I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote it.” It’s just better to keep it more neutral I guess because then it applies to both of us.
With the songs, are they completely collaborative, or are some songs more Madeleine or more Lily?
L: Some of them I consider, “Oh that’s Madeleine’s song because she started it.”
M: But everything really is very collaborative, everything it totally split but like Lily said if she starts a song, starts the writing process of this song with like a verse or a refrain, then from that point I think of it as her song, even though I’ve contributed a bridge or another counter melody or something, I will still consider it to be Lily’s original idea. But everything is very collaborative.
I understand from Facebook that there was an incident where people said you should smile more in your photos, which is something that really pisses me off when I’m told to do that in my life. Could you talk about this?
M: Thanks for that question.
L: The other night in Hamburg I was sick, I had no voice, I couldn’t sing and there would have just been no point because it sounded atrocious. But when we got off stage and we went to the merch table to sell merch and say hi to people like normal, and this old man…Maybe it was the language barrier but he literally said “Keep smiling, it looks better.” And I was like dude, no! You’ve just ruined this night for me.
But why is it men?
L: We live in a man’s world right?
M: Yeah, we do. I think that it has to do with kind of a control thing and perception thing because women are like walking dolls.
M: And are definitely seen in that way a lot of the time, and guys don’t understand that, for example, I can be pissed off on a regular basis or like super depressed or something. Or I could be super, super happy but I’m just not smiling in that moment, which is no big deal, so I don’t get why it’s like such a big deal and I personally don’t think it is.
L: I know some of it is like family saying, “Are you okay?” or “You don’t look happy.”
M: That’s different but equally annoying.
M: I know that no one is trying to insult us but it’s just that thing where, and I’ll give an example. We put up all of our European dates on this photo on Facebook. The photo was of us we had taken in Paris last time we there. It was a badass photo; we were wearing like little make up; down by the Seine; natural hair and it was just really fun. It was a great day and I love that photo. And people were like, “What’s with the lipstick?”
L: And “Can’t wait till you grow the muscles to smile” was one particular comment.
M: Really? I didn’t see that!
L: I deleted it because I was like, not on my photo!
M: It’s like why don’t you comment on “Yeah awesome new tour dates”, or like “That’s so cool you guys are going to London” but no.
M: I just feel like…
L: I feel like I could go on and on and on about this
M: Same. I could definitely go on and on about this.
Which leads on to my other question really nicely. You’ve talked a lot about how you’ve been given this image of being very sweet and innocent. I was wondering if you could elaborate on this very one dimensional and narrow view some people have of you?
L: It’s like you are either wispy and basically invisible or you are a massive bitch. You can’t win.
M: There’s no in-between.
L: I actually I feel like I’ve come out of that mindset where I felt trapped for a while. I felt like we had to be sweet, innocent etc.
M: I don’t think I felt trapped but Lily was like having a hard time with the image thing for a while.
L: But I had a conversation with my friend about like ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and it just made me feel so much better. I can do whatever I want, and I feel like we are lucky to be surrounded by people who want to put the music first and who want us to be comfortable and happy and excited about everything that we’re doing. And even then sometimes we get like little remarks, like “I can’t believe you have your middle finger up in that photo” and it’s like well.
M: The make up is another thing too. On that same photo of us in Paris I was wearing lipstick.
L: But nothing else.
M: And this guy. This grouchy old man from Indiana…
L: Commented on my personal Facebook wall!
M: Lily’s personal Facebook wall, saying…
L: “I don’t like it when they wear make up.” He didn’t address me, like he didn’t address the fact it was on my wall because it was a friend’s post that he commented on but that showed up on my wall. You know Facebook, technicalities, whatever. Anyway, he didn’t address the fact it was my personal wall, and he was like “I don’t like when they wear make up. It looks like something sinister is going to happen and it makes me feel like this is fake, and the music industry is fake…”
M: And, I was like dude, something sinister IS about to happen. I’m going to kick your ass!
L: Oh man, so many stories coming out right now about rude men.
M: It’s like so you want me to look pretty.
L: But only so pretty.
M: Only certain pretty.
L: But I think the best way to counteract that is to just do whatever you want.
M: Oh yeah! And not listen to that. And even take it to the extreme. If someone says I don’t like it that you where make up then wear more make up. Just do whatever you want.
L: Whatever the fuck you want.
You both seem really supportive and protective of one another, which I thought was really nice and refreshing because there’s a lot of competitiveness in the industry, and in life in general. From an outside perspective I don’t know if this competitiveness is actually between female musicians themselves or whether it’s just how the media is framing it. Have you encountered this at all?
M: Yeah we have a little bit. Not between us because we are so close….
L: Shall we say?
M: We’re like a package deal, and everybody just accepts it. Lily & Madeleine, no one is better than the other. We’re just awesome as a duo, and I think that’s super cool. We will always support each other no matter what we do in the future. Like if I go off and sing opera, and Lily wants to be in a punk band like in two years or something, we will totally support each other. But there is this weird competition between other female acts. When we were in Stockholm last time in August we had a brief interview with, an old white man, and he took some photos of us afterwards and he was like “Pose, pose, pose; you’re cooler than ‘First Aid Kit’; you’re cooler than them”. And we were like “What?”
L&M: Can’t we just be the same? Can’t we just all be cool? It doesn’t make any sense.
One of my favourite songs on the new album is ‘Lips and Hips’ and I wondered if you could tell me what it’s about?
L: Well, it was about a friend of mine, well two friends of mine but then we changed the lyrics so it only fit with one story, but originally it was about two friends of mine; my friendship with one friend and then my other friend’s relationship with her boyfriend. So we had pretty much finished the song and then I found out a couple of weeks later that my boyfriend cheated on me, and I was like “What?” because I wrote the song completely without, like any context to that and then it fit perfectly with my story. That’s what I was going to tell Madeleine. Because I just realised that just now while we’ve been talking. That’s so weird. I basically wanted to give that message of a bad relationship but I didn’t want to do too specific to any one particular situation.
I understand that Madeleine went to College briefly and Lily is doing online classes. From an interview I read you both were saying how you felt you were missing out on the conventional teenager experiences of going off to College etc but at the same time, I think Madeleine said, that you didn’t know if you necessarily wanted to have those “typical” experiences.
M: No, and I realise that so much more now. I was talking to my boyfriend through text just today on our way here, about when I was in College for just a semester and at the time I was like “This right, this is what I’m supposed to be doing” because everyone goes to College and this is right. But then at the same time I was still also dabbling in music with Lily and we were trying to get this career going because we were having fun with it and things were going well, and so I didn’t want to give up on that but at the same time I thought “I should be in College, right…?” So I was trying to do both and it just didn’t work, and now when I go visit my friends at College and I go visit my boyfriend at College, and I go to the cafeteria and I look at the dorms, I just think to myself, I never really belonged here anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with that lifestyle because College is awesome and it’s supposedly the best years of your life, which I don’t believe but College just wasn’t for me and I totally know that now, and I don’t think that College is the only way.
L: It’s weird because you feel like you do want it [certain conventional things]. You don’t feel like you are being forced to do it. You feel like this is just what I want to do but it actually isn’t, and for me, I also I’ve also had this change where I just feel like super into the music and I’m not even a little bit invested in what’s going on like with my peers I guess. And I don’t feel bad about it.
M: Like what?
L: I used to feel like I wanted to keep in contact with my friends, know how their parties are, and what they’re thinking about for College. And now I’m just like, whatever. They’ll figure it; I’ll figure it out; we’re all just hanging out.
M: I’ve also learned not to compare to other people so much.
L: Me too.
M: I’ve learned to not compare myself to people so much especially other artists too because I felt like once I got out of the mindset of “Okay, College maybe isn’t for me I’m going to focus on music” I was then like, “Oh crap! Now I’ve gotta catch up. I’m not as good as ‘First Aid Kit!’”
So, have you both made peace with that decision that College and School maybe aren’t for you at this specific moment in time?
L: Oh yeah.
M: Totally. I might never go back, or I could, next year.
L: For me, I spent a very big amount of money on some online classes that I’m not doing so I need to either to pay my parents back, or I need to finish them and have a terrible year and be split between School and the music. I think I’m going to pay them back because I want to make another album, and I want to tour, and I don’t want to think about School because it’s just not interesting to me. I love learning but I’m not even learning online.
Madeleine, can you talk a bit more about what said about college being the best years of your life but you not necessarily agreeing with that view?
M: Well, when I went to College for that brief time I went to a very large University in Southern Indiana; really, really huge; lots of fraternities and sororities, which I’m not into. It’s cool for some people. Like it can be an amazing outlet for lots of people but just not me. It’s not for me. And so, I just felt totally lost, and I was also a little bit invigorated because there were so many opportunities where I could get into so many different things but then I never got around to it because I was always trying to do music too. And so I just felt like I was wasting my time and I feel like it can be that way for a lot of people. When I went I had no idea what I wanted to study, so I took French and Anthropology, and English. I actually didn’t study music at all, which surprises people
L: You don’t need to study it you’re already doing it.
M: Also the thing about this school that I went to, it has an incredible world-renowned music school so there were all these kids in the school who were like total snobs. Who just thought they were the shit, and thought what they were doing was the only way to do music, and I kept my mouth shut but at the time I was like, maybe they are right and maybe I’m doing it wrong and maybe I need to go to school. And everyone was like, “Why aren’t you in the school of music?” and I was like, “Because… I don’t know. I’m doing it myself a different way.” It just didn’t make sense to me and so now I know that College is a great time for so many people and people love it and make life long friends from it, but it just wasn’t for me at the time.
L: I also think I chose the wrong school for me too because it was way too big and way too “College” like for me. I just felt like there was just too much ‘youth’! Just too much youth; too much partying. It just wasn’t for me.
On the new album, what is your favourite lyric, song or verse? And what you’re most proud of with ‘Fumes’?
M: Can I say, after ranting about my College experience, ‘Can’t Admit It’, is just about that experience. I wrote it while I was on campus. It’s about my time at College, and my relationship with myself, which sounds so cliché. But my relationship with my current self and thinking about my future self and thinking about how I’d made the wrong choice to come to College but I did it because everyone else was doing it and so I was supposed to be here and I couldn’t really admit that maybe I was wrong. I’m proud of that song. I think the production is really awesome and just as a song it’s super cool, and also means a lot to me.
L: ‘Can’t Admit It’ is also my favourite one to sing because I don’t play guitar or piano and that’s one of the only songs that I don’t do anything but sing and so that’s a new performance thing to me. It’s fun.
What do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
M: I hope that they can interpret the songs however they want; that they can let the songs fit their lives, and I hope that they kind of get more of a feel for our personalities through our lyrics and through the new sounds on the album with the new instruments and production that we experimented with.
L: My egocentric answer to that question would be I want more people to like it so the next album is well received I guess.
M: I think that’s totally valid.
L: I want our appearance and our personalities in the public eye to develop through our music but also I think, what’s most important is, I want people to relate to the songs and to get something for themselves out of the music.
I personally liked it because it explored the darker elements of your personalities as well as the darker elements of humanity, and the music spoke about things that people don’t tend to speak about, which is the one of main reasons why listen to music because it makes allows me to feel less alone, and it’s comforting to know someone else is going through similar experiences and emotions as you are.
M: Exactly! And I was going to say, why does someone listen to music but to explore feelings and to kind of like get something out of the lyrics that apply to them and their own life, so that’s all I want to do with my music. To let people enjoy it and learn something about themselves, and about us.
Can you give me an insight into the future and your next album?
L: I don’t know about you, but I am exploding with ideas right now. I’m sitting in the car and my heart is racing because I need to write a song at that moment.
M: I think about it occasionally but I don’t feel like I’m exploding.
L: I just have so much energy.
M: I’m just really excited for the future. We don’t have anything written down at the moment.
L: Me neither but I feel if I just try it will all come out.
M: Exactly, exactly. Nothing concrete but like I feel like I’ve like gathered so much inspiration that like once we start writing everything’s just going to come out.
L: It’s so exciting. I’m a little bit afraid.
M: I’m afraid too. The future is scary but…I’m excited. We’re super excited about the future and we are definitely moving forward and we are definitely thinking about the future.