I met Lily & Madeleine exactly two years ago in London. It was November and it was just as cold. They had just released their second album Fumes and were in the midst of their European tour. The mood in that room that cold November night, was one full of hope and excitement. The sisters were longing to make music that fully represented of them as individuals, and as musicians. Lily was “practically bursting with song-writing ideas” and both were navigating the waters of switching record labels. I left feeling that Lily & Madeleine were about to be launched into a stratosphere of their own making, and that 2016 would only hold new music and exciting and fulfilling opportunities for the sisters.
In January of this year the sisters released Keep It Together, a collection of songs that delicately and brilliantly blur the boundaries of personal and political, against the backdrop of moody and melodic instrumentation. The album is one that Lily and Madeleine are immensely proud of, and finally feel is a true and full representation of themselves. “I feel like that’s all we can ask for in creating a record, that it just feels right in the moment, and it definitely did and still does.”
But 2016 became a year of growing pains for Lily & Madeleine; frustration and stifled ambitions, and the disappointment that usually accompanies it. The sisters have been carefully negotiating the business side of the industry, with all the intricacies and complexities that come with being signed to a bigger label as well as working with a new manager. “I feel like when we saw you last, I was going up a rollercoaster and it was just ticking along, and then the record came out and it kinda fizzled and I’ve just been sliding down since then” says Lily, understandably depressed that Keep It Together, an album that they worked so hard on and poured so much of themselves into, just stopped before it could even begin.
“I felt very lost in every aspect of my life recently. Because the record fizzled, we got a new manager, we’re on a new label, all my friends are gone, and everything’s just weird right now.”
In true older sister style, Madeleine immediately does what any sister does when the other is feeling sad, she lifts her to her feet. “Things are going to turn around” she says defiantly, and with such conviction that even I start to believe 2017 can only offer good things. “There have been some setbacks”, said Madeleine candidly, not trying to paint the situation as anything but what it is. “We want to make sure that Keep It Together keeps going because we worked really hard on this album and we had a lot of passion in it. The record isn’t dead.”
2016 has also brought waves of global uncertainties and insecurities particularly in the UK and US, with the political, social, economic and personal fallouts of Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump in November.
Lily and Madeleine have always been intensely political and socially conscious women and that fact has not been diminished in the current climate of racism, sexism and intolerance. “I think I am not surprised to hear any of things Trump has said but I am surprised to see my friends and my relatives reacting to it the way they are, and I think that will affect me. For instance,” says Lily, recalling a recent experience in Indiana, “my old High School had a dance a couple of weeks ago and a bunch of kids brought a Confederate flag to the dance. But we’re Indiana! We weren’t even part of the Confederacy so if you’re trying to be about Southern pride, you’re just wrong.” “It’s just blatant racism”, Madeleine concludes. Though the sisters don’t foresee any girl power anthems in their future, Madeleine has made it clear that they will continue to be outspoken and politically charged in their writing but in a way that allows room for conversation and self-discovery.
Along with the shifts on the business side, there has also been the organic shift in Lily & Madeleine’s sound from folk to something more moody, direct and forceful that not only reflects their lives but the political and social landscape in which they have found themselves in as women, and as musicians. Lily & Madeleine have also been playing around with their song-writing process, writing separately rather than together. Madeleine said that writing separately has allowed them “to really think about what you want to say, to think about what you want the song to be, and then when you bring it to the other person they can just add to it. It’s less limiting and there’s less pressure. You can take your time and not let it slip away.”
The late Leonard Cohen once said, “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” In the wilderness that has been 2016 for Lily & Madeleine, there have been moments of realization and self-discovery, found between the notes and lines of their own music and storytelling.
‘Hourglass’, a song about pushing against the pull we feel from society to move through life at an accelerated, and often shallow pace, was one such moment for the sisters in the writing process. For Lily “it was a personal realisation that all the sadness and the issues I have been feeling were all coming from myself, and not from other people.” For Madeleine, it wasn’t as much a realisation but a shift in perspective, from one of panic to one of calm and opportunity.
“The imagery of an hourglass is really special and kind of dreamy because it symbolises the classic Wizard of Oz line, “by the time the sand runs out…”, and so it’s very frantic and terrifying to watch the sand run out. But it is also dreamy just watching the sand run and scatter and thinking each passing grain, each passing second, you could be creating something or waiting for inspiration to come to you.”
‘Chicago’ was another moment in which a song became a crack in a dark room, allowing light, and the air of possibilities to seep into a relationship Madeleine was finding herself stagnating in. “The lyrics sounds both hopelessly romantic and kind tragic at the same time, and that’s kind of how the relationship was. It was my first love and I adored him but it felt like one of those situations, and I feel like maybe a lot of girls have experienced this too, when you don’t feel you have a good enough reason to break up with the person, even though you don’t want to be with them anymore. I stuck around for so long for no reason. ’Chicago’ was a mega, mega realisation in that time of my life, so it’s cool that the song transformed into that realisation moment.”
The sisters’ sights are set on 2017 and it being a blank canvas for them to relaunch Keep It Together, getting back out on tour, and allowing the album to live and breathe, and connect with more people in a way it deserves to.
Keep It Together has spent a lot this year in the shadows and despite this, the stories and the music have resonated with listeners far and wide, and given them a taste of what Lily & Madeleine are truly capable of. “I think a lot of people have enjoyed ‘Not Gonna’ because it sounds so different from what we’ve done before. I think that specific track is very much like “Woah! This is Lily & Madeleine? I didn’t know they made music like this?”, which I think is really interesting. I think it is definitely something I want to continue to do; to create music that’s like, “Wait a second. This is them!?”
Lily echoes this sentiment with the promise of what future music from Lily & Madeleine will sound like, “I want it to be less dreamy, and definitely heavier. Everything Madeleine and I have done has been very airy and watery, dreamy and ethereal, and I want it to be, not aggressive but more deliberate. I think Keep It Together was more deliberate than the past records but I want to continue to be sonically confident.”
And with that, Lily & Madeleine speed towards 2017 with cautious optimism and steely determination.