Lily & Madeleine interview: Sisters in sweet harmony finally ready to hit the road

Teenagers Lily & Madeleine honed their ethereal folk in their bedrooms. Now, after a sumptuous debut album, they’re touring the UK 

“We’re in this transition age where Madeleine’s 19 and barely an adult, and I’m 17 and almost an adult and it’s hard having this real career,” maintains Lily Jurkiewicz, one half of sister act Lily & Madeleine just before the opening date of their first UK tour.

“We feel like adults, but we’re not.”

The teenage siblings from Indianapolis have had a giddy past 12 months. Their pared-down, uncomplicated brand of dreamy folk has garnered huge praise both here and in the US and no small amount of flowery language.

In the liner notes to their startlingly accomplished debut album, Lily & Madeleine, the Rolling Stone contributor Anthony DeCurtis quotes William Faulkner (“The past is never dead. It’s not even past”) and references the U2 track “Twilight” (“In the shadow, boy meets man”) from Boy and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

The sisters haven’t read Faulkner and aren’t aware of Boy. They’re an act in its infancy, they are still intent on finishing their schooling (“I definitely want to graduate,” says Lily; “I’d like to do anthropology,” claims Madeleine) and they’re all too aware that they need to evolve and expand their music.

“The album’s pretty and sweet, you can’t deny it, and the lyrics are not super-controversial,” admits Madeleine. “I do kind of want to break out of our pretty, sweet bubble but I don’t want it to be a Miley Cyrus kind of breakout.”

Their simple, undeniably sweet songs are a long way from Cyrus, and the sisters, who were brought up Catholic and are being chaperoned around the UK by their mother (who also sings and “really likes Shawn Colvin and Patty Griffin”), reference Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan and fellow sister-act First Aid Kit as major influences. Madeleine, the more open and talkative of the two, asks for permission from Lily (who often appears on the verge of responding with a “duh”) before mentioning the latter’s impact on their own music.

“We were inspired by First Aid Kit early on and now we get to be compared to them quite a lot,” she admits. “But we don’t want to be them, we want to be Lily & Madeleine.”

There are similarities between the ethereal folk acts but there’s something – and without sounding too florid – other-worldly about Lily & Madeleine’s heavenly harmonies. They don’t indulge in vocal pyrotechnics or over-emoting. They’re the real deal and could sing a list of postcodes and make it sound sumptuous.

It’s little wonder that Sufjan Stevens snapped them up to his hip independent label, Asthmatic Kitty, and the likes of Paul Mahern (who’s worked with John Mellencamp and Iggy Pop) is producing and the talented lyricist Kenny Childers of Indiana outfit Gentleman Caller is co-writing.

At a headline performance at the intimate Sneaky Pete’s in Edinburgh you could hear a pin drop during their strongest tracks, most notably “Devil We Know”, “Spirited Away” (on which they sing “Like the ancients we are spirited away”) and “Come to Me”.

Lyrically they’re at their best when they focus on longing and regret such as on “Paradise” where they lament “How can it be that nothing’s yours, and nothing’s mine”. Similarly on “In the Middle”, the track that shot them to prominence and garnered millions of YouTube hits, they posit “All of the years I have spent here, I have never wandered.” Their second single, “I’ve Got Freedom”, is slightly perkier and they both balk (and they rarely balk) somewhat at the suggestion that they major in sad songs.

“When our EP [The Weight of the Globe] came out last year, people said we wrote such sad songs and we’re always frowning, but we didn’t mean to write sad songs and the album is a lot more upbeat,” claims Lily.

It’s not KC and the Sunshine Band upbeat, however. The pair’s gentle harmonies are naturally melancholic and their music would seamlessly fit on to the soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis. It’s not hard to foresee the likes of T Bone Burnett producing for them sometime soon. But, for now, the charming pair are already working on a second record. Do they feel the pressure?

“It’s not pressure though, it’s more like drive,” says Lily. But do they feel under any pressure to repeat the same formula?

“ I do feel so confined sometimes because I’m a 17-year-old girl and I sound like a 17-year-old girl,” admits Lily. “I think it just comes easily for us do this kind of music and in the future we’re planning to change a little bit. It’s easy to tour with two people but it would be fun to tour with a whole band.”

Does Madeleine, the more confident of the two, feel the same?

“We’re so crazy about this, we both love music so much and it was what we were born to do,” Madeleine gushes. “I never thought we’d do a six-date UK tour with our own material. I wouldn’t have dreamed of that. And it’s all happened really fast. It’s so great, but it’s almost like ‘oh my god, what’s going on?’”

The duo trust their management (“they have our backs”) and are fully aware of the backlash and unwarranted barbs female artists receive in the music industry.

“Being a woman in the record industry, especially a young beautiful woman such as Taylor Swift, has its pros and cons,” claims Madeleine. “Every criticism she gets has something to do with her age and that she’s a woman.”

That’s about as outspoken as these two studiously polite souls get. They’re courteous, don’t appear to drink or swear, seem genuinely amazed that the audience are mouthing back lyrics they wrote “in our bedroom” and they don’t have a bad word to say for anyone.

It will be fascinating to see how they evolve and whether they’ll retain their level-headedness and control.

“We’re in control of our music but it’s all so overwhelming,” says Lily. “It’s all happened so fast.”

Lily & Madeleine’s debut album, ‘Lily & Madeleine’, is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas