It’s been less than two years since Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz, the sisters who comprise the folk-pop duo Lily & Madeleine, played their first show together at Do317 Lounge in their hometown of Indianapolis, but that night seems like ages ago to Lily, now 17. As a sophomore at a public high school, making friends and joining clubs were bigger priorities than music at the time. Despite the interest generated by Lily & Madeleine’s Bandcamp-released debut EP, The Weight of the Globe, and a black-and-white acoustic video for opening track “In the Middle” that showcased the sisters’ exquisite vocal harmonies, Lily thought their musical endeavors would be short-lived.
— Madeleine Jurkiewicz’
She changed her mind over the course of 2013. Thanks to the buzz surrounding The Weight, Lily & Madeleine were signed to Sufjan Stevens‘ Asthmatic Kitty Records, which released the duo’s eponymous debut LP in the fall of that year. By that time Madeleine, now 20, had enrolled in her first semester at Indiana University. Both sisters decided to leave school to prep their sophomore LP, Fumes, which was released on October 28. (Lily is completing her high-school courses online.)
Fumes retains the melodic elegance of Lily & Madeleine’s previous recordings while stretching the duo’s sound beyond the core of piano (Madeleine) and acoustic guitar (Lily). “Rabbit” features an electric guitar riff that echoes ’90s alt-rock, while “Peppermint Candy” incorporates elements of ’60s bubblegum pop. Vibraphone surfaces repeatedly, and album closer “Blue Blades” is haunted by foreboding synth. Lyrically, the sisters at times conjure nightmarish images that, coupled with their enchanting vocals, call to mind the spookier fairy tales.
Lily & Madeleine spoke with Wondering Sound about how their young career has been influenced by their sisterly bond.
How difficult was it last fall when Madeleine moved out for college?
Lily: We had shows and interviews every weekend, so we saw each other. After a month, we both became aware that we needed to come out of school in order to do this full-time. After we decided that, we were just counting down the days until Christmas.
So that separation didn’t affect the songwriting for Fumes very much?
Madeleine: It was a little difficult, because when we were together over the weekends, we were really busy. We didn’t have the flexibility to sit down and spend a few hours doing it. But the experiences we had that semester made for good song inspiration, so it worked out for the best.
Can you give an example?
Madeleine: “Can’t Admit It” on Fumes I began writing while I was at Indiana University. The song could be interpreted as somebody in a relationship that’s falling apart, but I was thinking about my life, balancing school and music, and how I decided to go to IU because I thought that I wanted to be in school, and then didn’t want to admit that maybe I’d made the wrong decision. I wasn’t sure what I wanted anymore.
Lily, before you and Madeleine became an artistic and professional duo, did she have any kind of authority role in your life, being the older sister?
Lily: She’s always been the more responsible one and the tamer one. She’s kind of like a second mom, ’cause she’s like, “No Lily, you can’t do that.” But not really. We’re just like BFFs.
Madeleine: [Laughs] I’d say we’re more friends than anything, and we’re pretty close in age so we almost feel like twins. Even though I try to take care of Lily as best as I can, she’s super responsible too, and we take care of each other.
Are you two candid with each other about the meaning of the lyrics you’ve written?
— Madeleine Jurkiewicz’
Lily: Sometimes when I write a song, I’ll put down some lyrics that I consider to be filler, but then Madeleine will really like them and identify with them. Later, after we’ve released it, I start to realize that they weren’t filler lyrics. Subconsciously, I said what I felt. We’re pretty open with each other. We don’t have that much drama in our lives.
Madeleine: I feel like Lily and I are on the same page with everything, so we really don’t have to discuss stuff. We know what the other is singing about because we’ve lived our whole lives together. We know each other’s experiences.
Does your Catholic upbringing inform your writing at all?
Lily: I’m not so much into that, but yeah, sometimes I find myself writing lyrics that sound Biblical, even if they’re not remotely religious. I think Madge has more to say about that.
Madeleine: Yeah, you can admit that you’re not into that, and that’s totally fine. I am still pretty strong in my faith. I still attend mass regularly, and I really like being Catholic. Especially early on, my faith did inspire my writing. The song “These Great Things,” from our EP, is one of the first songs we ever wrote, and the original version is much more Christian-inspired. There are references to Bible verses. And then we decided to rewrite it and add some different lyrics, so we could get away from the Christian vibe. It’s not that we didn’t want to associate ourselves with the genre of Christian rock, but we wanted to be a little bit more relatable for listeners. But I’m still inspired by my faith — in ways that I deal with issues.
Can you mention three albums that have been important to your development as a songwriter and musician?
Madeleine: Those are really good ones, Lily. I think I’m going to have to steal one of Lily’s answers and say The Suburbs. I also love I Want That You Are Always Happy by the Middle East. And IRM by Charlotte Gainsbourg is really good too. I was very inspired by that one, especially for Fumes.
Are you interested in exploring other genres with your music down the road?
Lily: I am interested in being in a bigger band. I never wanted to be the frontman, but I always wanted to play in one, and I would like to do something louder and more upbeat and more rock-influenced. And Madeleine should be on Broadway.
Madeleine: Lily always says that. Personally, I am inspired to follow the music career we have and advance into other fields. Not necessarily other genres, but other types of art, like musical theater and writing for other artists. I love pop music. Writing for pop artists would be super cool and fun. The thing about [what] we’re doing right now is that it’s going to open doors to so many other things for us.