Lily & Madeleine @ Swedish American Hall
Lily and Madeleine
Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz create candid music with deep emotional and personal resonance. The sisters, who record under the moniker Lily & Madeleine, boldly explore what it means to be women in the 21st century, and aren’t afraid to use their music to call out injustices or double standards. This fearless approach has permeated their three albums, which are full of insightful lyrics and thoughtful indie-pop.
But with their fourth studio album, Canterbury Girls—named after Canterbury Park, located in their hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana—the sisters are coming into their own as women and musicians. “This is the first record Lily and I have ever done where we have full control over all of the songwriting,” says Madeleine. “We did co-write with some people that we really love. But everything on this record is completely ours. I feel like I have full ownership over it, and that makes me feel very strong and independent.”
That assertiveness reflects new geographic and professional realities. For starters, Lily and Madeleine—who are now 21, 23 respectively—moved to New York City in early 2018. And instead of recording Canterbury Girls in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where they recorded their previous efforts, the pair headed to Nashville to write and work with producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. “I feel like it was time for us to leave the nest and move on and try to make a record our own way,” Madeleine says. “We decided to work with some new people, and it turned out to be the best decision, because we finally figured out how to voice exactly what we wanted in the studio.”
Using an eclectic playlist of songs as sonic inspirations—soul tunes and waltzes, as well as cuts from Midlake, ABBA and Nancy Wilson—Lily & Madeleine worked quickly, recording Canterbury Girls in just 10 days. They spent the first half of the studio sessions working out the framework of the songs with Tashian and Fitchuk, and the rest of the time fleshing out the music with additional instrumentation, harmonies and other arrangement details. “By the end, I felt like the songs had their own life; they had their own energy,” Madeleine says. “It was incredible to see them blossom so quickly.”
Although Canterbury Girls contains plenty of Lily & Madeleine’s usual ornate music—including the languid “Analog Love,” on which twangy guitars curl around like a kite twisting in the wind—the album also finds the siblings exploring new sonic vistas. “Supernatural Sadness” is an irresistible slice of bubbly, easygoing disco-pop; the urgent “Pachinko Song” hews toward interstellar synth-pop with driving rhythms; and “Can’t Help The Way I Feel” is an effervescent, Motown-inflected number. Vocally, the sisters also take giant leaps forward. The dreamy waltz “Self Care” is a rich, piano-heavy track on which their voices intertwine for soulful harmonies, while the meticulous “Just Do It” has a throwback, ’70s R&B vibe.
To both Lily and Madeleine, Tashian and Fitchuk, who also co-produced Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, were the perfect collaborators to lead them forward. “They were really receptive to our ideas; they didn’t push anything on us,” Lily says. “But they also had their own ideas, and they could execute what we couldn’t.” Adds Madeleine: “I’m super excited about how groovy the record is, and I honestly owe that to Ian and Daniel. They are truly incredible, just the most talented musicians, and have such a good vibe. They added so much to the record. I’m super grateful that Lily and I had them to help us.”
Despite Canterbury Girls’ poppy veneer, the album boasts some of Lily & Madeline’s densest and most intense lyrics to date. With the exception of the sweet romantic plea “Analog Love,” the bulk of the album’s songs are burdened by personal angst and the weight of expectations. Lyrics provide vivid emotional analysis of relationships going sour and what it feels like to navigate power imbalances. “Pachinko Song” details being unable to escape a pernicious person, even while halfway across the world in Tokyo; the protagonist of “Self Care” feels guilty about dragging out a relationship that’s no longer reciprocal; and the narrator of “Supernatural Sadness” refuses to be dragged down by someone’s toxic negativity and misery.
“I think the album is about emotional baggage,” Lily says. “When you have negative experiences, you can’t just make them disappear. But the album is about overcoming negative experiences and continuing to carry that baggage with you and accepting that that’s a part of who you are. I don’t want it to be depressing, but you have to acknowledge the feelings.”
As usual, the sisters worked separately on musical ideas, and then came together to piece together the album’s songs, a process that allowed each of their individual styles to shine. “Lily’s always been an incredible songwriter, and her approach is very different from me, which is super cool,” Madeleine says. “She always surprises me. Whenever she sends a little song clip to me I’m like, ‘How did you come up with this?’ It feels so cool to know that I get to work with such a brilliant partner.”
However, once Lily & Madeleine linked up to finish Canterbury Girls, the pair discovered things they didn’t know about each other. “That made the songwriting more interesting,” Lily says. “because Madeleine would come to me with a song that she had fully finished, and I didn’t really know what she was talking about, because I wasn’t a part of that.”
One of the fully Madeleine-penned songs is the sparse “Circles.” The restless waltz, which conveys dissatisfaction about a stagnant relationship, foreshadowed Madeleine’s eventual split with an ex-boyfriend. Lily also ended up writing the song “Bruises,” which boasts pulsing rhythmic programming and melancholy piano, completely without Madeleine. The song expresses deep frustration with the ways emotional scars color how she perceives and reacts to future relationships—and features a stunning, haunting lead vocal.
“Both of those songs are really heavy, low points on the record, and they both encapsulate exactly what we were going through at the time,” Madeleine explains. “In the past couple years, we both have experienced some trauma—and that’s a heavy word, but I guess that’s the only way I can put it—through romantic experiences and, like, unwanted experiences, mostly with men.”
Still, Madeleine expresses awe that she and Lily wrote this pair of songs, which she dubs the “most vulnerable and meaningful tracks on the record,” separately. “It means that we are each our own artist, and each have a voice in our experiences. And yet when we come together, it’s even more powerful, and we are on the same page.” Indeed, Canterbury Girls’ overarching message is that vocalizing burdens, frustrations and anxieties helps people see they’re not alone, which can then facilitate growth and healing.
In the last few years, Lily & Madeleine have amassed a supportive global community of fans and peers. They’ve toured as a headlining act, opened for everyone from Dawes to Rodriguez and in summer 2017, were invited to be backup singers on John Mellencamp’s Sad Clowns and Hillbillies Tour, on which they harmonized on hits such as “Cherry Bomb” and performed Carter Family songs with opener Carlene Carter. Unsurprisingly, diving right into making Canterbury Girls also helped the sisters learn a lot about themselves.
“Writing this record definitely made me realize I’ve never worked on myself physically or emotionally, and so I’m definitely trying to do that more now,” Lily says, while Madeleine adds, “I am always self-conscious about my art. I often think, ‘Who cares? Who wants to listen to this?’ But I was forced to assert myself and be independent, and say exactly what I wanted, and it just made me feel more powerful. I feel like I’m getting closer to feeling more like, ‘This is who I am.'”
With this growing self-confidence and musical poise, it’s clear that Lily & Madeleine are positioned for even greater things going forward. “I feel like I finally found my voice in this record, which makes me feel really vulnerable and a little nervous for people to hear it,” Madeleine says. “But, most of all, I’m just really excited to get to express myself fully. And we’re only going to get more vocal about things. I really appreciate it when artists have an opinion about things, when they use their platform and their voice to talk about things that matter. Lily and I want to be loud—and we want to be heard.”