Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz have been making and releasing music since they were in high school. In 2012, after publishing cover songs on YouTube, the sisters were picked up by a record label, and from then on began to gain recognition for their haunting, self-aware lyrics and intricate melodies. But recently, Lily and Madeleine have been craving a change: Their new album, Keep It Together, which we are stoked to be premiering here, is built from the desire to be taken seriously and the knowledge that comes with becoming an adult in the world:
When I talked with Lily and Madeleine on the phone, we jumped from topics like tackling your own emotional power, to choosing to work instead of going to college, to Rihanna’s new album. The Jurkiewicz sisters go on tour at the end of the month, so we also discussed how they feel about traveling, and what their shifting definition of home is. Being a person with emotions, for the Jurkiewicz sisters, means to feel fully, to fiercely defend yourself, and to not be afraid of uncharted waters.
SUNNY: OK, to be completely honest: When I heard the last song on the album, “Nothing,” it really gave me a jolt straight to the heart. I don’t know if I should say that as an interviewer! Do you have any musicians or artists who make you feel that way?
MADELEINE: Yeah! You know, I’ve been listening to Father John Misty a lot recently, because a friend of mine introduced me to him, and his most recent album, I Love You, Honeybear…every song is a jolt to the heart. It’s super romantic, but also very raw and real. I don’t know, that sounds kind of silly. I’ve been really digging that album, and his lyrics. Lily, what about you?
LILY: I’ve been basically just listening to Rihanna’s new album, Anti. That’s not, like, an emotional jolt to the heart, but it’s still really exciting to hear it, because there are so many different types of styles on the album. It’s a really weird album, actually, but it’s really cool.
Keep It Together feels so emotionally vibrant. I’m curious to know what kind of feelings you had while you were making it, and what feelings you are hoping to invoke in people who hear the album.
MADELEINE: I would say I was feeling pretty emotional. My contribution was written mostly during one or two weeks in January, two years ago, and I was feeling sort of amped up and anxious, but not in a negative way. I had a lot of energy about the album, I was sort of ready to create a lot. I guess I was experiencing nerves, sort of, because we were moving to a new label, and we didn’t really know where we were going to go, so I was just trying to focus on my personal feelings instead of working on the business aspect of our music.
LILY: Do you mean you were just trying to focus on writing really good stuff?
MADELEINE: Yeah, yeah! I was really stressed out about work so I decided to just not think about that. I just wanted to focus on my feelings.
You were on Asthmatic Kitty before, right? Sufjan Stevens’s label?
LILY: Yeah, we were.
I was thinking about…Well, one of my best friends is from Chicago, and she talks about it in a way completely different from how anyone else talks about their home—it’s like a person to her. I kind of noticed a connection between Sufjan’s place-specific themes to songs you’ve written, like “Chicago,” “Westfield,” “Midwest Kid”…What kind of feelings do you have regarding place and home?
MADELEINE: It’s cool that you noticed that, because I think that Indianapolis, and the Midwest in general, is definitely a theme or character that we reference a lot in our work. We write a lot about it because it’s where we’ve always lived, and it’s interesting to be in this industry where we get to travel to New York, or L.A., or Nashville, or even to places in Europe, because we can see what these other kinds of lifestyles are like, but then we just go home to Indianapolis and it’s very familiar and very comfortable, but it can also be kind of stagnant. It’s interesting to write about the contrast between the comfort and familiarity and the trapped feeling that one could feel in a small town. Well, Indianapolis isn’t really a small town necessarily, but in comparison to New York or Los Angeles, I would consider it to be more of a small town, like a hometown. That definitely influences our work a lot because we’ve gotten to see a lot of the world, and yet we live in a very comfy place.
Yeah! I’ve noticed that contrast, too. I live in New York but go to college in a small New England town, so it’s been weird to go between being very connected to this larger world and to being in a more remote place, which still has a really tight-knit community. But, like, in New York, I don’t really get to see my friends too often, so I almost feel more remote and stagnant there than I do at school. When I’m away for a while and then go back home, I can appreciate, like, the loneliness and comfort of that, though. It’s good to have the contrast.
MADELEINE: It’s cool that you understand where we’re coming from with that, and that you feel the same way!
Yeah, for sure! And you two started pretty early with your music career, while you were in early high school, so I’m sure your feelings about home have changed since then.
MADELEINE: Yeah, definitely! Actually, Lily and I were just talking about that the other day. We were down in Bloomington, Indiana, which is where we record all our music, and that’s where one of the state schools, Indiana University, is. Lily and I both went there part-time, a couple semesters ago, and we were talking about how it’s such a big university in a very small town. Basically the university is the town. When we look at our lives, we think if we were in school, we would not want to go to IU because we know there are so many other places out there that we’ve visited and that we would want to see. However, if we didn’t have this music career, and we were in school, we wouldn’t have seen those places, and we wouldn’t know anything other than going to IU. It’s just interesting, the way that our lives worked out, and how we started doing this so young.
Just to come back to when you started: It’s so gross but sexism and ageism do, of course, exist. I remember reading that you want this album to be grown up, and to be taken seriously. What has it been like to try to get respect, and how have you succeeded in getting that respect?
MADELEINE: Mostly everyone we’ve worked with at our label, and our management people and publicists, they’ve all been very respectful of our ages and our genders. But yeah, we do occasionally get a weird sound guy. Mostly everyone is nice, but I am pretty sensitive to, like, a patronizing interview, or a sound guy who thinks I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s irritating.
LILY: I kind of have noticed that the negative interactions stick with you a lot longer than all of the positivity that surrounds you. You just want that one person to not be like that, or to just see that you’re equal. But that’s the way it is right now.
Do you think any of that has to do with being a woman and performing songs that are very emotional? It’s so tough to express emotions as someone who isn’t a cis-male and still be taken seriously and be seen as strong. Have you struggled with that at all?
MADELEINE: I haven’t. I don’t know about you, Lily. But I think that it shows intelligence and power to be able to explain things emotionally through music.
LILY: Well, I kind of have the opposite feeling. A lot of the time people tell us to smile more and be more cheerful, stuff like that. I think they want us to not be as hard as we are…well, not “hard,” but, you know…
Do you have any advice for younger people who want to feel their emotions fully, and still be respected and not condescended to?
MADELEINE: I often feel like I need to be a lady, and that I need to be very polite. It’s nice to be sweet to people so that they were sweet to you; however, what I have learned from role models such as Rihanna, or Nicki Minaj, or Beyoncé, is that sometimes it’s better to be a monster. Maybe not in every aspect, and not so much so that you push people away. But it’s really important to embrace your own power, and not worry about being polite all the time.
LILY: I tend to lean toward being more unapproachable sometimes…not like I want to be unapproachable, but like, I’m just trying to do my job. Sometimes after shows people will want to tell you their whole life story, and as a woman I’m expected to smile and nod. I just can’t do that all the time.
You also have to just take up the space you occupy unapologetically, whether that means sitting and listening to someone’s life story or leaving and doing something that you need to do.
MADELEINE: Yeah! You’ve got to be your own powerful creature.
Each song tells a really specific story, or incorporates really specific elements. What kinds of stories are you drawn to? What do they mean to you?
MADELEINE: I’m glad that you noticed that, because that’s kind of what we were trying to create. Each song is like a moment in time, or a movie theme, you know? I’m really fascinated with mystery stories, not that our songs are mysterious, necessarily, but we want to make atmospheres that can be sort of…unsettling. Like I think the song “Westfield” has a sort of unsettling feeling about it, with the line, “When you don’t know what to do, always keep your cool”. It’s kind of like, ugh! You don’t know what’s going on, you just have to pretend everything’s OK.
LILY: I know a lot of our songs are about love and romance, but I think the way we tend to write about that topic is, like, trying to learn something about yourself. “Chicago” is about spending the day in Chicago with a boy, but I think it’s more about the underlying message of personal discovery, and realizing that maybe the relationship isn’t the best thing for you. When Madeline writes about love, she’s not necessarily fawning over it, but she’s talking about how it relates to our own lives.
I think that a lot of people in music, especially girls, get criticized for writing too much about love. But it’s such a huge part of life, it shouldn’t be made as trivial as people make it out to be.
MADELEINE: No, definitely not! And there are all kinds of love: best friend love, like in the Rookie Friend Crushes, which I love; acquaintance love, where you appreciate the value of someone in your life even though you don’t know them too well; or romantic love.
I don’t remember if…something I read mentioned you were in college, but then another place said you weren’t…
MADELEINE: Yeah, it’s kind of confusing. Lily and I were in college last semester, part time, and then we withdrew after our finals and took the next semester off to do our tour. We’re kind of taking a break.
That’s an interesting space to be in. Do you have any advice for people who are in the same position, or who are doing something unconventional in order to do what they love?
MADELEINE: I would say, don’t be afraid to try something different, and to put school off for a little while, to just get a regular job. You’re making money, and you’re getting life experience and world experience. Lily and I have learned so much from our travels and from running our own business, that if I took a bunch of accounting classes at college…I’d probably learn a lot, but I’ve also learned so much from just doing it myself. I would tell people that there are so many different ways to learn; don’t be afraid, if you’re not learning the way everybody else is. ♦