IDER interview: "The more explicit you are, the more real and connected you can be."
Today sees the release of Emotional Education, the debut full-length from Megan Marwick and Lily Somerville: collectively IDER. It's a record that's been over half a decade in gestation, with a handful of spare and delicate releases online before work started in earnest on their first LP. IDER have always been unafraid to be honest, but on Emotional Education their hopes, fears, desires and ambitions are blown up to IMAX proportions, their confidence and prowess having evolved to the point to really drive home the feelings of their words.
Even though they openly explore personal topics like depression, break-ups, sex and stress through Emotional Education, they carry it off with irresistible charm thanks to the indissoluble bond that so clearly exists between the two of them. You can hear it in the fearless roar of 'Invincible' and the pained lament of 'Saddest Generation'; see it in the laser bright smiles they share across stage when playing live; and it can certainly be felt when in proximity with the two of them.
Although I hadn't met either of the young women before sitting down to chat with them, I felt as though I knew them almost straight away. They didn't have any shields up, speaking openly about their experiences, bouncing off each other's thoughts, shaping their interjections around each other in ways that friends who have had infinite conversations can do. Naturally, there seemed to be almost consistent laughter throughout our conversation.
Suffice it to say that IDER tackle serious topics, but they do not take themselves too seriously at all. This is just one of the key elements that makes their music such an obvious and immediate winner. Having already been infatuated with the record before meeting them, their vibrancy and candidness in conversation about the lyrics and themes only made the connection even deeper. Read on to find out all the other ways and reasons Emotional Education will get under your skin.
It's been a long path to get to releasing your debut album; when did you start properly focusing on making songs for an album rather than as individual songs?
Meg: It feels like a long time coming for us as well. We really feel like our music is a body of work, and that's how it should be listened to. We're just really excited now that we can say we've got that.
You met seven years ago, did you have any expectations then?
Lily: No. We met on a music course down in Cornwall, in Falmouth and we just got put into a group together in our first week of our first term and quite quickly started working together. There was definitely an instant chemistry there, we definitely enjoyed writing together and singing together. We would harmonise always. But there was zero expectation, we were just at uni - we wanted to be solo pop stars [Laughs]
Meg: We were both solo pop stars then [laughs].
Do you remember the first songs you wrote together?
Meg: Lil came to London... actually we started writing in your kitchen in halls, you know campus halls.
Lily: No but the first song we wrote was in your kitchen in London, I swear. It was the holidays in the first year, and Meg was like "yeah you should come to London and hang out!" so I ended up going to Meg's, and we went to an open mic night, and we decided to write a song that day and perform it at the open mic night. It was a really jokes song on banjo, it was a joke, but we did it.
Meg: That was the start of a very serious career.
What was it about, do you remember?
Lily: It was called 'Only Just Begun' [Laughs] It was so funny, so twee.
Meg: It was probably about love and stuff... but yeah we started writing properly in halls, on campus.
What have been the biggest changes in your process from then to now?
Meg: We've really worked on our writing partnership. We've written this record entirely ourselves, and it's taken that long - six years-ish in the making, not in terms of the songs but our partnership and the way that we write together. We've been working on this partnership for a long time. I guess that's the biggest thing that's changed and developed and gotten better.
That's interesting. There are a couple of producers mentioned [Rodaidh McDonald and MyRiot] who helped with the record, but how much did they do - how much is already done before you show them?
Lily: It varies really. Normally the songs will be pretty well formed, and then we'll take it to be produced and we'll have some production ideas - we were quite involved in that. But with the songs on this record we took them in quite stripped-down forms; we write in quite a traditional way, where it's guitar or piano and vocals, so it's all about the melody, it's all about the lyrics, it's all about what you want to say. Then you take it to the studio and that's when you can dress it up in whatever way you want - the song's there already.
It's funny that you joked that when you met you were two solo artists, because the whole album, the whole career couldn't be without each other, even some of the lyrics of the songs are about this partnership - was there a moment when you realised that you needed each other, that together you were greater than the sum of your parts?
Meg: I don't think I thought that [a career] was possible until we started writing and playing music together. I loved writing music and I loved performing, but it was all quite inside and I was quite introverted with it. It wasn't until I met you that I suddenly thought "oh this actually could be a possibility."
Lily: Deep... [Laughs]
Something that's always been part of IDER's persona is facing and discussing mental health issues openly; was that something you were doing and were aware of before you met, or did you bring it out of each other?
Lily: I think we are both really interested in psychology and people and emotions; mental health and relationships... so our friendship really formed from that. We've always been friends and written music together, we've never known one without the other, so I think that they were already interests of ours, which is what created that friendship initially, that's what we talked a lot about and still do. That's the foundation of the music, those conversations.
Meg: I think we're able to be so honest in our music because we're so honest in our friendship. As Lil said, our friendship is at the core of IDER and all of our songs.
Do you ever get worried about being too honest in your songs? Some of them get quite personal...
Meg: There are a couple of songs on the record... we're not worried, but we're aware that they are explicit in some ways. But that just makes us feel more connected to our music. The more explicit you are, the more real and connected you can be.
You've had people reach out to you to say they appreciate what you're doing.
Lily: We get so many messages from people. Doing live shows as well, that's always been an important part of what we do, but meeting people and talking to them about their experiences and their connection to the music, it adds so much value to it for us.
I always print out the lyrics of the album I'm going to discuss with an artist, and when I saw them on the page I was quite surprised by just how wordy your lyrics are, because the songs themselves are very tightly and compactly written.
Meg: That's what one of the producers said to us, he was like "you've got a lot of words!"
Does that happen naturally?
Meg: We've got a lot to say, firstly [Laughs]. Lily, I feel like you write a lot of poetry first and then a song comes out of it. Often you have tons and tons of words, and then it's taking bits and snipping bits - that's one of the reasons.
Lily: But then there's also the music we listen to; you listen to quite a lot of wordy music [Laughs]
Meg: But also like Bruce Springsteen and those classic artists you listen to like to tell a story, it needs to be a well-rounded story, it needs to have evolved. We often come from that perspective as well.
Any more examples of wordy music you listen to?
Lily: I listen to a lot of rap.
Meg: Bruce Springsteen and rap.
Lily: And Frank Ocean.
You co-write the lyrics together, but where do you actually write them down? Do you have a shared book?
Lily: We've got so many books everywhere. It's chaos. There'll be songs on pieces of paper that we forget about and find.
Meg: We've already lost a lot of shit.
Are you ever like "where was that bit I wrote down?! I can't find it, it was genius!"?
Meg: If you can't remember it then it probably wasn't so it's fine [Laughs].
That's true. But the fact that you have so many lyrics means that there's lots of little moments and interesting points in each song. Let's go through them; Emotional Education starts with 'Mirror', why did you put it first?
Lily: It think particularly the middle 16, the "rap" bit in the middle that Meg wrote, I feel that that's got a real perspective to it that covers a lot of themes on the album.
Meg: It feels like a really good opening to all those things.
The part where you're overlapping your voices, singing "heal me, heal me," is a stunning moment. Who or what are you appealing to in that moment?
Meg: That part was the first part of the song that we wrote. I think we're talking to ourself; it's not a specific person,
Lily: It's just asking to be healed, to whoever.
Meg: It could be a spiritual thing, the strong person inside of you, asking them to heal you.
The lines "trying hard to forget you/ when were you last online?" is such a natural reference of a common modern conundrum. It's a thing that didn't exist until lately.
Meg: Literally. But nowadays people have turned it off.
Lily: Well you've turned it off.
Meg: The song is about a specific break up that I went through. It literally used to kill me, I was like "why were you online at 3 in the morning?! What are you doing?!" [Laughs] But then you realise that everyone does it.
Moving on to 'Wu Baby'; I'm curious about the title, and since you've said you're rap fans, does it have anything to do with Wu-Tang Clan?
Lily: Ugh, I wish.
Meg: That would be so much cooler. 'Wu Baby' was literally one of those things that fell out of our mouths while we were singing. Sometimes you mumble sounds along with a melody, and "wu baby" was that sound. It's like the baby name that you call the baby before it comes out, and then you never change it. Like "Bump."
The sound of 'Wu Baby' is so epic. Was that all built in the studio? Did you know you wanted it to sound like that beforehand?
Meg: That was really done in the studio.
Lily: It was, although I remember really well when we were writing that, and we wrote those melodies and the verses and harmony and stuff, and we were socking it; we knew that we wanted it to be powerful. We went into the studio with that notion.
Meg: Yeah, we were listening to 'Don't Hurt Yourself', the Beyoncé and Jack White track.
Lily: And some Kanye West stuff as well.
Meg: But we went into the studio and played it to the guys on the piano, so it was quite different, but we did want it to be quite bold and wild.
We've talked about your openness to expressing your emotions on this record, but another thing that I really connect with is that it seems like you've managed to express the physical feeling of those emotions too. On 'Wu Baby' it's a simple thing like "I pray all of my love to you, can you feel it?" - "can you feel it". It's an immaterial thing, but you're really desperate for this person to feel it like you feel it. I really relate to that. There's also the line in 'Wu Baby' "I know you've got something in your blood that we don't share," which is also quite raw and physical.
Meg: You know when you're so infatuated with someone and you want them so much, they're like a mythical creature. You're so in awe of them that they must have gold running through their veins.
Lily: They're like a different species.
And "the deeper I go the closer I get to fear."
Meg: That's the idea of the more you give, the more it's gonna hurt when you lose it. The better something is, the worse it can be. It's that oxymoron of life: the more love, the more pain. Or just more love if it ends well - I don't know.
In 'Busy Being A Rock Star' are you singing from your real perspective or is it a bit of a persona?
Meg: It's a bit of persona. It started from a conversation I had with my dad, and we were talking about the relationship you have with your parents. We both have really good relationships with our dads, but we were talking about how your parents no matter what will always fuck you up, because we are all human and we've all got shit and we give it to each other, and your parents more than anyone are feeding that into you. There's nothing you can do to change that. The song is about the cycle of that, how you take it from your parents and you pass it on to your kids, and being aware of that. I guess the thought behind it is can you break that cycle?
That's interesting. Because the title and chorus, "busy being a rock star," it's a bit more flippant.
Lily: It's ironic in that way.
Meg: By the end of the song, you've been so busy having a career that you're going to neglect or fuck up your kids. It's really joyful [Laughs].
When you were growing up did you imagine being rock stars or pop stars?
Both: Yeah, definitely.
Who did you idolise?
Lily: Shania Twain, Destiny's Child, Sinead O'Connor - literally watched 'Nothing Compares 2 U' video a hundred times.
Meg: I wanted to be Bruce Springsteen, which is weird. And Emmylou Harris... I went through my country phase.
Next up is 'Brown Sugar'; this album has such polarities of massive confidence and then total lack of confidence. I guess that's what life is like.
Meg: [Laughs] So true!
Lily: [Laughs] We feel everything in extreme measures.
On 'Brown Sugar' you're massively upfront and confident in yourselves and your appeal. What spurred you to write this one?
Lily: Sex, yeah... It was that feeling of sex, but also empowerment and the first beginnings of love and figuring that out.
Meg: There's not enough songs about actual sex, and the anxiety that comes with it. The first line is "remember when you made me feel less/ I've been feeling kind of anxious every time I undress"; then we've move on from that. The song was written in real time; the real start of a relationship. There just aren’t enough songs written from that perspective for young women. It's for men as well, but it's from our perspective and we wanted it to be true and real and sexy, but in a way that's empowered.
Was there any hesitation about releasing this one? As it's kind of explicit.
Lily: There's one line about saliva and I was like "oh god" [Laughs] But I don't think so... it's a weird thing that. Maybe because there's two of us we don't feel...
Meg: It becomes separate, it's like "oh that's Lily's story, not mine" [Laughs] We hide behind each other.
I like the line "I'm so deep I'm swimming in your sound."
Lily: It's that "oh my god" feeling of everything outside of this sphere that we've created does not exist, and you are all I can hear and want to hear. You're just so in it.
Nice. And then the next line is "flash back a year or three, if only I can see me now." What would that person from 3 years ago see now?
Meg: I'd be like "damn girl, I'm on fiiiire!" [Laughs]
Pretty much! Alright 'Invincible' is pretty much a song inspired by and fully about the two of you as a partnership. The love and joy just shines from it so clearly, but I'm curious about the line "paint my body silver."
Lily: "Paint my body silver" came from this idea of armour that you're putting on yourself, and the world that we're creating together is our purpose and our battle; the next line is "wear our life like armour." But also painting your body silver is ritualistic almost, and it's like the idea of counting your rituals and having your day to day sort your shit out, get everything in order.
That's funny, I've written "ritualistic sound" as well, is that what you were going for in the production?
Cool! And that line "if you wanna go fast then go alone/ but we wanna go far so we stay close," is a perfect encapsulation of your ethos.
Meg: Yeah! It comes from a proverb.
Lily: It's an African proverb.
Wow! 'Clinging To The Weekend' is about seeing old friends only once in a while, but when you do you want it to last forever because it's so fun. It's something you never hear songs about, even though it's something we can all relate to. However, at first I just thought it was about someone who's having a really bad come down after a heavy weekend!
Meg: [Laughs] I got a text from my friend, who hasn't heard the album and has only seen the song names, and she was like "I can't wait for 'Clinging To The Weekend', so nice that you wrote a song for all us 9-to-5ers!!" I was like, not quite...
Are you big party people?
Meg: I don't know actually, bit of a mixed bag.
Lily: I dip in and out, I dabble.
What's your ideal night out?
Both: The pub.
Both: No club.
Lily: Unless it's a really good dance night, or a good band, that kind of club environment.
Meg: I just like chatting to people, like a party.
'SWIM' is quite a tropical sounding song, but it's quite tough lyrically. Is it another one about the two of you?
Lily: Yeah it is, and the difficulties of the music industry. Our anxiety of the last couple of years, it's kind of being honest about that. And also thinking that we're fucking lucky that we've got each other. We're always wondering how solo artists do it by themselves.
Meg: It was probably the last we finished for the album; I guess that's just how we were feeling at the end of 2018, it was just really hard and tough.
The older songs from before you started working on this record were usually a lot slower and more sombre, and 'SWIM' seems like it could have been in that ilk, but Emotional Education is mostly quite upbeat and energetic, was that a conscious choice?
Lily: We knew we wanted it to be a bit bolder.
Meg: Broader in its genres.
Lily: Yeah definitely, because we listen to so much different music. And the truth is all of these songs could have been produced in different ways; 'SWIM' could have been a slow, sad ballad on synth. All of them have got the capacity to be whatever [style], but we've got so many different genres that feed into us as musicians, and I think that we really stopped being shy about that and allowed all of that to come out on this album without any idea of what it should be.
Meg: 'SWIM' has some country elements, the melodies are a little bit country, but it's dressed up in a pop style. We were just allowing that to happen, rather than being like "maybe we need to be a bit more like that and a little less like that." Now we have a bizarre country EDM number.
There's so much captured in 'You've Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby'; the album as a whole encapsulates the transitional period of your 20s, but this song is such a great summation of that. Where did the idea of using that phrase "you've got your whole life ahead of you" as the crux of a song come from? Did a lot of people say it to you?
Meg: It's a feeling that we've had, and we've noticed a lot of our friends having, this feeling of "should I be enjoying myself?"; Do I need to be planning my life?"; looking up to your parents and being like "how did you guys figure this out?" We've just seen this happening so much, as you say it's so common for people in their 20s.
But I actually wrote in one of our many notebooks "you've got your whole life ahead of you baby," and left it there for a while. I think about a year later I found it and was thought it was a really good title for a song, a long statement title, so that was where the idea came from.
Cool! But as true as it is, it's quite an annoying to hear people saying.
Meg: Yeah, that's the point, it's like "fuck off." People love to glorify and glamourise the past, telling young people to "just have fun, relax... sleep with your mates and waster all your money." I'm like "I did that and I regret that." [Laughs]
I guess it's one way to do it.
Lily: We got a really random message off a fan the other day (we did ask them if we could share it and they said it was fine). It was this woman and she was like "I've listened a lot to 'You've Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby', I took your advice; I slept with my friend, I've now lost my best mate, I've wasted all my money on a trip... but I had a good trip."
Meg: "You win some you lose some." It was so jokes! [Laughs] I couldn't take it.
'Body Love' is next; how would you describe what "body love" is.
Lily: It's learning to love yourself and your body. It's got a similar theme to 'Mirror', in terms of the journey of it, it comes from a break up and figuring out who you are without that person and separating yourself from that person and learning to love yourself again, as yourself without that other human that you've become so attached to or associated with. The resolution of that song is thanking that person, it's like "thank u, next."
You must have written this before that song came out.
Meg: Yes, she basically copied us.
So that's why it ends up with the line "I sit myself down and I separate us."
Lily: It's the idea of sitting yourself down and being like "you need to work on this, you've made a choice and you need to figure out how to carry that choice out."
Are you good at following your own advice in songs?
Lily: In hindsight.
Meg: It's such a process. It sounds like such a cliché, but when you're dealing with something that's happened, it really is a process, and when the song is finished the situation has resolved or calmed down. It is therapy, it is a therapeutic thing. That's why our songs aren't bashed out in a day, they're are written over a period of time. 'Body Love' starts with where you are post break-up, in that vulnerable place, and by the end you're in a different place, because that's the truth in real time.
'Saddest Generation' is the song that most directly tackles depression. The refrain "one in four" is referring to the rate of people with mental health issues?
Meg: Yeah. It was last year's mental health awareness week, and during that time I was going through a very personal experience and I read this statistic. I wasn't surprised by it, but it really resonated. So the song is about my experience in this relationship, but then also about where we're at in the world as a generation, so it's very inward and outward at the same time.
So when you say "we must be the saddest generation" are you being earnest or being a bit tongue in cheek?
Meg: No, it's just to make a bold statement, to be dramatic. It's not saying that we are the saddest generation.
Lily: We should have put a question mark on the end.
Meg: In the first line we call someone a "sad motherfucker"; it's a bit of a dark humour. The same in 'You've Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You', there's kind of a knowing and an irony; it's not earnest, but it's serious. We're constantly trying to balance the two.
And the album title Emotional Education comes from this song; was that always going to be the title?
Meg: No, that was like a penny drop moment.
Lily: It was glorious. Oh my god. Meg had written the majority of 'Saddest Generation' and I came in at the last minute and edited it, as we sometimes do with our songs. I'd changed one of the lyrics in the chorus, so I added that line to the song.
Meg: You were like "I think it should be where is the emotional education we're looking for."
Lily: So I added that to the song. And then we didn't know what the fuck we were going to call the album.
Meg: And none of the song titles were appropriate.
Lily: But we knew we wanted it to be a lyric. So we sat down with all sheets of paper of all of our lyrics and listened to the whole thing like "where is this title? It's in here!" And then we got to that song and Meg then was like "Emotional Education" and it was so symbolic of our relationship and our writing relationship together - that collaboration where Meg writes a song, I add that lyric, Meg says that should be the title, it's so interwoven.
Meg: It was like a lightbulb moment, we were jumping up and down and screaming because it felt so appropriate.
Wicked. The album ends with 'Slide'; why is this the last song?
Meg: we started writing 'Slide' in 2015, and we have played it live for that time and it's always been the last song in our set, so we've always had this idea in the back of our heads that it might be the last song on the album.
Lily: It's about childhood and it's got nostalgia to it, and it feels like the end of a chapter.
To end the album on the line "I never understood," it's quite poignant.
Meg: It is...
Lily: But look at the whole record, we're just figuring it out constantly.
Meg: Like you said, there's so many contradictions, there's so many questions, so I think it makes sense.
Lily: We don't understand.
It's like you've still got so much to learn, you've got so much Emotional Education to go through.
Lily: That's the next album: EE2.
You've mentioned plenty of musical influences, but do you ever take inspiration from other sources?
Lily: Books, podcasts - love Oprah.
Meg: She listens to so much Oprah.
Lily: Rupi Kaur, Eckhart Toll.
Meg: Rupi Kaur is a poet who has definitely influenced this record; Warsan Shire also; Nayyirah Waheed... lots of female poets.
Lily: And then Thelma and Louise
Meg: I feel like we owe Thelma and Louise everything.
Meg: We've talked about this: you're definitely Thelma.
Lily: Have we talked about this? I'm not sure, I think we show traits of both.
Meg: I think that's probably how we're gonna go as well: we're gonna rob a bank and kill some people and drive right off a cliff.
IDER's debut album Emotional Edication is out today.
This article was originally published on The 405 - July 19th 2019