"Don't let us stop you from eating your popsicle," Madeleine Jurkiewicz says to me kindly. We're parked on a bench in Broad Ripple and I'm covered in the remnants of a chocolate and hot pepper popsicle from Nicey Treat. The sisters Jurkiewicz, Madeleine and her sib Lily, who make music together as Lily and Madeleine, are decidedly not covered in melting chocolate and crumpled napkins – no, they've got it all together, here on this park bench and in about every other arena, too.
Two years, two albums, one EP and several European tour dates after first debuting as a pair, the young sisters are handling their sudden, explosive popularity with aplomb and grace.
There's no real playbook for this type of quick-fire success; it certainly doesn't trace the path 99 percent of local bands follow.
"Our first show was local, and we do a lot of local press, but we really only have three shows in Indianapolis a year, max," Lily says. "We're grateful to be able to go other places, but maybe we're missing out [on being a part of the local scene]," Madeleine adds.
There was never really a chance for that. The duo sold out that first local concert they ever played, an early show at the DO317 Lounge last February. I've never, before or since, seen an audience so pin-drop silent, on the edge of their seats in excitement. It was just a few short weeks after a one of their videos, linked on Reddit, went wild online. Their debut EP, a five-track effort called The Weight Of The Globe, was bumped up to capitalize on the virality, and the concert, packed to brims, went off without a hitch.
After that, the successes came fast. Their songs were placed on TV shows like Pretty Little Liars, Chasing Life, Parenthood and, most bizarrely to them, a commercial for Ikea that only airs in Greece and Bulgaria. The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra approached them to participate in a Happy Hours show. Asthmatic Kitty inked a deal to release their first full-length, and then their second. They recorded a new version of "Broad Ripple Is Burning" with Margot and The Nuclear So and So's, and added vocals to label mate Son Lux's new album Lanterns. The pair completed that first European tour and booked another. Madeleine put her freshman year at IU on hold. Lily moved from enrollment at North Central to online classes.
So now what?
New album Fumes, out next Tuesday on Asthmatic Kitty, comes just a year after their first full-length. It follows much of the same formula as the first: it was recorded at Primary Sound Studios in Bloomington, with Paul Mahern, who has been in their corner from the beginning. Songwriting partner Kenny Childers once again assisted (and contributed a track, along with Heidi Gluck). They still sing in tandem, close and gorgeous "blood harmonies," as they call it. There are beaucoup beautiful moments to highlight: the shimmering strings introing "Rabbit" and outroing "Fumes"; delicate dual guitars adding urgency to"Hold On To Now" in the final chorus; layered vocal arpeggios on "Can't Admit It."
On Fumes, "Writing was collaborative for the most part," Lily says. "Some songs are Madeleine's songs because she started them[and vice versa], but it's collaborative."
Their writing partner, Childers (Gentleman Caller), has made a particular impact.
"He's been our mentor, our trainer," Madeleine says. "I think he writes a song every day, pretty much.
He also accompanies them live occasionally. They've been touring since April with Shannon Hayden, a classically trained cellist who brings mandolin and guitar along, too. (See sidebar.) Madeleine and Lily note they've have reworked songs from their self-titled album, including "Spirited Away" and "Come To Me," to integrate Hayden on their live sets. This new album seems to integrate her fully.
Fumes is full of running, in various permutations – not being the kind of girl to run ("Peppermint Candy"), running as if life depends on it, ("Rabbit"), running on fumes ("Fumes"), making a run for it, ("Cabin Fever"), blood running down something ("Blue Blades"), outrunning, or not, a threat ("The Wolf Is Free"). It's an album of transition and movement, lyrically, an album that marks a year of change for the sisters.
High school has never been exactly normal for Lily.
"As soon as I went to North Central from 8th grade, we made our first video. It started as soon as I went to high school. ... I didn't really have time to make connections," Lily says. "It can be lonely," Madeleine finishes.
She's thinking about college in a year or so; somewhere out of state, maybe. She has to wrap up high school first, though, currently a heavy burden. "I think I bit off a lot more than I can chew recently, so that's stressful," she says, of her online classes.
But management has been quick to remind them they can change the flow whenever they want.
"If we're going to take a break and go do school," Madeleine says to her sister, "I want you to go wherever you want to go and not have to worry about being together [to do music]."
I gather quickly it's been tough for both of them to deviate so quickly and entirely from the typical teenage experience.
"I didn't get, and I don't think I'll ever get, a real college experience," Madeleine says, when I ask her what she's had to give up to pursue music. "By the time I go back, I think I'll just be past that. ... I feel like whenever I visit my friends or my boyfriend [an adorable Purdue engineering major she's been dating since high school, she tells me] they're doing their thing, going to the dining courts. On one hand, that stresses me out, because I don't want to eat at a dining court every day. But I feel like I need that experience. But who says?"
Madeleine turned 20 a few days after our conversation. Lily is 17.
"I went to prom last April, my junior prom," Lily says. "I didn't have a date, I just showed up with my friend. It was the day we got home from a tour, so we woke up at 5 a.m. to drive home. I went to prom and everybody was like, 'What are you doing here? You're famous.' I was like, just let me go to prom! Why do you have to do that to me? Sometimes it's funny. We're not even famous, so it's just silly.' "
(I admit I took this moment to remind them: they're kind of famous.)
"I don't really see it," Madeleine says. "But I think it's because I compare myself to other artists that are lightyears away from us."
(And I took this moment to remind them: it's unfair to measure yourself on the Beyonce scale.)
Change has forced growth. "She's become so much more confident," Lily says of her sister. "Madeleine just has it going on."
"I'm trying!" Madeleine responds. "That is my goal. ... I try to keep myself healthy, otherwise there's no way I could go on a long tour without falling apart. This has challenged me to really take care of myself and trust that I can do this. I'm feeling like a stronger person, because of the challenges that we've had."
Some of those challenges, unfortunately, seem like they come with the terrority, as young teenage girls working in the music industry.
"We opened for Los Lobos in Dallas [and] there was a sound guy who was so rude," Lily says.
"Lily had some feedback on her guitar," Madeleine says. "It buzzed, and she said, 'What's that?' and the guy went, 'It's called feedback.' "
"Who cares, it's a stupid comment," Lily says. "We're really lucky to have a management team and a label that never treat us that way. ... So when a sound guy is rude, it's like, oh my goodness, that is so offensive."
As my conversation with the Jurkiewiczes continue, it becomes obvious to me that they're chafing a bit against their image as sweet young things.
"What we have going on, being sisters, being young, being cute girls, it is a great image," Madeleine says. "It's very easy to sell. People love this vibe that we've got going on. But at the same time, I don't want to be judged for it. It's a double-edged sword, because I'm pulling the young lady card, saying 'Don't say that to me!' even though, I get to be a cute young lady. It's difficult."
They're also a bit weary of some of the twee phrasing that's often used to describe their music (see: "haunting, bygone era, ethereal"). But they get it. "We're young, teenage girls singing about innocence and youth. We never cuss. Nothing edgy about us. We're just very wholesome. That's another thing I want to get away from, but not in a Miley Cyrus way," Lily says.
It's a hard – and sometimes humorous – image to shake.
"I remember John Mellencamp did an interview on NPR," Madeleine says, "And he was like, 'They're 12-year-old twins,' ' Lily finishes. They both laugh, and laugh.
"We're not the same person," Lily reminds me, a bit later. Her sister agrees quickly. "Lily and I are very different people," Madeleine says, "Which not everybody would understand."
Friday's show at Deluxe launches the new album tour, after a few weeks spent at home. Schedules have them on a jaunt across the Northeast and Midwest, bouncing across the Atlantic for two weeks in Europe in mid-November, and then back again for a handful of dates with Over The Rhine in the Midwest. This is, Lily notes, the first time their mother hasn't accompanied them on tour, their first "big girl tour," as Madeleine jokingly refers to it. I can tell they'll miss her a bit, though.
"Mom sang all the time, Mom and Dad both loved music," Lily says. They recount an early memory of singing together: "We got our laundry room redone when I was six or something, Madeleine was eight. So we wrote a song called 'Welcome to My Laundry Room,' " (They launch into a few bars at my urging. It sounds, unsurprisingly, beautiful, even for a song about laundry rooms.)
As our conversation winds down, I ask the pair what musicians are interesting to them right now, who they're following.
"I think Lorde's career is really cool. She skyrocketed; she had her first album, is playing huge arenas, and now she's doing the Mockingjay [third entry in the Hunger Games series] soundtrack." Lily says.
"I think Sufjan Stevens' career has always been super cool, the way he's always been interested in music but didn't really think of it as a career," Madeleine adds. "I think he was in graphic design, put out the [Come On, Feel the Illinoise] album, and suddenly got a lot of attention. I think it's really cool the way he's so respected, and how he can do whatever he wants [creatively]."
That artists who accidentally slipped into starring roles, and then harnessed that popularity for creative freedom and interesting collaborations appeal to the Jurkiewicz sisters is no surprise. It is, after all, what they're living.Editor's note: Check back at noon for our exclusive video of Lily and Madeleine playing new track "Can't Admit It" at the Indianapolis Art Center, filmed by MonkeyEatsMonkey.