Last month, Lily Somerville, one half of the British post-genre duo IDER, was texted a photograph of the latest edition of London In Stereo magazine. She and her bandmate Megan Markwick were on the cover – a pretty major achievement – but the text wasn’t to congratulate her. It was because a pile of them had been used to fix an unbalanced table at the pub where she works. She cackles at the memory: “I was like, if anything will bring me back down to earth, it’s this…”
The 26-year-old multi-instrumentalists, who have a body of work that fearlessly breezes through bluegrass, EDM, Americana and R&B, have come to represent the contradictory realities of the modern music business. They may be newfound darlings of the indie scene, having released a debut album with just as much production polish as a Taylor Swift record, but they still work in a pub to pay rent.
Sitting in a Kentish Town coffee shop, they’re still buzzing from a show in the mountains of Spain the previous evening, have just powered through a day of PR meetings, and are soon to start tonight’s pub shifts. “It’s great to talk about it because it’s the reality, and that’s what we’re about,” says Somerville. “But also we don’t want it to be our realities.” Adds Markwick with a very sincere laugh, “Basically this album better be a hit!”
Both acknowledge the industry’s compulsion to conceal the less glamorous aspects of emerging stardom, but to not talk about their day jobs would clash with their very identities as artists. Emotional Education, the pair’s debut LP, is a gorgeous, lived-in ode to twenty-something ennui, built on the remnants of bad relationships, toxic parental figures and very millennial feelings of angst, restlessness and dissatisfaction.
Lyrically personal yet universal in its emotional reach, the record puts into words a generation’s worth of self-doubt and uncertainty. Standout tracks like “Mirror” and “Clinging to the Weekend” explore the highs and lows of becoming lost in a relationship, while “Saddest Generation” and “You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead of You, Baby” attempt to reckon with mental health, depression and perpetual unease in a world full of older people insisting we ought to get over it. “It’s a coming of age record,” Markwick explains. “It’s our early adulthood in one album.”
In person, IDER are far sunnier than their moody album artwork implies. Watching them interact is a joy, their conversation full of gentle ribbing, private asides and a tendency to pick up and finish each other’s sentences. Both already have their own siblings, but describe what they have as something far deeper and transformative than mere friendship.
Having met in their first term at Falmouth University, where they were both studying popular music, the pair rapidly became inseparable, collaborating on music and developing the confidence not only to share publicly the lyrics and poetry they had previously only kept to themselves, but to believe that they could turn a hobby into an actual career.
“We’re so intertwined,” Markwick says. “It’s so mad that we haven’t known each other for longer, because we’re basically joined at the hip. We live together, we work together, we’ve done everything together for the last five years, and for that to feel so normal in such a short amount of time…” She turns to Somerville. “Do you remember life without me, Lil? How dreadful was it?”
“I would not be where I am today without the conversations and the love and everything from this friendship and this working relationship,” Somerville says.
While still students, the pair became regulars on the Cornwall gig circuit. But by the time they graduated, choices had to be made. At the urging of a manager they had met locally, the pair moved to Markwick’s native London (Somerville is from the Midlands), where they began working with producers and were eventually signed.
The two now share a two-bedroom flat they describe as “glorious chaos”, one that is overflowing in creativity, improvisation and ideas. It sounds a bit like something out of Homeland, with bits of paper taped haphazardly across every surface, only instead of elaborate conspiracies scrawled over them, they’re lyrics about absent fathers, childhood nostalgia and good sex. “One room is stuffed with all of our clothes and the other with all our instruments and is our studio,” Markwick explains. “It’s just a lot of sh*t everywhere, but it’s great. And we wrote the whole album in there!”
Both women wrote the entirety of Emotional Education themselves, and they’ve developed a fruitful back-and-forth. Many tracks begin as solo endeavours, inspired by personal experiences and feelings, before the pair come together at a certain point in a song’s development to help edit and shape.
“Part of the collaboration is knowing when to step back and let the other person run with something,” says Somerville. “We write a lot separately,” adds Markwick, “but we’ll also act as editors for one another, and ask the right questions to push each other further. We understand each other’s language in a way.”
As the interview winds down, the pair suddenly remember something they wanted to clear up: no, IDER is not the mysterious “third member” of the band that manifests in a puff of smoke whenever they harmonise. Intended as a joke during an early interview, IDER is in truth a made-up word the pair decided to call themselves. It has since been published and re-published across their press with abject sincerity, saddling the band with a vaguely cringeworthy Sasha Fierce-style alter ego that they’re eager to see the back of.
“We did this Q&A at a festival and a reporter was like, ‘So we read that when you sing together, it creates this third member’, and we were like, ‘Oh for f**k’s sake!’” Markwick recalls. “We were totally taking the piss!” “So to put the record straight,” Somerville adds, with a warm smile, but clearly meaning business.
And then they’re off, for an eight-hour shift that will take them into the early hours of the morning. Though judging by Emotional Education, they won’t have to do it for much longer.
Emotional Education is out now on Glassnote Records