On a Friday evening earlier this month, Lily Somerville and Megan Markwick had just returned to the flat they share in London after a flight in from New York. In only another day, though, they’d be gone again, taking their electro-folk band IDER on a European tour. The inaugural stop? Back to their old college in South West England for the first time since their student days, when they met in a music course and began playing elegant, harmony-laden acoustic music together. They’re excited. “Feeling a bit full circle, you know?” Somerville told MTV News before they made the trek.
The pair have plenty to feel sparky about. In the years since a 2013 Falmouth University campus piece described them as “a banjo and guitar wielding female folk duo who are snowballing to success,” Somerville and Markwick have gilded their analog sound with a digital edge: Synthesizers, keyboards, and electronic percussion feature on “Brown Sugar,” their R&B- and Kendrick Lamar-inspired latest single. It’s one of several IDER cuts released over the past few years that establish the duo as a moody force of nimble, intertwined vocals that hit your ear as a single substance. In fact, as a recent “Brown Sugar” live video showcases, their recitation of the chorus sounds more like a single voice double-tracked in the studio than two separate entities. They get that a lot.
“As long as we’ve been friends, we’ve been making music together,” Markwick said. “That’ll explain the vocal connecting.”
Another possible explanation is the songcraft itself. Markwick called their creation process “chaotic,” a trait that seemingly evaporates before any trace of it surfaces on the finished tracks. Lyrically, a typical IDER song can scratch a number of millennial angst itches: pesky FOMO, impostor feelings exacerbated by being online, self-worth in a time of crisis, and the like. “You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby” opens with an earnest couplet so refreshingly devoid of any irony it belongs in an AIM away message: “I’m in my 20s so I’m panicking every way / I’m so scared of the future, I keep missing today.” It makes sense to learn, then, that IDER songs often begin with words before music, as was the case with “Brown Sugar.”
“We were listening to a lot of R&B. We were really inspired by that and wanted to write a confident, kind of sexy, empowered song,” Markwick said. Somerville credits a recently acquired Roland synth, “a new toy,” with helping them locate the song’s mood via the bursting sound that runs throughout. It’s the first sound you hear on the track.
When the pair had lyrics and a general idea of what they wanted the song to be, they booked studio time with Rodaidh McDonald — whose production has built quiet smolders out of tracks by Adele, The xx, Sampha, and more — to give it a final shape. “We really wanted it to be a bit alternative and not a typical pop song,” Somerville said. But it’s not always easy to know when a song is complete. Often, time decides for you. “I mean, you could carry on forever [in the studio], couldn’t you?” Markwick said before identifying one key moment that ultimately punctuated the tune.
Listen to “Brown Sugar” again. Pay attention to the final chorus, which hits slightly differently than the preceding refrains. There’s a particularly ghostly, shimmering sound — once you know it’s there, you’ll hear it. “We ended up sampling two of our harmonies and it almost sounds a bit like a brass part now,” Somerville revealed. “I remember that moment when we did that … a bit of an ‘OK, we’re there’ moment.” The eerie flourish makes “Brown Sugar” crackle with electricity, a trait that would make it welcome company on a playlist of songs by artists they love, whose work they take inspiration from — people like earthy studio wiz Rostam (“such a cool producer”), nocturnal hip-hop wonder Obongjayar (“amazing”), and even Billie Eilish (“a rock star”).
You might even find all these centralized in one place (on Spotify) with a great mixtape name (“IDER like to listen to that”) featuring eight picks from each of them and spanning pop giants like Ariana Grande as well as rising songwriters like Phoebe Bridgers. “She’s pushing boundaries by collaborating with everyone,” Markwick said. “She seems to be releasing new music – and Ariana Grande is doing it as well, on their own terms and because it’s right for them and because it’s relevant in their life.”
As for the lives of IDER, 2019 will be busy: a new album this summer, a new single sooner than that, and the rest of this tour throughout western Europe. It’s a lot to prepare for. How do the friends and collaborators keep up the energy to do it? “I don’t know. We just talk a lot,” Markwick said with a laugh. “We chat about everything and keep being friends.”