As IDER, Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville create beguiling, hair-raising tracks within a space they call “conscious pop”. Blending intricate harmonies with woozy, cross-genre production styles, their forthcoming album draws on countless sources of inspiration. None, however, are more potent than the pair’s bond as friends and co-writers.
“We met on our first term on a music course in Falmouth,” Somerville explains, of how their uncompromising songwriting partnership was initially forged. “We got put into a group together in that first term, and we quite quickly started singing and playing together. We kind of got rid of the rest of the group! We had real instant chemistry that we both recognised; in terms of our voices together, and also as friends and in the kind of conversations we were having. We started writing songs together in the really early days.”
“As soon as we were friends we were writing songs,” Markwick confirms. “We’ve only ever known our friendship like that. It kind of sped it up – there is such a vulnerability when it comes to writing songs.”
The chemistry Somerville mentions is immediately evident on listening to any IDER song, and even more so to witness the duo onstage. Close on every lyric is delivered in spine-tingling vocal harmony, reliant on flawless communication and co-operation across all arenas: songwriting, recording, and performance. Even before emerging with debut single “Sorry” in 2016, the pair wanted to make an album – and knew they couldn’t do it with anybody else.
“We wanted to write this record ourselves because no one else could write IDER’s first record,” Markwick explains simply. “We’ve spent seven years writing together. Walking into a studio with someone you’ve never met and coming out of a day’s session with a song I’m like, ‘did I really say what I wanted to say?’”
As such, IDER’s debut full-length Emotional Education benefits from Markwick and Somerville’s exclusive songwriting partnership – and is all the stronger for it.
“It’s all about us,” says Markwick. “Our friendship, and our experiences.”
“It’s completely unfiltered,” Somerville adds. “Our perspective is undiluted. We are both young women in our twenties, and we feel a real responsibility to be honest about that, and use our voice in an honest way.”
Across 11 tracks, Emotional Education collages a varied portrait of early adulthood as a late millennial. The confrontational lyricism found in earlier IDER singles such as “Face On” continues to shine, though the pair’s sassy façade rolls back in shamelessly vulnerable moments such as “You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby”.
Currently IDER’s most streamed single, “You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You Baby” is a surprisingly restrained, though characteristically poignant exploration of the perils of living your twenties in hindsight. It’s a tender contrast to the punchy, stark sounds of 2017 EP Gut Me Like An Animal, but uses this subdued vehicle to sneak in some of their most forthright lyrics to date.
“There isn’t any floweriness – it’s just to-the-point,” Somerville says of the cut. “The first line – ‘I’m in my twenties, so I panic in every way.’ We’ve had so many conversations with friends, with our parents, with people our age – and older, who were once in their twenties–“
“It felt like so much of the same story was coming through,” Markwick finishes, picking up the sentence where her bandmate tails off (a common occurrence throughout our conversation). “The song didn’t need to be over-complicated,” she adds. “It just had to be so, so real and not beat around the bush.”
Another similarly confronting lyric is to be found in “Clinging To The Weekend”, a track based on the heartache caused by Somerville’s brief visits to her Midlands hometown of Tamworth.
“I go back quite rarely,” Somerville explains, “and I always find it quite difficult to leave. One of my friends in particular suffers really, really extremely from [poor] mental health. When she’s low, it’s hard to leave. Coming back to London on the train, I just felt like everything in my body was like, ‘no, don’t do that!’”
It was on one of these train journeys that she scrawled a first draft of “Clinging To The Weekend”’s lyrics; scribbling them on the back of a receipt for want of more conventional stationery.
“It literally fell out of my arse on the train,” Somerville laughs of the process; irreverent despite the gravity of the message the song conveys. “It’s a weird one – writing like that, and then trying to turn it into a song – it takes a while. You have to figure out what works, and you kill your darlings. That’s where Meg came in and was like, ‘get rid of that, get rid of that, that’s good but get rid of the shit you don’t need in there.’”
“With a song like that – when you’re coming from such explicit emotional places – any co-writing partnership is gold,” Markwick agrees. “The other one can act as an editor: ‘you’re in this, you’re feeling all of this, but you’ve said that line already,’ ‘you’ve said it similarly, you don’t need to say it like that,’ ‘how about you say it like this?’ It’s helpful!
“There are songs on the record and songs that we’ve written together that have been 90% Lily, or 90% percent me,” she continues. “A big part of co-writing is then allowing the other person the space for their voice to be heard, and that particular story to come through. That will always remain. There will be songs that we write super mutually – 50/50 – and songs that lean so much more heavily one or the other. It’s so important to let that be and let that happen. We are as much of IDER as one another.”
Markwick cites as-yet-unheard track “Saddest Generation” as another on which her co-writing balance with Somerville has been invaluable – working once again from an unavoidably emotional space. The intensity of emotion at the song’s core required pruning into shape through committed teamwork, but Somerville describes the result as “a big stamp for the record” that communicates several of its core themes.
“It’s got the classic IDER thing, in that it’s very personal and introspective,” Markwick says of the track, “but hopefully, contradictorily, it will connect with and reach out to a lot of people, purely based on the very explicitly honest lyric. Similar to ‘You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead Of You’, it’s direct and to-the-point about mental health. From a personal point of view, it’s about being in a relationship with someone who suffers from depression, and what that is like, but it also looks at our generation as a whole, and where we’re at right now – whether we are the saddest generation or not.”
“Saddest Generation” falls close to the end of Emotional Education – a strange place to put what almost feels like a mission statement – but in this tracklisting it somehow makes sense. Having journeyed through the record’s kaleidoscope of experiences, the listener arrives at the track’s steady, low-slung beats and circling “one in four” refrain. “One in four” refers to the statistic reported by many reputable organisations that approximately 25% of us will suffer from mental ill-health in our lifetime.
“It might be higher now, I don’t know,” muses Markwick. “Has it always been the case, and now we’re talking about mental health more openly and the conversation is on the table, but it’s always been that high a statistic? Or is it not, and is it getting worse? Maybe the song now should say ‘one in three’, or ‘one in two’. It’s a hard one. We don’t know. It’s the question. The record is a little bit about that as a whole.”
Considering how “Saddest Generation” encapsulates some of the major messages of Emotional Education, it makes sense that it would be the song from which the record’s title is taken. Whilst the melancholic track was initially written by Markwick, the lyric in question – “where is the emotional education we’re all looking for?” – was Somerville’s contribution.
“Honestly, oh my god, how do you name your first album?” Markwick laughs when asked how they selected the title. “We had such an idea of what we wanted it to be – it had to be a statement, it had to be bold, but it had to be real and familiar and not-heard-before at the same time! How on earth do you name a debut record?”
Whilst an emotional education is indeed what the pair hopes listeners will be able to take from the album, they agree that the title does have a double meaning. Before Markwick and Somerville were able to contrast their own sympathetic syllabus, they first had to undergo the learning process for themselves.
“It’s first and foremost our emotional education,” Markwick says. “The songs have been our therapy, and they’re so honest and so true to what we have experienced. Since we’ve been putting out music, we’ve been getting messages from people going through the same stuff! It’s all so relatable, and therefore it’s for everyone else. We don’t want to sound arrogant – we’re not sitting here going ‘everyone listen to our album! You will be emotionally educated!’ But also, listen to our album and you will connect to it, and relate to it, and I guess it kind of is [an emotional education]!”
One of the heaviest narratives explored through IDER’s frank yet probing lens is that of powerful new track “Busy Being A Rockstar”. Despite a flashy-sounding title, the song actually addresses the harm done by an often-absent father missing his daughter’s successes due to his own priorities. Unsatisfied with this black-and-white morality, however, Markwick and Somerville make the typically provoking choice to step back a generation and reflect on the harm inflicted by the central character’s own parents.
“We both have really good relationships with our dads, so it’s not necessarily a personal story,” Somerville explains, adding that it was actually inspired by a conversation with her own father “about the idea that your parents will always fuck you up.” She also references Philip Larkin’s classic poem “This Be The Verse”, which features the immortal lines: “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / They may not mean to, but they do.”
“The song stemmed from this idea that, no matter what, your parents are going to fuck you up, and that being the cycle of life,” Somerville continues. “You’ll take that on and you’ll fuck up your kids! The song stems from that, but then we came together with the raw emotion of it and created something together which became ‘Busy Being A Rockstar’.”
Along with the weighty story it tells, “Busy Being A Rockstar” ventures in a sonic direction not previously heard from IDER; boasting attention-grabbing brass lines that blossom in the wake of its typically direct chorus.
“We started writing the song – like we do all our songs – in our room on piano and guitar,” says Somerville. “We found some brass synth sounds, but when we took it to the studio and worked with MyRiot – a production duo who we recorded half the album with – it really came to life. We ended up getting those synth sounds recorded by real musicians – a first for us.”
“It just felt like it was going to add so much to the song, going there,” Markwick adds. “We love live instruments – the more live the better, especially in terms of future [releases]. That’s what we want to continue. There’s a few elements of live instruments on the record, and it definitely feels like that’s the way we want to move forwards.”
As well as the live instrumentation, Emotional Education boasts lush production that sees IDER press beyond the confinements of their earlier, more DIY sound. Whilst their songwriting partnership remains intentionally exclusive, the pair brought several producers onboard to realise their more expansive vision for the record.
“There’s actually four different producers featured on the record, which is really great,” Marwick says. “We love collaborating with people in the studio. This record has come together in quite a traditional way: we wrote the songs on a piano or on a guitar. When you’ve got the song, the lyric, the harmony, our vocals, and the melodies, we take the songs to the studio, and what’s so exciting is that they could end up any way. ‘Wu Baby’ we wrote on piano – imagine! ‘Wu Baby’ on piano is so different to where it ended up in the studio!”
Although audiences have already heard several tracks on the record, Markwick and Somerville are clear that it was never their intention to include their whole back catalogue. The progress they were pushing for in their sound and songwriting could only be accurately reflected in a tracklisting that refused to lean on the nostalgia of early releases.
“The very last track of the album, ‘Slide’, we found some lyrics – early, early lyrics for that song – dated December 2015! That’s definitely the oldest,” Markwick says.
Although “Slide” was the first track written that made it onto the LP, it’s not one IDER have yet shared with their fans. The honor of the first-released track to be included goes to “Body Love”, which dropped back in late 2017.
“Anything before that… there’s a time, there’s a place,” Markwick muses of the decision not to include older materials. “We’ve got to keep evolving, got to keep things fresh, for us as much as for anyone else. We love playing all of our songs, but it’s so exciting when you’ve got new shit to play.”
“We’ve evolved since that as well, so it would feel like going backwards,” adds Somerville.
“Although my dad is like ‘why is “Sorry” not on the record!?’” Markwick laughs resignedly. “I’m like, ‘get over it, Dad, “Sorry” was like three years ago…!’”
It is indeed three years since IDER broached the public consciousness with “Sorry”, though Somerville explains it’s always been their intention to release an album together.
“We’ve always been working up to it,” she explains. “All of the music came together and we were keen to release an album this year – it felt like time for us. We didn’t want any more singles; we really wanted a body of work and real context around who we are – a stamp of right now, and where we’re at, and something for people to dig into. We felt ready for that, ‘cause we’ve released quite a lot of singles over the past three years. We’ve had such an incredible year working with Glassnote records; working with new producers on the album. It just felt like a body of work was where to go.”
Despite having created a cohesive record with eleven confirmed tracks, it’s still difficult to pin down IDER’s sounds. Their label of “conscious pop” is certainly a good start, but digging deeper reveals a wide range of influences that goes further into explaining what exactly is so haunting and addictive about what IDER does.
“We’re coming from really different places,” Marwick says, of the music she and Somerville listen to on their own time, and of the previous projects with which they were both involved. “And then we’ll listen to things together! We bring different things to each other.”
“We appreciate [the same] things,” Somerville adds. “There’s some things that we share, that cross-over – we listen to such a wide range of music. I still listen to classical music, actually. Recently I’ve become really obsessed with Nils Frahm, who’s a pianist who plays electronic, synth stuff. It’s a new discovery of mine, somehow, so I’m loving that! Also I’ve more recently got into more hip-hop, R&B – mainstream hip-hop that I didn’t grow up listening to. The start of that, for example, being Lana Del Rey. She’s pop-alternative, and she’s quite influenced – I read somewhere – by hip-hop and old school R&B.”
“I definitely will always lean more to rock and Americana,” contrasts Markwick. “I grew up listening to – and continued listening to – a lot of Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell. I’ve got more into guitar music generally; I listen to a lot of Wolf Alice and The War on Drugs. I’m really into Sam Fender, I think he’s really awesome. He seems great, and genuine, and real. I think he’s one of these artists that’s quite rare to find. I bet he writes all his music as well!
Somerville continues: “But then there’s people like Beyoncé and SZA–“
“And Janelle Monáe!” Marwick interjects.
Somerville laughs. “We listened to a lot of SZA and Lemonade over writing [the album].”
“A lot of female [artists],” Markwick concurs, adding Christine and the Queens to the list. “You take inspiration from wherever and mix it all together!”
Of course, as well as listening to this diverse collection of women, Markwick and Somerville also have the chance to learn and draw from each other. It’s very clear that each considers the other one of her greatest influences, and when asked what the other has taught her the most both answer with qualities key to the IDER sound.
“Harmony, massively,” Markwick answers, without stopping to think. “Lil has shown me what you can do. I hadn’t really ever dived into and appreciated the use of harmony – of interesting harmony. That obviously links back to the classical influence that Lil has always had. Interesting harmony, and different harmony. A lot of our harmonies will be fourths and fifths rather than classic thirds. It draws from different places. I never had that, ‘cause I never sang with anyone else.”
Somerville agrees, citing the influence of classical music – particularly baroque and renaissance – as a strong factor in her desire to write such unusual harmonies. Her own answer as to what Markwick has taught her takes a little more thought, but is once again an element key to IDER’s appeal – “Meg’s ability to tell a well-rounded story.“
Although the pair’s wildly differing musical backgrounds still shine through in almost every song they create together, they have definitely been subsumed into an entirely new beast in the making of Emotional Education. Could they have seen this album as the destination when they first set out to make much together?
“ I don’t really know, to be honest!” Somerville laughs. “We were much more acoustic [to begin with]. I come from a background of singer/songwriter and classical – I was classically trained on the piano. Meg comes from a bit more of a country, Americana [background]. I don’t think we did have this vision, and we’re constantly evolving. I don’t think we ever knew where it was going to end up. When we first met we were playing guitar and banjo – it was a totally different vibe! It was fun, and we were just messing around.”
“I think the turning point was when we moved to London after university,” Marwick continues. “I’m from London, but Lily’s from the Midlands. We basically moved in together in North London, and started working with producers in a more professional way. We’d done a bit of that at uni, but that collaboration with others in the studio was so important to us. It really opened our eyes to sounds and sonic progression.”
“A song’s a song,” Somerville adds. “We could sing all of our songs as folk songs or country songs on this album; it’s the production side of things that took us into a different world.”
This convergence of influences and ideas shines particularly brightly on two new tracks on the album, titles “SWIM” and “Invincible.
“They both stemmed from talking about our relationship and our friendship together in quite a personal way,” Somerville explains, ““Invincible” being very much about our friendship and the power that comes with working together, and “SWIM” talking more about the music industry and how difficult it is to be involved in that sometimes.
“We wrote that song when we were feeling particularly jaded by the music world,” Markwick continues, citing industry sexism and patronizing perceptions of young women as major factors. “Unfortunately [discrimination] is still the case, definitely. “SWIM” is about holding on to each other and feeling the anxiety that comes with being in the music industry – there’s so many blokes! How on earth is that bloke going to write our story any better than us? Ironically, we’ve written this quite anthemic dance tune [about it]. We wouldn’t have been able to write that song had we not had those experiences.”
Somerville laughs, concurring with the sentiment: “We’re secretly feeling smug! It’s amazing!”