Photo: Mathew Parri Thomas
“Because we’re best mates, what we do is talk about stuff and figure things out together… We’re kind of helping each other out through writing songs.”
“One in four, one in four, we must be the saddest generation, is there any hope for us at all?” goes the chorus for IDER’s ‘Saddest Generation’. The track, taken from the London duo’s debut album this month, references the WHO statistic that one in four of us will experience adverse mental health in our lifetime. ‘Saddest Generation’ is the apex of Emotional Education, a record of pointed rhetoric on identity, millennial angst and mental wellbeing. In it, best friends Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville pose questions about mid-late twenties experiences across what they call a “genreless” collection of songs that retain their sublime, interactive harmonies. But Emotional Education’s power lies less in operating as a handbook, with all of life’s answers inside it, than an open musing on its complexities.
“There’s, like, a healing that comes from music and for us there’s a therapy there,” Markwick says inside a North London café on a drizzly May morning. Somerville agrees, adding: “Because we’re best mates, what we do is talk about stuff and figure things out together. Everything is a process and we’re kind of helping each other out through writing songs.”
The self-professed “sisters”, who met while studying Popular Music at Falmouth University in 2012, have long reckoned with the idea that songwriting is about more than just making music. The themes explored in Emotional Education have been natural reactions to, or the retellings of, their own life stories.
“There was never any set intention of what the album would be about,” Somerville continues. “I think, in the sense that the music that we write is based so much on our friendship – and how we are able to be so honest with each other – this is how we’re also able to be so honest in our music. That’s essential. So [the album] was always going to be real and honest and raw. We really pushed for that.”
If Somerville and Markwick’s songs on Emotional Education don’t provide solutions to life’s upheavals, such as the repercussions of having an absent father on ‘Busy Being a Rockstar’ or helping a friend who’s struggling with their mental health on ‘Clinging to the Weekend’ – not that it’s incumbent on them to do so anyway – then it’s at least a companion for turbulent times. It’s especially so in the context of young adulthood. Are the anxieties of the so-called ‘quarter-life crisis’, something they’ve discussed much among themselves and their friends?
“Yes, and the question I often ask is: is [this anxiety] particular to our generation?” Somerville says. “Or does it just appear to be because it seems like the last generation have all got it sorted? I don’t know. But I do think that we’re at a point now in Western culture where we just have so much choice and so much opportunity and it’s crippling. Particularly with social media. There are so many options, there’s so much freedom, but also so much pressure to be something and achieve something and be a certain way,” she says. “I do think it’s like quite a difficult time to be young and figure out who you are in that kind of setting. It’s not just about survival anymore. It’s about, like, ‘who are you?’ and ‘what are you going to do for the world?’”
“We’re at a point now in Western culture where we just have so much choice and so much opportunity and it’s crippling.”
Much of this examination of identity rears its head in IDER’s single, ‘Mirror’, which was released last October and features on the album. Born of a relationship breakdown, the chorus lyrics read: “I keep looking in the mirror, ’til I see myself, I see myself […] I wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t like the stranger in the bathroom light.”
“That song came from a breakup and the feeling of not really knowing who you are now that you’re not with that person,” Markwick explains. “They’ve been such a big part of your life and your identity, it’s kind of untangling yourself from them and rediscovering who you are again. And that’s where it started. But, for both of us, we’d both been through breakups around a similar time that were quite formative.”
‘You’ve Got Your Whole Life Ahead of You Baby’, another track from the album about youthful malaise that the pair initially dropped as a single in 2018, has resonated strongly with listeners. Many fans have sent the pair messages to say just how much they relate to the lyrics about feeling lost in your twenties. “It feels amazing to have that response. It’s really, really special,” says Markwick. “It’s so important to connect with people. We’ve had people come up to us after shows and say that our music has got them back to work. It really does make you feel like there’s a responsibility doesn’t it?” She looks to Somerville across the table. “But not in a bad way, in a good way. It’s all positive.”
Despite releasing their debut EP, Gut Me Like An Animal, in 2017 as well as a string of singles between 2016 and now, the 27-year-olds regard Emotional Education as their “first big body of work” – the culmination of years spent writing songs together in their North London bedrooms. Although they still write all of their songs, Markwick and Somerville enlisted MyRiot and Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Sampha) to help produce Emotional Education. It’s a bold, idiosyncratic record – “the IDER genre,” Markwick says – with her emphasising that their folk-indebted harmonies are still the lifeblood of their creations, but that there’s no single genre they stick to.
“This album is a blend of genres and it really does feel like that,” says Markwick. There’s fleshly piano-pop / R&B on ‘Brown Sugar’, dubby climes on ‘Busy Being a Rockstar’, euphoric synth-pop on ‘Wu Baby’. There’s even what the girls call their “EDM country song”, ‘SWIM’. “We listen to a lot of music and we take inspiration from all sorts of artists. And it’s kind of a combination of all of that. It’s a new sound,” Markwick says.
Looking ahead, the pair are “really, really excited” to get the album out and tour with a new live drummer in tow. “The shows are just going to be bigger and better than ever,” Somerville says. “They’re a real opportunity to just have a fucking good time and empower people. They also give people a bit of an insight into who we are and our friendship together. We don’t really take ourselves that seriously even though some of our music maybe is a bit more serious. So it’s an opportunity for people to understand there’s a bigger picture.”
“And that we are playful,” Markwick adds.
With an arresting debut album that expertly holds a mirror up to 21st Century anxieties, IDER’s own emotional education is paying dividends.
Emotional Education is out July 19th via Glassnote.
Live: Rough Trade Bristol, July 22nd
See the video for ‘Wu Baby’ here: