Lily & Madeleine Talk Touring With Mellencamp

Indianapolis folk-pop sister duo Lily and Madeleine Jurkiewicz recorded with John Mellencamp while they were in high school, contributed tracks to the TV shows Pretty Little Liars and Parenthood in 2014, and lent their vocals to a song featured in the 2015 movie version of John Green’s novel Paper Towns. From their first YouTube video, now viewed by nearly 570,000 people, to three studio albums, their yin-and-yang voices float through sibling vocal harmonies a New York Times reviewer called “deep and seamless and relaxed.” But the sisters still see themselves as normal Midwestern girls—working part-time jobs, dealing with zits, and fighting Instagram envy.
Fresh off the success of their third studio album, 2016’s Keep It Together, Lily, 20, and Madeleine, 22, will accompany Mellencamp on a coast-to-coast U.S. tour this summer to promote his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. The day the tour kicked off, June 5, in Englewood, Colorado, IM called up Lily & Madeleine to chat about life on the road, mainlining Mellencamp music, and what’s next for the duo.
IM: How did touring with Mellencamp come about?
M: We did some vocals on a record for him back in the day, and since then, we’ve done a couple more background vocal parts for him. He knew that we were free this summer, so he asked us a couple months ago, “Hey, would you want to come on tour with me and do background vocals on all these songs?” And we were like, “Oh my gosh, of course!”
IM: Are you performing some of your own songs, too?
M: No, we’re not—we’re doing six songs in his set as background vocalists. But we’re featured vocalists, so we’re still Lily & Madeleine. We’re just not singing any of our own music.
IM: What are some of the songs you’ll be doing background vocals on?
M: We’ll be doing some Carter family tunes with Carlene Carter, who’s opening the show. We’re also going to be singing two tracks she did on the new Mellencamp record, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. Then with John, we’re going to do a lot of his rock songs. “Pink Houses” is in there, “Paper in Fire,” “Cherry Bomb,” so it’ll be a super fun set.
IM: What’s on your road-trip playlist for the tour?
M: Honestly, we’re just listening to Mellencamp music!
L: It’s the first show, so we’re really drilling that into our heads. But as we get further on, we can probably relax and listen to some new stuff. I want to listen to Ariana Grande’s record again because I know it came out a year ago, but she’s handled the Manchester thing so well, so I’m thinking about her right now.
IM: You’ve gone from small-scale YouTube stars to nationally known artists in the past few years. What was it like to see your collaboration with Son Lux, “Lost It to Trying,” on the Paper Towns soundtrack?
L: We didn’t really view it as, “We got a song on the soundtrack!” because it was really more of Ryan [Lott]’s song. But I love Ryan, so that was really cool. I actually never even saw Paper Towns.
M: I never saw it either—we need to watch that!
IM: What’s been your biggest takeaway as you’ve ascended through the music industry?
L: I’ve struggled a lot with thinking I didn’t deserve the opportunities I was getting. I don’t really feel that way anymore, because we’ve been working so hard—we put everything on hold to make music.
M: I’ve learned that you can pretty much do anything if you keep an open mind and ask questions. Like, Lily and I have no freaking idea how to do this massive amphitheater tour with John Mellencamp. We’ve never done something as big as this. But we just show up, and do the best work that we can possibly do, and ask questions, and that’s gotten us pretty far.
IM: What’s the biggest challenge you’re currently facing, either personally or as artists?
M: The pressure in the industry—when you look on Instagram, you’re like, shit! Girls are so beautiful, and so successful, and you think, Why can’t I be that cool? One thing I want our listeners to understand is that Lily and I are just normal Midwestern girls.
L: Yes! I’m eating in bed right now, and I have zits all over my forehead, and I’m so tired, and that’s just how it goes.
IM: What’s next for Lily & Madeleine?
L: We’re writing a ton of songs right now, and we’re probably going to take a bit of vacation time when the tour gets off. And then we’re going to record somewhere. I don’t know where yet, but we’re working on it.
IM: Are the songs you’re writing in the same style we’re accustomed to hearing from you?
M: Right now they’re seeming jazzier. I’ve noticed our recent songs are a bit more about relationships and heartache, which is different from our previous stuff.
L: Our previous stuff focused on what it was like to be a musician just starting out, and we don’t really think about it like that anymore, because we’ve being doing it for much longer. So the songwriting’s more personal now.
You can catch Lily & Madeleine on tour with Mellencamp through July 11 But you’ll have to drive—there are no Indiana dates.