It was a midnight stage, black and sweaty with impatient anticipation. A swath of powder white mist cuts lazily through the black, a harbinger of what was to come. A lonely guitar melts the stage with isolated beauty. A sensuous voice rises alongside a low thunder. It builds to a satisfying climax where my heart skips a beat, leaving behind barren scorched earth. This is how I thought of Lemolo the first time I saw them play live. It was a moment that literally made me giddy and had me wishing that I could have shared it with more people.
Just three and a half years ago Lemolo wasn’t a band, when Meagan Grandall, who’d been playing music all her life, approached her friend Kendra Cox, who despite owning a drum kit, never formally played. This was two weeks before a battle of the bands, a battle the duo took second place in. Following that the pair would play Bumbershoot, Sasquatch, the Capital Hill Block Party, Doe Bay, and coming up Music Fest NW. This past July they released their self titled debut album, The Kaleidoscope, which was preceded by two sold out shows at the Columbia City Theater. Obviously they’ve been doing something right.
Lemolo’s music fluctuates between dark and solitary to catchy “dream” pop. The songs are deceptively simple, which is by design. They fight the urge to go with their initial complicated instinct and strip it down to it’s emotional core. Meagan takes center stage with the vocals, alternating between the guitar and keys. Kendra provides the intense heartbeat with the drums and keys. They compliment each other in a way that few bands can… yes, like peanut butter and jelly, rice and beans, nuts and bolts.
This is what I took away from seeing Lemolo live and meeting them, these two have great affection for one another. I could see it in the way they looked to one another across the stage, and the way they interacted during the interview. That affection is most apparent in the beauty of their album.
The two originally hail from the Scandinavian Puget Sound Port of Poulsbo, in fact the name Lemolo comes from a scenic stretch of road in that area. Not coincidentally Meagan and Kendra met while they were both working as kayak instructors. Kendra has since moved to Seattle while Meagan continues to reside in the sleepy seaside town, presumably to keep close to the plethora of Norwegian trolls sold in Poulsbo shops.
I met Meagan and Kendra in a quiet little coffee shop on 14th on Capitol Hill in Seattle, not far from Seattle University where Lemolo made their debut at the battle of the bands. We recorded on location at the coffee shop, which gave me some wonderfully delightful audio, but in an uncontrolled environment you get what you get. Which I both love and loath. When you listen to the podcast you’ll understand why.
Meagan and Kendra prove that NW artists are by far the nicest in the country, I haven’t met a single one who wasn’t disgustingly hospitable and delightful. I had intended to get to the interview early and buy them both drinks, but they beat me to the punch and bought me a tea. They couldn’t have been nicer to take the time out of their day to sit down with me and talk about themselves.
This interview feels very special… I can’t quite pinpoint why, it just has a unique and fun feeling to it, I hope that comes across to you in the recording. I came away with a greater love and deeper appreciation for Lemolo musically and personally. Their compressed rise to notoriety couldn’t be happening to two better people. What follows is a mere slice of the full audio podcast which you can listen to right here, or in itunes.
You’re both from Poulsbo Washington, in fact the name Lemolo comes from a stretch of road in that area.
There’s a street in Poulsbo called Lemolo shore drive and also a neighborhood that surrounds the street, which is where I live now. It’s really beautiful, it follows along the water and we both grew up. It’s this quintessential hangout and place to enjoy the sunshine. We had that in common and wanted to pick a band name that was meaningful.
How did you two meet?
We both worked at a kayak shop together in Poulsbo called Olympic Outdoor Center. I was 17 and I grew up going to kayak camps, and always wanted to work there as a kid. So I got a job there one Summer and Meagan worked there. The next year after that [we] lived in Seattle and started playing music then, for a battle of the bands that Meagan was performing in at Seattle U. She said, “Do you want to play drums?” and I said “sure”. So Meagan wrote all my drum parts because I had a drum set but I’d never really played it.
It’s funny because I remember the first time I saw Kendra, before she worked at the kayak dock, and [she] came to rent a kayak. I thought she was crazy and really cool because she strapped a boom box onto the kayak and went out wearing neon spandex. I was like “who is that girl? I’m going to be friends with her.”
Meagan, how long before that battle of the bands did you ask Kendra to help you?
I asked her two weeks before the show, then she sprained her wrist.
The day of our first practice.
so we couldn’t practice for a week. So we literally had six days to learn these two songs. We pulled through and actually got 2nd place, which we were not expecting.
You’re sound is very stripped down and simple, but still big and expansive.
On my end of finding out how to make that big sound; I love things that feel heavy. Since we’ve started adding bass to a lot of our songs, I love the way you can almost touch that bass. Drumming wise, I love tribal feeling things, they’re simple but feel heavy.
That space is something that we try to preserve and consciously think about. We have an expression in our practices, KIS: keep it simple. A lot of times we get caught up in trying to make things too complicated, then we realize this isn’t working and go back and strip it back down again. The version that we usually end up liking the most is the simplest version.
Generally how do you write a song? Do you write the melody first or the lyrics…
In general, the melody and the lyrics come together at the same time. Then after playing with the melody and key words the rest of the lyrics fill in. For a lot of the songs that process happens by myself. Song writing for me has always been a private thing that I’ve been self conscious about, that I haven’t enjoyed doing when other people can hear me. It’s my own personal therapy, the way I get my feelings out. Then once I get the courage to share it with Kendra, we add her parts, and she rights those.
Shawn Simmons (who recorded the Head and the Heart debut) recorded your album The Kaleidoscope. What did he bring to the recording process that you would not have brought yourself?
He brought a lot to the table because this was the first time we ever recorded anything in a professional studio. We knew what ideas and sounds we wanted to get across and he helped us figure out the steps and how to get there.
He’s really open to ideas, but he also has a strong set of ideas of his own. He’s patient. We, I think, are not the easiest people to work with because we’re both perfectionists.
We had a lot of moments where we faced mental road blocks, doubted ourselves, and hit a wall. Then he’d be like “let’s go stand on the porch, let’s take a moment.” He’d give us a little talk and bring us back to reality. He was a really good motivator and moral supporter.***
For being just two gifted musicians, Lemolo has a surprisingly large sound, big enough to fill an amphitheater, it feels like. At the rate they’re going, that won’t be long. Toward the end of our interview asked them if the past three and a half years have felt surreal. They’re answer, “of course.” This could easily be one of those dreams where you build something from scratch into something great, only to wake up and realize it was all just a dream.
It’s been a busy summer for Lemolo, with their many shows and festivals, including the release of their debut album The Kaleidoscope. You can see them live on September 6th at Music Fest NW in Oregon and the City Arts festival in Seattle on October 18th. Get yourself over there to see them live, the tickets are a steal at any price. Don’t forget to visit their website lemolomusic.com where you can buy their album and merchandise. You can stream the album at lemolomusic.bandcamp.com.
Once again, don’t forget to listen to the full audio podcast of this interview, there’s so much great stuff you’ll miss if you don’t listen. You can do so here, or in itunes. And while you’re in itunes, please take a moment to rate and review us. Thank you.