From Little Norway to Nagahama: A Q&A with Lemolo

Meagan Grandall (left) and Kendra Cox of Lemolo. Photo by Genevieve Pierson

While THE BOMBER JACKET was on hiatus for the summer, Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood hosted its 16th annual Block Party: a three-day music festival featuring over a hundred artists from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Each day, local radio station KEXP selected a handful of bands to play an additional set during its live broadcast from the cozy Barboza nightclub. Seattle-based duo Lemolo, billed as “special surprise guests” on the festival program, took the stage at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, five hours before they were scheduled to play the Vera Project stage for an all-ages audience.

Meagan Grandall (vocals/guitar/piano) and Kendra Cox (keyboards/drums/percussion) have been keeping busy this year, playing shows in the Pacific Northwest and northern California and releasing their first full-length album, The Kaleidoscope. On July 29, the duo stopped to have coffee with THE BOMBER JACKET on their way to see the latest show in the Artist Home Summer Bonfire Series at Golden Gardens Park. The conversation took place in Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood, just a few blocks away from Sonic Boom Records, where The Kaleidoscope was the fifth highest-selling album of the week. Lemolo will be opening for Tennis and Sharon van Etten at the Neptune Theater tonight and tickets are available here.

THE BOMBER JACKET: Could you tell some of our readers who aren’t from Seattle about the place where you met and how your band started?

Meagan: Kendra and I are from a really small town called Poulsbo, Washington. You have to take a ferry boat from Seattle. I still live over there and Kendra lives in Seattle now. It’s this small, quaint town on the bay and people say it looks like Norway.

TBJ: How so?

M: Because of the mountains, and the bay… it kind of looks like we have fjords. So the town is Norwegian-themed, the buildings look Norwegian…

K: Just downtown. The whole town isn’t Norwegian.

M: There’s a viking festival every year, and the high school mascot is a viking. They call it “Little Norway.” Anyway, we grew up there. We were kayaking instructors during the summer when were in high school and college, and it was the best job ever! We were coworkers one summer and became friends. A few years after we met, I was playing in a battle of the bands competition in college. I had always done it solo with just a guitar and a piano, but my last year, I wanted to form a band to get a little extra edge on the competition.

K: And Meagan had done really well in past years.

M: I got third and second place, but I never got first.

TBJ: For a one-woman band, that’s really impressive!

M: Thanks! [Laughs]

K: And we still didn’t get first.

M: We got second, though, and it was a close call. We almost got first.

K: The judges actually told us at one point that they wanted to give us first place, but they couldn’t because the crowd was full of hardcore metal fans. There were just too many of them, and they were louder than our fans.

M: And it didn’t help that the band that won was throwing beer koozies into the audience.

TBJ: That’s cheating!

M: [Laughs] Anyway, that was our first show. We had only played together for about a week before the show, but we had so much fun performing together that we decided to keep playing shows and see where that would take us. Now it’s three and a half years later, and we’re still kickin’!

TBJ: What was it like to play the Capitol Hill Block Party last weekend? You were one of the few bands that played twice.

K: It was pretty great! It’s a really fun festival, and it’s summer, and there were tons of people out and about. The day was pretty busy. I think there were just a handful of bands that played twice, picked by KEXP.

TBJ: Yeah, I went to Barboza to see your afternoon set and could barely get into the venue because there were so many people.

M: Oh, wow. They were a great crowd!

K: Yeah, we had to get there at around 1, and I didn’t leave until…1 [in the morning]. So it makes for a long day, playing twice and having to move all our gear. It was really hectic, but the show itself was so much fun. And it’s really crazy, too: I’ve only been to that festival once before, but it is a pretty coveted festival to play in Seattle, and it was so cool to be involved in that.

M: Yeah, it was great to make our mark. It’s such an iconic festival.

TBJ: Something to check off your bucket list, for sure! So, as people who grew up in the greater Seattle area, how did it feel to hear your music on KEXP for the first time?

K: I still have the message you left me!

M: Oh my god, Kendra missed it! She didn’t hear it!

K: What was I doing?

M: I don’t know. The first time was maybe two years ago. We had a friend who writes for the local blog Sound on the Sound, and she was a guest DJ. One night, she brought one of our songs to play. This is when we were first starting out–we only had a single with two songs on it–and I was in the car on my driveway when I heard it. It’s so amazing, because Kendra and I grew up listening to KEXP and really adoring it. It’s always been a dream for us, and growing up, I wasn’t that confident that it would come true. I have so many memories of going to school in junior high, making my mom turn on KEXP. It’s an amazing thing, and we feel so lucky, because the moment we started getting airplay on KEXP, our fan base grew. It’s been an amazing platform for us.

K: It’s still weird when you don’t expect it. Sometimes, they’ll say something like, “Coming up, Lemolo!” and then I always listen to see what they’re going to play. But today, I was just driving home and “Letters” came on. It took me a second to register because I couldn’t believe it, and then I just sat in my car and listened to it, thinking, “This is so weird!”

TBJ: I saw your most recent in-studio interview with KEXP and I heard you say that you had to record one of the vocal parts for your new album 95 times. Which song was that for?

M: That was “Letters.” That wasn’t the only moment like that, but it was the most extreme. There were a lot of parts that we had to record over and over again just to get the one that felt like our best. But yeah, it was just the very last two phrases of “Letters.” I just needed to get it.

K: You psyched yourself out.

M: Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous. But as silly as it sounds, it took that many times before I felt I couldn’t do it any better.

TBJ: Did the album as a whole take a long time to write and record? What was that process like?

M: It took exactly one year… a little longer than that when you count preparation time. It felt like a long time. We were both working while we were recording the album, so it’s not like we were in the studio all day long every day for a year.

K: We played shows and went on tours. We’ve toured a lot in the last year.

M: But any time we were free, we were in the studio. We did a lot of recording last July. We did a couple shows and it wasn’t as intense for a few months, we went on tour in October, and from about November to January we were in the studio just about every day. We did take our time to make sure we loved every single note. Hopefully, the more experience we have recording, the more efficient we’ll be.

TBJ: So, what were you guys listening to while you were working on the album? 

M: I remember hearing The Antlers for the first time.

K: Oh, yeah, I loved Burst Apart.

TBJ: I saw them in New York in December. They were awesome.

K: We saw them, too, but we didn’t really know about them yet. That Feist record had just come out, too.

TBJ: Metals?

K: Yeah, we listened to that a lot. Then there are the old standbys: St. Vincent, Warpaint…

TBJ: I’m a huge fan of St. Vincent. I’m going to see her and David Byrne when they come to town in October.

K: I want to buy tickets to that! Have you heard that record?

TBJ: They’ve only released one track so far.

K: Is it only one?

TBJ: Yeah, they’ve only released “Who.”

K: It’s so cool! That track that they put out is so wild.

TBJ: With all the brass?

K: Yeah! And I love his voice, the way he kind of talk-sings…

TBJ: Yeah, he does that.

K: I think that show is gonna be pretty fantastic. I’m going to get tickets.

TBJ: You should! So, I want to talk to you about the album cover. I heard that you designed it, Kendra.

K: Well, I did the layout and the packaging, but the cover is actually a photo that I found on Flickr.

The cover of The Kaleidoscope. Photo by Niklas Barsk; layout and design by Kendra Cox.

TBJ: I wanted to know what exactly I’m looking at when I look at this cover, because it’s probably my favorite album cover of the year so far.

K: [to Meagan] You’re better at telling the story. You’ve done more research.

M: It’s kind of an interesting story, actually. This is a photograph of a kaleidoscope.

TBJ: That was my guess, since the album is called The Kaleidoscope.

M: Well, it’s not just any kaleidoscope, you see… There’s a man named Niklas Barsk–I think he’s from Sweden. We’ve never met him, but Kendra found this photo of his on Flickr. We sent him an email, saying, “We love your photo! Do you think we could use it in some capacity?” We thought of the title The Kaleidoscope first, so we were just looking for an image that fit. He was very nice and said, “Sure! Go ahead and use it, just send me a copy of the CD when it’s done!” So, we found out a little more about the story. He was traveling in Japan, and there’s a town called Nagahama that has a kaleidoscope museum. Basically, it has this big tent that’s over 30 feet high, and when you walk underneath it and look up, there’s an opening in the top of the tent, and that’s where the image is. And there’s a wheel you can turn that makes the image morph and change.

K: When I emailed him originally, I just asked for that photo, and he was so cool about it. He said, “I’ve also attached five other photos, and you can let me know if you want more.” It couldn’t have been a more perfect situation. I emailed a lot of people, actually. I had a lot of back-up plans, but when I saw this, I just knew…

M: That’s the one!

K: That’s the one! And I looked for another month, thinking I might want to do more of a design-based cover instead of using a photograph, but I just couldn’t get my head around anything else.

M: So, that’s our goal now. We have to go to Japan and visit and play there.

TBJ: You could play under the kaleidoscope! That would be like the time Animal Collective played at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

K: [Laughs] Did they? That’s rad.

M: Or like Mt. St. Helens playing at Mt. St. Helens.

TBJ: So, what’s the most surprising or unexpected thing that’s happened to you this year so far?

K: Probably the record release show selling out in a day.

TBJ: I heard it sold out in eleven hours? That’s crazy.

K: It was crazy. When you’re making a record, you’re really involved, so not a lot is surprising. But when you have to put what you’ve done into someone else’s hands, they can surprise you. When [the show] sold out, and we had to add a second night, it was such a magical moment.

M: We definitely didn’t know what to expect at all. We didn’t know how we would be received when the album was finished, it was just a big question mark.

TBJ: What’s your favorite venue to play in Seattle? Where have you played in Seattle so far?

M: Well, I personally love the Columbia City Theater.

TBJ: Where you had the record release party?

M: Yeah. We were in a cool position because we got to choose where we wanted to celebrate our album, and we chose that theater because it’s so beautiful. The size is great; it feels really intimate.

TBJ: And that seems perfect for your music, because “intimate” is a word I would use to describe the album.

M: Thanks, that’s a great compliment. We’ve played in venues where the crowds were really big, and sometimes it’s hard to connect with an audience, so having that size was great. Also, the people who run [the Columbia City Theater] are all so wonderful and welcoming. They were happy to work with us and wanted to help us decorate.

K: I think that’s probably my favorite, too, but I also really like playing at Neumos. I really like that room. But we’re playing at the Neptune on the 7th and I have a feeling I’ll love playing there.

M: Me too.

K: I’ve seen a couple of shows there and it’s incredible. So, had this interview been next weekend, I might have a different opinion. It’s an amazing venue and the way it’s laid out is great. I like playing all-ages shows and the all-ages set-up there is perfect. You could be at the bar and you still have a great view of the stage because it’s raised up.

M: We also played at the Showbox last year. That was amazing, too, because I grew up going to shows there and dreaming that I could play there someday. Each venue has a different feel.

TBJ: You’ve played a bunch of shows in Seattle and on the West Coast… where would you like to travel in the future?

M: Where wouldn’t we like to travel?

K: Anywhere. Like, literally anywhere.

M: We’ve done a lot of regional tours and we’ve only been south of San Francisco once. We’re pretty new to the world of touring. But we’d love to play the East Coast–go to New York, Boston…

K: Chicago…

M: Yeah, we’d like to tour the Midwest, too. We get emails from people who like our music in random places in the Midwest, so it would be cool to explore.

K: Europe is another place we’d both love to go.

M: And we’d like to play in Asia.

TBJ: Go to Japan! Play under the kaleidoscope!

K: I know!

TBJ: So, right now, your record is on sale at three record stores in Seattle and it’s available on your website. Do you plan on releasing it more widely this year?

M: Yeah, we would like to. It’s just a matter of figuring out when is the right time for us, but it’s definitely a goal.

K: It would be great to get it down to Portland or out to Bellingham, but it’s hard because we do everything ourselves. You have to have the means to do it, have the right connections… and we’re really teaching ourselves here.

TBJ: With the first album, there’s bound to be a lot of trial and error.

M: Right. We had plans to get it on iTunes. A lot of people requested it. We hope to expand our fan base and let as many people hear us as possible.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] Hill Block Party and saw a cool local band called Lemolo. I interviewed them a week later, and the Q&A was published on the day that they opened for Sharon van Etten and Tennis at the Neptune. It was my […]

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