Heavenly, haunting pop duo Lemolo is riding a wave.
It’s nearly midnight on a warm, waning summer night in Poulsbo, a sleepy Scandinavian town 21 miles northwest of Seattle. The overhead lights are dim at the North Kitsap Community Pool and two sullen teenage lifeguards stand duty at one end. A film crew comprised of enthusiastic young men is perched at the opposite side of the water, juggling spotlights and waterproof camera gear while documenting the submerged maneuvers of 25-year-old Meagan Grandall and 22-year-old Kendra Cox. Better known as Lemolo, they’re filming a video for their song “Knives.”
The duo spent much of 2012 making figurative splashes with its fast-selling, self-released debut, Kaleidoscope, which has lingered on local bestseller charts since its release in early July. Though Lemolo gained momentum from high-profile gigs with the Head and the Heart and opening for singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, they’ve had plenty of independent traction, too, selling out their record release party at the Columbia City Theater and playing a prominent slot on the main stage at this year’s prestigious Doe Bay Festival.
Lemolo’s sound swims the murky waters between mellifluous, beguiling pop and darker, unsettling tones and themes. At one turn, Grandall’s crystalline soprano illustrates cinematic visions of whale-watching; at the next, she’s wishing for thicker skin, willfully drowning her lovely voice in a wash of reverb-drenched minor chords cascading from her guitar. Cox’s powerful, precise drumming grounds Grandall’s graceful vacillations between sweet and sinister. Cox is a whole-body percussionist—and part-time keyboard player—whose torso twitches, hovers and sways in anticipation of every hit, strident or soft. On stage, when the girls’ eyes aren’t locked in intense dialogue with each other, they’re often closed, seemingly lost in an embrace with internal muses.
Their sound reflects their contrasting personalities. Grandall is a willowy, Natalie Portman-esque beauty with a delicate, periodically shy demeanor; Cox is a brassy tomboy, brandishing a sharp wit and fearless outlook. They share clear-cut ambitions for career-oriented success in the music business, and share creative control over every endeavor, including this video shoot. While co-directors Corey McGuire and Nick Hartigan provide structure and guidance, the girls are assertive in the evolution of shots and angles—and unfailingly supportive of one another. Grandall is swimming swiftly underwater in a slip dress while tracing a mermaidian path around a swath of jewel-toned water balloons anchored on the pool’s floor.
“The first time I saw Kendra, she was in a neon spandex outfit and had a boombox blaring Salt ‘n Pepa,” Grandall says during a conversation at the Columbia City Theater a week before the video shoot. This was back in 2006 when Cox rented a kayak from the Poulsbo store where Grandall worked. “Then she strapped the boombox to the front of the kayak and just paddled away. I thought, ‘Wow, I want to know that girl.’”
They didn’t actually meet for another year, when Cox applied for a job at the same store. The two young women bonded over a shared love of Radiohead and the elaborate theme parties they orchestrated once they relocated to Seattle—“a lot of DJs, smoke machines, and cops,” cracks Cox. They eventually began a musical collaboration based on Grandall’s solo compositions. Named for Lemolo Shore Drive, the waterfront arterial leading to Grandall’s childhood home, the band was originally a quartet that played in a collegiate battle of the bands as well as small clubs around Seattle. But after a year, Grandall and Cox amicably parted ways with both the city and the other two bandmates. They retreated back to Poulsbo and began writing material that would eventually become Kaleidoscope.
“Kendra and I are pretty much married,” Grandall says. “We have to know everything about each other’s lives. She knows when my dentist appointments are. So it’s a ripe environment for conflict.”
“Meagan and I are really, really different. The things that piss each other off can be anything—the tone of voice or a text message,” Cox says. “We’ve gone through our battles and I don’t think that will change. But, yes—we’re definitely married.”
Lemolo play Heineken City Arts Fest Thursday, Oct. 18 at the Triple Door. Photo by Dylan Priest.