Winter West coast tours are big business these days, and certainly preferential for icebound artists from overseas. So it’s no surprise that January kicks off with Ider (often stylized as IDER), one of Britain’s most intriguing new duos. London-bred Megan Markwick and Lily Somerville, her Birmingham-bred flatmate of four genial years, say they never argue, even if one catches the other drinking milk from their personal carton. Almost effortlessly, they blend their voices in Cowsills-intricate songs, christening their harmonic persona Ider, which they’ve forged over several EPs and last year’s debut album “Emotional Education.”
“I think that friction between friends develops when you don’t have similar standards, but with us it’s pretty even. We both see eye to eye on what we consider clean,” says Markwick, who brings the band to The City this week. “ That’s basically it at the end of the day, isn’t it? Plus, when you have more people in the band, it’s less likely that they’re all going to have the same standards.”
The friendship started their first year in college, when they were both assigned to the same musical class project. “They put us in teams of four or five, and the first thing we realized was that singing together came so naturally to us and there was such a chemistry with our harmonies that we kind of ditched everyone else.”
Two years later, they rented a London apartment and began writing and recording in their individual bedrooms. By 2017, they issued the melancholy, almost monastic-sounding “Sorry,” their first single as Ider. It caught the ear of noted English singer-producer Shura, who helped them define their layered sound.
Rooted in their shared love of psychology and people watching, their material was written honestly, from personal experience, Markwick says. “We’re both so observant of the world around us, and we always pick up on energies from other people. And I think that makes for good songwriting or good poetry or good writing, in general — that ability to absorb other people’s thoughts and fears, without sounding too airy-fairy about it.”
While there are distinct differences between the singers, they usually dovetail into one. They cook for each other, and Markwick now shares Somerville’s vegan diet by default. “Artistically, I like color and texture, while Meg is quite photographic and literal in her take on art,” Somerville says. “But we always agree on what we think is good. And we do have a life outside of each other’s company.”
And dating? Markwick chuckles. “It’s allowed,” she says, tentatively. “But we do need that home time together to write songs, don’t we? We need to write a hit!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Jan. 10-11
Tickets: $15 to $17
Contact: (415) 861-2011, rickshawstop.com
For Grammy-winning SoCal combo Los Lobos, however, winter in the Bay Area — where it’s playing the annual Bill’s Birthday Bash this week — isn’t that different from its native clime, exemplified by the cover phot
of its recent Yuletide album, “Llego Navidad,” of a Christmas tree in the middle of a Los Angeles street, in the neighborhood where many of its members grew up.
“That was pretty fun,” recalls saxophonist Steve Berlin of the shoot. “That’s the main street of East L.A. in that picture, and we actually had to shut it down, and we had all the cops out and everything. And the studio we recorded it at, in July, is right there on the next corner, to the right.”
Currently, the Portland, Oregon-based Renaissance man has several irons in the creative fire. He’s producing albums he’s excited about by Austin’s The Greyhounds and a new artist who hand-crafts his own instruments called The Suitcase Junket. He’s also involved in the local start up AirHush, making inflatable sound attenuation systems. But he dropped everything when the call to honor Bill Graham came in, and he explains why.
When and how did you first meet Bill Graham?
I would say we met Bill at one of the festivals, either Golden Gate or A Dead show. I just remember it was an outdoor setting, and I — like most of us — was just in awe of the guy. And he actually wanted to manage us back in the day. I don’t know why we didn’t do it; to this day I wish there was a rationale behind it. But I have vague memories that it had something to do with the fact that he was so busy that you’d never really have his ear or his time. But it sure would have been interesting to have seen what would have happened.
Did he offer any wisdom?
I think it was more the strength and force of his personality and just the kind of man he was. He was just a unique individual, and you don’t really encounter many people him — he was just a force of nature in a human body, and it was fascinating. I never spent any one-on-one time with him myself, but whenever we would see him at the Fillmore or anywhere else I could tell he had a soft spot for us, even though we didn’t sign with him. So anytime there’s anything happening that’s to do with him, we’re down. We owe him a lot. And San Francisco’s always been deep in our corner, so we owe the city a lot, too.
The City has changed a lot since those days.
And not for the better. And that story is being told all over. I lived in Seattle for a minute, and Seattle is virtually unrecognizable now; downtown is now put to use for 25-year-old millionaires that Amazon has hired, and it used to feel like an American Amsterdam. Now it’s very staid, no fun allowed, with people dressing up, going out and coming home early. And I hate sounding like ‘You kids are ruining everything,’ but when you rob a city of its economic vitality until only the rich kids can play — like in San Francisco — I don’t know what you’re asking for. I’d rather have a vibrant, alive city.
Still one of the best shows Lobos ever played here was when you and a young Dwight Yoakam at the Stone and Wolfgang’s, the same night.
That was around “Will the Wolf Survive” and pre-“La Bamba,” and it was one fun night. But we were a bit more mobile then, and we were up for anything. And it just seemed like a fun, silly thing to do. So we did it.
IF YOU GO
Bill’s 89th Birthday Bash with Los Lobos
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 11