Photo: OK McCausland

Clash Of The Titans: My Idea on debut album CRY MFER

Prolific alt-pop songwriters Lily Konigsberg (Palberta) and Nate Amos (Water From Your Eyes) teamed up to become My Idea and make an album of bangers. What resulted was a far more emotionally draining experience than any could have expected, they tell Jasper Willems

Lily Konigsberg and Nate Amos are itching to talk about the next album they will write and record together as My Idea. No, no, no. Not CRY MFER, the excellent debut album the Brooklyn duo released just a couple of weeks ago. The next My Idea record. 

“This album we’re putting out now has a lot of drama. I don’t really want to talk about that in this interview,” Konigsberg forewarns, video calling from her car, stationed at a Burger King parking lot. Her partner, tattoo artist Tape Hernandez, is sitting shotgun as her emotional support. “CRY MFER is basically about trauma between the two of us and other people. It’s pretty hard to listen to. Our next album, our ideas are geared towards more of a stadium rock vibe. We have two songs written that are bangers so far. When we have time to write together again, we’ll work on that album, and finish that album.”

Amos, who checks in about 10 minutes late, is similarly wary of the elephant in the room that is CRY MFER. “CRY MFER was made in a very complicated period of time, before we both got sober,” he says. “We got through it, but it was not a particularly healthy period of time.” 

“Now we’re … through it,” Konigsberg stammers, her big ocean-blue eyes visibly welling up. “It was unhealthy and bad and made us really close…but also really far apart. That’s why it’s kind of hard for me to talk about it. I don’t really want to talk about it… I’m sorry.”

The My Idea-project wasn’t supposed to be this messy battleground of emotions between two hyper-prolific equals. The original idea was decisively more pragmatic. “We talked about becoming a ghostwriting team for other people,” Amos says. “Unlike our other projects, My Idea was focused on songwriting as a craft. Like an overall demonstration: this is what we can do together in an unrestrained creative environment.”

Konigsberg continues: “I have accepted that I liked pop music for a long time now. And Nate accepted that too. We wanted to write the catchiest songs together. And we do have a pretty intuitive working relationship: when we write a song together we have the same thought a lot of the time. It was a connection neither of us has experienced. My Idea is completely the two of us. We’re both equally strong songwriters.”

In their first session, the duo produced Konigsberg’s solo track “Sweat Forever” together without much of a sweat, incisively carrying out the objective of making something that sounds like “Pharrell joining The Cranberries”. 

Instead of becoming a portfolio of bangers, CRY MFER turned into, well, something else. And not even Konigsberg and Amos themselves can say for certain what that something else entails. During the writing and recording process, their lives got entangled by tensions in their personal relationship and persistent substance abuse. Meanwhile, their chemistry as songwriters became an infectious and insuppressible pursuit. A quandary with rather explosive consequences. It’s a special songwriting relationship,” Amos realises. “It’s rare to find a songwriting relationship that works on this fundamental level. Every song was written with a different approach to a certain extent.”

CRY MFER’s title track went according to the duo’s initial plan, materialising in clean, quick and orderly fashion: Amos produced the beat and Konigsberg provided the vocals and lyrics. As the writing process developed, however, the duo started tossing each other more and more curveballs.

“Baby I’m The Man” was written by Amos as what he describes as kind of a macho bro Elliott Smith song”, but Konigsberg dropping the lead vocals muddies the waters in an eyebrow-raising way. The way the arrangement contorts and modulates into an inebriated state feels as if two drivers have their hands on the same wheel, willingly allowing the moving vehicle to fly off the cliff. It makes what otherwise would become a pastiche akin to Ween’s “Baby Bitch” sound like something painfully candid.

The Elton John-esque piano ballad “I’m Not Afraid” has a similarly feverish quality, though with a more joyous disposition: you can clearly hear Amos and Konigsberg celebrating the take after the final note. “That’s actually the first take,” Amos says. “That was a song I had written for Lily’s cat, who was sick.”

“…he’s okay now,” Konigsberg assures.

“Lily tweaked a couple of parts of those lyrics, made them better,” Amos continues. “I gave singing it a shot and that was… what you hear is just the first take in its entirety. It’s a very serious song but it’s presented as a behind the scenes kind of thing.” 

“It’s the most vulnerable thing, but it also shows there’s like a light in our friendship,” Konigsberg says.

CRY MFER accurately documents two people deeply caring for each other whilst caught up by their own distress, and forgetting to take care of themselves in that damned process. And though the songs often feel as if they’re about to collapse in on themselves, Konigsberg and Amos’ gift for ushering pop earworms within their blithe idiosyncrasies shines brighter than ever. The experiences simmering underneath the songs are – in Konigsberg’s own words – “devastating”, yet somehow each song still oozes that same sense of fun and irreverence audible in the duo’s individual projects, be it oddball alternative outfit Water From Your Eyes or punk trio Palberta.

“I don’t think people who will listen to this album will feel sad, because the melodies are really catchy,” Konigsberg says.

With the cobwebs somewhat cleared and embracing full sobriety, Amos and Konigsberg now have a better grasp of each other as artists and people. Turns out those two sides are quite symbiotic, and therefore quite intense. Ultimately, for My Idea, it became apparent the two work best in a writer-editor type of dynamic.

“I learned a lot from Lily,” Amos says. “I’m pretty much just writing constantly. Lily is such a great editor, with a strong sense of what works and doesn’t work. There’s a relationship where I’m constantly generating content – not knowing what’s good and what isn’t – and Lily decides what needs or doesn’t need to be fixed.”

Their buoyant creativity bolsters like a golden thread through CRY MFER’s collage-y, fractured makeup. According to Amos, the lyrics of “Lily’s Phone” were actually based on Konigsberg’s voicemail messages, turning messy communication into a fun little songwriting gambit. Though “Breathe You” was described as somewhat of a piss take of Justin Bieber, Amos unironically describes it as the record’s most vulnerable song; a very visceral, unguarded account of sexual desire. Since the song is quite a departure sonically from the rest of CRY MFER, it was initially omitted, until a friend of Amos’ suggested to actually include it. That was a tipping point of acceptance of what the album would become over what it was intended to be.

Though it took some internal soul searching, Amos and Konigsberg – with help of Hernandez – realised they needed serious help. Initially, the duo attended AA-meetings together before going their separate ways. “I got lucky, because Lily convinced me to quit drinking,” Amos says. “They took me to a doctor, and like 10 days later, the doctor was like: ‘Yeah, you’re lucky you’re not in the hospital, you should never drink ever again in your life’. Before that I wasn’t really sure if it was gonna stick for me. Once I was told that I was like: ‘Okay, I really just need to never drink again’. It hasn’t been an option since then.”

Gathering from the emotions frequently bubbling up during a rather chaotic Zoom interview, the wounds are still fresh, though fortunately, both Amos and Konigsberg have regained their mojo, manifesting and harnessing their distinct pop smarts in fresh, often surprising ways. 

Konigsberg: “It always scares me when I stop writing, because I’m scared I’m never going to write again, and it always takes awhile to get back into the swing of things. And since I’m writing ‘no bad songs’, I get really critical. I have a lot of voice memos, and I have a lot of lyrics written down,” She says she’s written about four songs in 14 days and lots of lyrics, which according to her is a relatively slow pace. But she’s visibly content exploring different songwriting techniques, themes and topics. 

Amos, meanwhile, has been on a roll after a writing drought that persisted for several months. “I was ready to retire from my solo projects and all of a sudden it came screaming back in a more intense way,” he says. “I feel much more confident writing now, which was the opposite of what I thought was gonna happen.” Right after logging off, he immediately sends over a secret advance of PA$$ION THRESHOLD, the new This Is Lorelei-record he self-released and produced, taking on “more of a hyper-pop direction”.

Moreover, Amos and Konigsberg are ready to talk about that next My Idea album they’ve been tentatively working on, chalking CRY MFER up as somewhat of a technicality. Albeit a very powerful and informative technicality.

“It’s an accurate document to the point where it’s difficult for the both of us to listen to it, to be entirely honest,” Amos once again underscores. “We’re both incredibly proud of this album. I think the fact that, after most of this album was done for almost a year now, it’s still raw for both of us, it speaks to how good I think it is. Both of us are people with pretty high standards, and a capacity for intensely making music. You’d think a year would be a long time, but personally, I don’t feel able to judge this album yet. I still don’t really know what it is. It’s like the Big Bang moment for this band.

“It has no particular style, it’s just this collusion of all these fucking different things flying off in different directions,” he continues. “Somehow it does really work. But there’s going to be a big jump between this and the next album. It’s going to be the opposite of CRY MFER. It’s going to be this focussed thing where things aren’t included just because they happen, a pretty particular vision of where we want to take this project. I feel we needed to bounce around the chaos a little bit and get to know each other as songwriters before we could get to the point and discuss what kind of music we really want to make.”

Konigsberg, never short of a snappy one-liner, nods in approval. “That might change from album to album. Next time we’ll write stadium rock, but for us… just like Bruce Springsteen! But I don’t even like Bruce Springsteen! But I do wanna capture that vibe and find out however that comes across with us writing it. You know, those scary apocalyptic anthems you hear on the radio with all the stomping and the clapping. Or just a powerful singalong type of thing? But… make it cool I guess?

CRY MFER is out now via Hardly Artread our review.

You can find My Idea on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

CRY MFER by My Idea