ABOVE: YOUNG WONDER. PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH DOYLE
Young Wonder’s name doesn’t conjure a sound so much as a feeling, and nowhere is that feeling more apparent than on the electro-pop duo’s forthcoming full-length, Birth (out May 18), which is rooted in a sense of wide-eyed exploration. Rachel Koeman and Ian Ring signed with their label, Feel Good Lost, in 2012. Since then, the Cork, Ireland natives have released two EPs and five singles under the moniker Young Wonder.
On every release thus far, the duo has created wide, beat-leaning soundscapes that effectively toe the line between Postal Service bedroom-pop and Björkian vocal theatrics. For Birth, which we’re exclusively streaming below, Koeman and Ring navigate a terrain of whimsical arrangements, worldly instrumentation, and body-centric lyricism. It’s a utopian playground where hypnotic bass drops and bagpipes harmoniously coexist, and youthful abandon isn’t just implied—it’s encouraged.
Before the release, spoke with Koeman about the album’s inspiration and making.
ALY COMINGORE: I know Brendan [of Feel Good Lost] introduced you and Ian. How did you come to meet Brendan?
RACHEL KOEMAN: We actually met through our exes. Both of our exes went to college together, so we kind of knew of each other. As time went on, after we had both split up, Brendan and I got together, so he’s my manager, but he’s also my boyfriend. He knew I could sing, and obviously he was into making music videos and working with artists. Ian came to him looking for a video for his solo project, and through that, Brendan realized what a great producer Ian was and he got us working together in the studio.
COMINGORE: Did you and Ian immediately click on a creative level?
KOEMAN: Yeah. From a music point of view, we understood what we were trying to make. It was very organic; we worked really easily together both in and out of the studio. The way it works is that Ian usually writes a piece of music first and then he’ll send it on to me and I’ll write over it. I like to work on my own when I’m writing—for whatever reason it just seems to work best for me—but then we’ll come together to work and record the whole thing. It’s always worked that way and I think it will always work that way.
COMINGORE: You two have put out an impressive amount of music in two and a half years. Who’s the workhorse of the group?
KOEMAN: [laughs] It’s Ian. I’m not going to lie. Ian spends hours and hours and hours in the studio everyday working on music. It’s not something you can really speed up—it just takes a lot of time. I’m really lucky in the sense that when I work it doesn’t necessarily take me that long to write. I’m not writing a piece of music from scratch, though. It’s a different process. Ian does spend a lot more time at the studio than I do. There are times where he’s working and he’s in there for so long that he forgets to eat. I’m like, “How can you forget to eat?!” That would never happen to me. But Brendan is exactly the same; they can spend all day in front of the computer. Poor Ian. [laughs]
COMINGORE: You mentioned that Brendan knew you could sing. Musically, what were you doing prior to Young Wonder?
KOEMAN: I grew up singing in choirs, mainly. I used to do singing competitions. Between choir and being in bands and writing bits and pieces, I’ve always been performing.
COMINGORE: The way you sing in Young Wonder is so distinct and nuanced. I can’t imagine it in a singing competition setting.
KOEMAN: I totally get what you’re saying. I think that everyone’s voice changes depending on what they’re singing. When I was doing competitions I was definitely doing a more classical style of singing. It wasn’t massively different, but I definitely feel like I found my own voice when I started writing my own songs and when I’m writing with Young Wonder, as opposed to singing in a way that you’re “supposed” to sing.
COMINGORE: Prior to writing, did you and Ian discuss what you wanted to accomplish with Birth?
KOEMAN: Yeah. I think we agreed that we wanted to make something bigger and better than anything we’d made before. We agreed that we wanted to make it as accessible to as many people as possible. And we agreed that we wanted to take it in the direction of our bigger songs like “To You.” We’ve always used sounds inspired by different countries and cultures and musical instruments, and we wanted to continue with that and see where it went, really.
COMINGORE: Lyrically, where were you pulling inspiration from?
KOEMAN: A lot of the stuff that I write isn’t necessarily stuff that’s happening in my life or told from my point of view. Personally, I don’t think my life is very exciting. [laughs] I’m interested in how other people experience things and react to things, so a lot of the songs I write are about people I know. There’s a lot of stuff other people have gone through that I haven’t experienced myself, so I like to try and see how it would feel.
COMINGORE: Talk to me a bit about wardrobe. I’ve seen pictures of the live show and your outfits are phenomenal.
KOEMAN: [laughs] I like to go crazy. If I could get away with wearing those costumes every day I would do it. It’s totally an outlet to go mad and express yourself. I’ve always been interested in fashion and wearing weird things, so it’s cool to be able to wear it and get away with it in a sense.
COMINGORE: Can you tell me a bit about how you and Ian settled on the name Young Wonder and how you think it’s reflected in the music?
KOEMAN: We’ve always been interested in youth and the excitement and experiences around it. We wanted to have a name that had that energy and catches people’s attention and has a nice feel to it. We thought Young Wonder fit that.
COMINGORE: What got you really excited as a kid?
KOEMAN: Honestly, music was always something that blew my mind. It’s so embarrassing, but when I was 15 I used to be obsessed with Paramore. When I saw her live I was like, “I want to be that. I want to be that person.” I’ve taken it to a different place completely, but looking back I remember that being the moment where I realized I needed to be onstage. It was like, “Oh my god, I can be that. I can do that. Girls can do that.” It was amazing and it was something you could totally relate to. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
COMINGORE: This being the first time people are going to hear Birth, is there anything you want to add? Or anything you hope people take away?
KOEMAN: You know, when we wrote this album my idea was that I wanted people to really enjoy it. I know that’s such a simple thing, but some of my best experiences have been sitting down and listening to an album over and over again and just being absolutely obsessed with every single song on it. If 10 people in the world are so obsessed with [this album] that they replay it like that, that’s good enough for me.
BIRTH IS OUT VIA FEEL GOOD LOST ON MAY 18. FOR MORE ON YOUNG WONDER, VISIT THE BAND’S WEBSITE.