The Boston duo Axel & Lolo pull off a sneaky trick in the opening lines of their song “You’d Like Me More.” “Went to church today, laid down in the pews,” Lauren Vice and Axel Rodriguez sing in perfect unison. It’s a peaceful image, and the pair wastes no time puncturing it. “I don’t trust the Bible, I’m just trying to relate to you.” A note of cynicism, and a frank admission of warped, yet relatable behavior. Who among us hasn’t done something you hate in order to get closer to the person you love?
There’s nothing like a good opening verse, especially when you’re trying to stand out from the crowd. Which is precisely what Vice and Rodriguez managed to do: Their performance of “You’d Like Me More” was selected from 229 local entries to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest as our station’s favorite Massachusetts submission, earning Axel & Lolo a performance slot at WBUR’s CitySpace.
This is the sixth year that WBUR’s panel of judges — Isa Burke, Tim Hall, Noah Schaffer, Heesu Yu and myself — combed through the Massachusetts Tiny Desk entries to pick a local favorite. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we kept returning to Axel & Lolo’s performance, which takes place in a drab practice room embellished with a pair of bright plastic flowers and a fleet of neon green frogs arranged atop Vice’s keyboard. Rodriguez, with a mop of curly hair, giant square glasses and shirt buttons open halfway down his chest, looks as if he was transported directly from the 1970s; Vice somehow manages to look more subdued in a glowing pink top and purple jacket. The band is rounded out by Tyler Logan Caro on bass and Samuel Oldham on drums.
Beyond those captivating opening lines, the group impressed the panel with its chugging energy and big dynamics — not to mention Rodriguez and Vice’s uncanny ability to blend their voices. Lyrics heavy in metaphor and wordplay are pierced by a direct, singable refrain: “You’d like me more if I didn’t care about you.”
I met up with Rodriguez and Vice at the Museum of Fine Arts on a drizzly afternoon in September. As students at Berklee College of Music, they get in free to the museum and have spent countless hours roaming the halls. The pair greeted me in the foyer, beaming, and then led me to one of their favorite exhibitions in the Linde Family Wing, a huge wall-mounted sculpture made of wool felt by the artist Alexandra Adamo. Vice and Rodriguez gazed at the vast green-blue object, which was crafted with local schoolchildren as part of the museum’s community arts initiative and resembled a series of large barnacles covered in moss. Closer inspection revealed a collection of charming oddities: a rubber duckie, a ladybug, the Patrick Star character (a salmon-colored starfish in swim trunks) from “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“We love things that are a little childish,” Vice said. “Like, the Patrick Star and the rubber ducks are just so silly. We like silliness.”
“I feel like everyone should be more childlike,” Rodriguez mused. “Yeah, I feel like that’s the source of all happiness: seeing the world like a child again.”
This shared sensibility — playfulness, joy, curiosity — is what bonds Rodriguez and Vice. The two met as freshmen at Berklee and have been practically inseparable since. Rodriguez recalled the first time they sat down to write a song together. “That was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so fun, we're having so much fun!’”
They noticed, too, that their voices blended seamlessly, to the point where it was sometimes hard to tell who was singing which part.
“It just felt very right, and magical, almost, once we started singing,” Vice said.
“You’d Like Me More” was the pair’s first “serious” attempt at writing a song, according to Vice. The inspiration came from parallel experiences with friends from high school. “She was doing things that were worrying me,” Rodriguez said about one close friend from home.
“It's feeling that distance kind of growing between you and a friend,” Vice explained. “And seeing them surround themselves with people who maybe you thought they never would be around, and wondering if, maybe, ‘Is that the reason for why we're not talking as much?’”
The song’s refrain — “You’d like me more if I didn’t care about you” — could be interpreted more generally. It evokes the feeling, familiar to so many, that crushing on someone too hard might be turning them off. “I mean, really, it’s just about love,” Vice said.
Their own friendship isn't something Rodriguez and Vice mine intentionally when writing songs. But its centrality in their lives nevertheless seems to shape the pair's perspective.
“[Friendship] is such an interesting thing to write about because there are so many similarities to romantic love,” Vice said. “But it's also … far more complex in its own way, and it isn't talked about quite as much.”
In fact, friendship may be the most salient theme in Axel & Lolo’s oeuvre — which, admittedly, isn’t very big yet. The duo has released two studio singles, including a version of “You’d Like Me More,” and teased other songs on Axel & Lolo’s TikTok channel. They are getting ready to release a third single and plan to eventually put out an album.
Axel & Lolo’s other single, “Happy To Say It Again,” mines the self-absorption of best friendship (and young adulthood) with wry self-awareness. “Are we the first to think these things through?” Vice and Rodriguez wonder, and then laughingly supply their own answer: “Girl, shut the f--- up, none of it’s new.”
Lush with vocal harmonies and peppered with jokey asides, “Happy To Say It Again” feels like stepping into Vice and Rodriguez’s private little world. “I spilled my juice on your duvet,” the duo sings in the song’s opening verse. Then, in classic fashion, they pivot with a disarming confession: “I want to love just to love.” The verse concludes with a lyric that feels tossed-off, but may be the most Axel & Lolo line of them all:
“It feels so good to be us.”
This segment aired on September 28, 2023.