LET’S EAT GRANDMA

Q (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: ALEX LAKE

We catch up with the Nor­wich duo in Coven­try to hear how they con­jured up the win­ner of Q’s Best Al­bum award.

Jenny Holling­worth and Rosa Wal­ton of Let’s Eat Grandma love an idiom. Bite the bul­let, ta­bles have turned… that kind of thing. But their favourite is I’m All Ears, the ti­tle of their sec­ond al­bum and the record Q read­ers voted their favourite at this year’s Q Awards. Rachel Aroesti joins the pair in Coven­try to hear how they pulled it off.

In the foyer of a Coven­try art gallery, Let’s Eat Grandma’s Jenny Holling­worth is singing a Jeff Buck­ley song to ap­prox­i­mately three peo­ple. Around her, a gag­gle of vol­un­teers bus­tle about, un­furl­ing tres­tle ta­bles and chat­ting on walkie-talkies with a cliquey ca­ma­raderie. There are crêpe pa­per stream­ers, co­pi­ous plas­tic cups and a pho­to­booth filled with fun hats. A lit­tle boy is winc­ing at the hub­bub from be­neath a pair of noise-can­celling head­phones. As small-time com­mu­nity arts events go, Boudica Fes­ti­val is a text­book ex­am­ple – the only mys­tery be­ing what one of the most crit­i­cally feted bands in Bri­tain is do­ing here. Post-sound­check, Holling­worth and her band­mate Rosa Wal­ton are un­able to shed much light on the sit­u­a­tion – although they are con­vinced the event would be bet­ter sit­u­ated in their home­town of Nor­wich. That’s be­cause the Celtic ruler in ques­tion lived in the area, a fact that is re­flected in the lo­cal in­fra­struc­ture. “One of the Wether­spoons [ in Nor­wich] is called The Queen Of Iceni,” ex­plains Holling­worth. “So that’s why we’re here,” jokes Wal­ton, de­lighted to have wrested some sort of logic from the band’s gig di­ary. The hun­dred or so guests who even­tu­ally turn up to the pair’s set that night should count them­selves lucky – Let’s Eat Grandma won’t be hang­ing around in re­gional arts cen­tre en­trance halls for long. If the duo’s grat­i­fy­ingly odd 2016 de­but I, Gem­ini – re­leased when they were 17, and partly recorded when they were just 15 – suc­ceeded in piquing mu­sic in­dus­try in­ter­est, its

fol­low-up, I’m All Ears, has ce­mented their rep­u­ta­tion as pre­co­cious mas­ters of witty, idio­syn­cratic out­sider-pop: it gar­nered a slew of rap­tur­ous re­views, won an AIM award in the sum­mer and, more to the point, was re­cently crowned al­bum of the year at the Q Awards by Q’s read­ers. Soon, the duo will be play­ing to num­bers that re­flect this suc­cess: Novem­ber sees them join synth-pop­pers Chvrches on a tour that takes in Scot­tish are­nas and the 10,000- ca­pac­ity Alexan­dra Palace. Right now, how­ever, the pair are mak­ing the most of some pre­cious time off in their own unique style: eat­ing roast din­ners at Holling­worth’s new flat, watch­ing the Lord Of The Rings movies and vis­it­ing the lo­cal magic shop – ob­vi­ously. “We’re go­ing to have to get into our other projects,” sighs Wal­ton, pon­der­ing this rare abun­dance of leisure time. These side­lines are, ac­cord­ing to Holling­worth, “secrets”. “Magic secrets,” teases Wal­ton. Those fa­mil­iar with Let’s Eat Grandma’s wil­fully ec­cen­tric ap­proach to mu­sic-mak­ing will not be sur­prised to hear that spend­ing time with the pair can be a slightly dis­con­cert­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Wal­ton is all wide smiles and friendly chit-chat, while Holling­worth seems far less con­cerned with putting peo­ple at their ease, but both op­er­ate in a tone that hov­ers just be­low to­tal sin­cer­ity – not quite sar­cas­tic, but not en­tirely earnest ei­ther. To those not on their wave­length, they could seem slightly mock­ing of the in­ter­view process – you have to feel some pity for the clue­less Amer­i­can jour­nal­ists whom the pair man­aged to con­vince they were witches and, on a more ran­dom oc­ca­sion, hair­dressers. Yet they are also at pains not to trot out pat re­sponses: in­stead their an­swers are thought­ful, weird and, most of­ten, drily amus­ing.

That peo­ple tend to over­look Let’s Eat Grandma’s GSOH is a per­sonal gripe of the pair. “Peo­ple didn’t re­ally get our jokes,” com­plains Wal­ton. Holling­worth agrees. “El­e­ments of the last al­bum were a bit of a piss-take and peo­ple took it way too se­ri­ously.” The record’s use of recorders, cringe­wor­thy rap seg­ments and de­lib­er­ately lazy lyri­cal non­sense – along­side the moody synth epics and strange fairy­tale-like nar­ra­tives – was meant to be a de­lib­er­ately wacky take on pop clichés; in early in­ter­views they acted al­most as if their band was some kind of prank. But in­stead of plac­ing the girls within the con­tem­po­rary pop land­scape that they – along with most young teenagers – in­hab­ited (the pair first got into mu­sic­mak­ing by per­form­ing Ed Sheeran cov­ers, and count Frank Ocean’s Chan­nel Orange as a key in­flu­ence on their de­but), mu­sic crit­ics strained to squeeze the pair into the in­die canon, com­par­ing them to Kate Bush and the Cocteau Twins. “I hadn’t heard of any of these bands un­til af­ter the al­bum came out. I love the Cocteau Twins, but I like them now – not when we were 14,” says Holling­worth, who is slightly scep­ti­cal of the con­cept of com­par­ing one band to an­other. “It shows more about some­body else’s mu­sic taste than it does about yours – be­cause some­times I’ll lis­ten to some­body’s mu­sic and be like I can hear a lit­tle bit of the Twee­nies theme tune in there,” she pauses. “I don’t even know what the Twee­nies theme tune is.” Cue Wal­ton per­form­ing a note-per­fect ren­di­tion of the ’ 00s kids show’s open­ing cred­its. “Look, Rosa was in­flu­enced by the Twee­nies!” jests Holling­worth, be­fore the pair em­bark on an in-depth dis­cus­sion of chil­dren’s TV that takes in The Clangers, what ex­actly Brum is, and whether or not Pingu is a gen­der non-bi­nary icon.

If I, Gem­ini was fre­quently mis­in­ter­preted by the mu­sic es­tab­lish­ment, I’m All Ears has been clutched to its bo­som. “I think that peo­ple got the sec­ond al­bum much more than they got the first one. I feel un­der­stood for once!” says Wal­ton, with mock-melo­drama. “Rosa’s like, ‘I don’t need my fam­ily to talk to about my emo­tional prob­lems, I just read my YouTube com­ments,’” replies Holling­worth. “I just need my fans!” her band­mate agrees laugh­ingly. The rea­sons be­hind this shift seem twofold: first of all, the girls spent time fil­let­ing down their busy and ex­pan­sive com­po­si­tions into some­thing more eas­ily di­gestible, with some as­sis­tance from avant-garde pro­ducer SO­PHIE and Hor­rors front­man Faris Bad­wan. “I think this al­bum is slightly more palat­able, struc­ture-wise,” says Wal­ton. “SO­PHIE taught us how you don’t al­ways need a mas­sive long in­tro, and some­times you can make things a bit more suc­cinct, which cre­ates good pop songs,” ex­plains Holling­worth. They still made room for the kind of kooky in­stru­men­tals that char­ac­terised their de­but, but the al­bum is punc­tu­ated by leaner, more im­me­di­ate tracks such as Hot Pink, where sac­cha­rine R&B meets spurts of in­dus­trial synth, and I Will Be Wait­ing, which starts off re­sem­bling a Vanessa Carl­ton torch song be­fore

“Some­times I’ll lis­ten to some­body’s mu­sic and be like I can hear a lit­tle bit of the Twee­nies theme tune in there.” Jenny Holling­worth

at­tach­ing it­self to a hyp­notic break­beat. The sec­ond change seems to have come from the mu­sic in­dus­try it­self. Let’s Eat Grandma’s ap­proach to chart pop – one which com­bines giddy en­thu­si­asm for its re­cent past with a mav­er­ick dis­re­gard for the rules – has gone from fringe con­cern to a mode that has all but re­placed in­die mu­sic in the in­ter­ven­ing years, partly thanks to the suc­cess of acts such as Chris­tine And The Queens, Years & Years and Charli XCX, as well as the in­sis­tent in­flu­ence of Lon­don pro­duc­tion col­lec­tive PC Mu­sic. It’s a shift in at­ti­tude the pair have de­lighted in. “Ev­ery­body’s just sud­denly ad­mit­ting that we’ve all liked pop all along and have just been so far up our own ar­ses we couldn’t see the true light of the sit­u­a­tion,” Holling­worth thinks. “It shouldn’t be a shame­ful thing to ap­pre­ci­ate pop mu­sic. It is a beau­ti­ful art!” Wal­ton agrees, grin­ning. While the mind­set be­hind their ex­per­i­men­tal pop might be fiercely con­tem­po­rary, the pair don’t nec­es­sar­ily take a holis­tic ap­proach to hip­ness. In­stead they have main­tained a sense of home­spun, slightly nerdy odd­ness that sat­is­fy­ingly off­sets their mu­sic’s new­found slick­ness. Aes­thet­i­cally, the pair have moved on from the olde-worlde creepi­ness of their de­but al­bum – in the video for their first sin­gle Deep Six Text­book they gal­li­vanted on a beach in white lace tights like er­rant Vic­to­rian twins, while on­stage they hid be­hind blan­kets of waist-length curly hair and played hand-clap­ping games – but a sense of anachro­nism still per­vades much of their work. The I’m All Ears al­bum cover, for ex­am­ple, is a por­trait of the two girls ren­dered half­way be­tween dreamy ’ 60s psy­che­delic art and a pre-Raphaelite paint­ing. The pair also have a pen­chant for id­ioms – those quirky English phrases that slot eas­ily into ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion, but sound dis­tinctly strange and an­ti­quated when held up to the light. Their lyrics and song names, from The Cat’s Py­ja­mas (an or­gan-based in­stru­men­tal fea­tur­ing heavy purring) to the al­bum ti­tle it­self, are lit­tered with them. “I re­ally like id­ioms,” muses Wal­ton. “If you give us a word we could prob­a­bly do an idiom out of it.” Um, ta­ble, I sug­gest unimag­i­na­tively. “Ta­bles have turned!” she snaps back tri­umphantly. As well as rev­el­ling in their ec­cen­tric­ity, the pair are in­creas­ingly keen to con­nect with their con­tem­po­raries: in­stead of chin­stroking, mid­dle-aged mu­sos, they would like to see more young women in their au­di­ences. “I think it’s just be­cause we write so much

about the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing young peo­ple that we just wanted peo­ple who could specif­i­cally re­late to it,” ex­plains Holling­worth. The pair are un­der no il­lu­sions about how their age and gen­der has af­fected their re­cep­tion, how­ever, find­ing much of the press cov­er­age of I, Gem­ini pa­tro­n­is­ing. But rather than be­ing im­pa­tient to out­grow their teenage girl la­bel, the pair are more in­ter­ested in un­der­min­ing its neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions. Holling­worth is es­pe­cially pas­sion­ate about the un­sung role of teenage girls as pop cul­ture tastemak­ers through­out his­tory. “The thing is, a lot of mas­sive bands who are re­ally pop­u­lar and re­spected, their fans were al­ways teenage girls. The Bea­tles had such a young fe­male au­di­ence and they’re so re­spected now and all the older men are like, ‘Oh yeah, The Bea­tles.’ I don’t re­ally know this for sure but I imag­ine that The Smiths had quite a fe­male au­di­ence.”

That said, Wal­ton and Holling­worth are keen to dis­tance them­selves from the kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties that tend to be as­so­ci­ated with their peers: namely, rack­ing up so­cial me­dia likes. “Nei­ther of us re­ally post on so­cial me­dia]. I can’t be ar­sed with it – it’s a waste of time,” says Wal­ton. “I’m re­ally bad at tak­ing self­ies as well, so it’s in­evitable that I’m never go­ing to be pop­u­lar on the in­ter­net,” Holling­worth says breezily. So­cial me­dia, and tech­nol­ogy, is some­thing that pre­oc­cu­pies them in the ab­stract, how­ever – I’m All Ears is lit­tered with ref­er­ences to it: songs get in­ter­rupted by ring­ing phones, a track called Missed Call ( 1) which mines a ma­jes­tic grav­ity from the phe­nom­e­non of the poly­phonic ring­tone. They are cur­rently ob­sessed with Chan­nel 4 re­al­ity show The Cir­cle, in which mem­bers of the pub­lic com­pete to win the af­fec­tions of their fel­low con­tes­tants via the slip­pery medium of so­cial me­dia pro­files. Ac­cord­ing to the pair, it’s a damn­ing in­dict­ment of “the ba­sics of pop­u­lar­ity – the sur­face-level things that makes some­one pop­u­lar, mainly what they look like” and they are par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by a con­tes­tant called Alex, who has fooled the other play­ers into think­ing he is a pretty young woman called Kate. “When our man­ager was like, ‘Who would you like to present your Q Award if you win one?’, we were like: ‘Can we get Alex from The Cir­cle?!’” laughs Wal­ton.

Fast-for­ward two weeks, and there’s no sign of any schem­ing re­al­ity con­tes­tants in Lon­don’s Round­house – not that it’s any­where near the forefront of Wal­ton and Holling­worth’s minds. In­stead, they’re reel­ing from the shock of their win, hav­ing fought off com­pe­ti­tion from Noel Gal­lagher, In­ter­pol and Arc­tic Mon­keys. It’s their old pal Faris Bad­wan who ends up pre­sent­ing the pair with their award, which pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity for a long over­due catch-up – one that takes in top­ics as di­verse as a re­cent trip to Ja­pan and the cur­rent fame lev­els of TV’s Alex Zane. As Wal­ton and Holling­worth ric­o­chet be­tween wait­ing cam­eras and ra­dio mics, the Hor­rors man muses on their vic­tory. “I can’t think of a record I’d rather have won,” he says. Yet de­spite Bad­wan’s ob­vi­ous bias, it’s not hard to be­lieve that he genuinely means it. Fus­ing free-spir­ited orig­i­nal­ity with whip-smart songcraft and in­fec­tious charm, I’m All Ears is a stag­ger­ing achieve­ment – and one that sug­gests the most thrilling it­er­a­tion of pop mu­sic’s fu­ture lies squarely in the minds of two Nor­wich teenagers.

“When our man­ager was like, ‘Who would you like to present your Q Award if you win one?’, we were like: ‘Can we get Alex from The Cir­cle?!’” Rosa Wal­ton

Cool and col­lected: play­ing at Coven­try’s Boudica Fes­ti­val, 6 Oc­to­ber, 2018.

Nor­wich union: (above) the duo pass with fly­ing colours; (right) their sec­ond al­bum I’m All Ears.

Hear! Hear!: Let’s Eat Grandma ac­cept their Q Best Al­bum award from The Hor­rors’ Faris Bad­wan (left).

“It’s the bees’ knees!”: with their Q gong.

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