Of all the bands named for punctuation jokes, Let’s Eat Grandma are probably the best. Childhood friends Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton were barely out of primary school when they first started playing together, booking gigs around Norwich at an age where most other kids were still figuring out what to do in that awkward phase between playing with dolls and getting legless off cheap cider in parks.
In 2016, they used the songs they started writing together as a playtime activity to form the basis of their genre-bending debut ‘I, Gemini’. The record was kind of sweet and kind of eerie, made all the more so by Rosa and Jenny’s playground clapping games and childlike voices. Not unreasonably, comparisons to the twins from the Shining surfaced over and over again. That was the way they liked things, too – in promotional shots they were matchy-matchy, hiding behind entwined curtains of long brown hair.
Let’s Eat Grandma’s momentum accelerated as they hit the usual high points – Glastonbury, Jools Holland – until the cycle for ‘I Gemini’ wound down and things went quiet. The faux twins disappeared from view. Then, in January of this year, came ‘Hot Pink’, and the pair blew their own game wide open. They ditched their old personas, and happily stepped back out into the public view as individuals. Adults.
Written and produced with SOPHIE, ‘Hot Pink’ is something of a warning shot for the rest of their new record. With its fierce vocals and industrial production, the song is a klaxon sounding the alarm of change. Extra, extra; the old Let’s Eat Grandma is gone.
On ‘I’m All Ears’, the bubblegum psychedelia of ‘I, Gemini’ has been replaced with glimmering, sharp-edged pop. The result is a sprawling pop epic that weaves musings on youth, friendship, and change with light-hearted instrumental interludes.
“The sound we had with ‘I, Gemini’ was a better representation of us back then, and this is a better representation of where we’re at now,” Rosa notes. “It’s just inevitable that we’re going to progress and develop our sound and I think that we like going in lots of different directions at once.”
That’s true in both a literal and lyrical sense, it seems. The new album spends a lot of time talking about movement and change, seasons shifting and things coming to an end. In the gap between ‘I, Gemini’ and today, the pair have lived out the last of their teenage years, with all the twists and turns that time involves.
“I think the couple of years that we wrote the record over was a big time of change for us. Especially being the age that we are.” Rosa agrees.
This is probably reflected most in album closer ‘Donnie Darko’, which clocks in at just over eleven minutes and meanders between hazy psych, poetic pop, and Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Love My Way’ style New Wave. Some of the track’s lyrics speak to the confusion of having a mind that’s being pulled in multiple directions at once, with lines like “hear the buzz of the hornet fly trapped inside my orchid mind” and “it’s not real life, I can’t be dialling 999”.
In a more literal sense, the record is influenced in no small part by the fact that they are almost constantly on the road.
“We’re always travelling,” Jenny says. “Not just touring, but Rosa and I live in Norwich, so we’re always on the train. Literally all the time.”
“It’s a running theme in our lives. We always say that we feel most at home when we’re on the train or in a Travelodge,” Rosa laughs.
The recording process tends to be a rolling circus, too. Some of the sessions for ‘I’m All Ears’ involved a trip to SOPHIE’s house in LA, to record ‘Hot Pink’ and ‘It’s Not Just Me’. The change of location bled into the tracks, Jenny and Rosa think, bending the music to its will.
“I think [‘Hot Pink’] definitely sounds like LA in comparison to the rest of the album. It’s got a much sunnier, brighter feel about it,” Rosa muses.
Jenny nods. “Yeah, I think you do get influenced by your surroundings when you’re writing.”
It’s not just the music that location has an effect on, though. Between the three of us, we develop a theory, the components falling into place over the course of our chat. The basic principle – okay, the only principle – is that some people are location specific. SOPHIE, for instance, is unequivocally an LA person.
“She’s really cool. Like, I know that seems funny to say but often when you meet people they just seem so much like you, but SOPHIE’s on another plane,” Jenny says.
“She’s so composed” adds Rosa. “She’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Just in her persona, she’s so collected. She thinks about everything before she says it.”
“Everything has a point,” says Jenny.
By this same token their other producer on ‘Hot Pink’ and ‘It’s Not Just Me’, The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, is a London person.
“He’s too much of a goth,” Rosa grins. “I think he’d burn in the LA sun.”
“He kept saying he wasn’t a goth, but then he was doing a goth documentary,” Jenny says. She ticks off the criteria. “He has a tattoo of some bats, and he wears all black and doesn’t sleep.”
Not very goth, then. Still, our theory crumbles a bit when it comes to Let’s Eat Grandma themselves. If everyone is of a particular setting, then what about Jenny and Rosa who are, at this point at least, a little bit of everywhere? Norwich has a particularly tight music scene, but with all their coming and going, it can be difficult to feel totally at home.
“I think we never used to feel like we fit into [the Norwich scene] but now when I go home, and I go to a gig in Norwich I feel like I know loads of people there, and it’s really nice,” Jenny says. “I’m actually wearing a badge from this music event for all the young people in Norwich that my friend puts on.”
She pulls aside her jacket to reveal a badge that says ‘SKYNT’, pinned to her waistband.
It’s unusual for a band of their age and scope to not be based in London, but you get the feeling that Let’s Eat Grandma move in their own way. Still, after the success of ‘I, Gemini’ it’s easy to think that Jenny and Rosa might have felt pressured to perform a certain way or maintain a particular image. But Jenny smiles knowingly at the suggestion.
“It’s more that journalists copy each other,” she says. “So somebody will write one thing and then everyone will assume that’s [the narrative] because everybody just reads what everybody else says, and don’t write their own ideas. Which is quite funny. You’ll notice that people use the same phrases all the time without really thinking about where they came from.”
“Often it’s press release stuff, but sometimes it’s just completely independent of that,” Rosa adds. “And everybody just says it as if it’s an original idea.”
Well. That’s us rumbled. Rosa and Jenny laugh, but it isn’t as if there’s any friction here. They’ve just clocked what the game is, and aren’t particularly interested in playing it.
While they developed a reputation for being somewhat mysterious on their last record, these days there is a new openness to Let’s Eat Grandma’s lyrics. Now they’ve had more time to grow into their beliefs, Jenny and Rosa felt confident in making ‘I’m All Ears’ much less cryptic than its predecessor, and using their tracks as a vehicle for the things that affect themselves and their friends. Besides, they aren’t overly concerned about how other people interpret their writing, anyway.
“We don’t write music even thinking about other people listening to it, we write it for ourselves,” says Jenny. “It remains something that we do because we enjoy it, and I think we’re being honest because we have a lot of shit that we want to talk about really.”
“Maybe now we’re more confident in our feelings and our beliefs about stuff than we were when we wrote the first record, so we’re more purposeful with saying stuff,” says Rosa.
“Somebody asked in another interview if it was a statement, and I think that’s assuming that we write songs with the intention of [people hearing it]. Obviously, we release it, but we don’t sit there and be like, ‘We want everyone to know this’,” Jenny says.
She considers for a moment. “I guess it might be a statement, but not intentionally.”
It’s true that they have plenty to talk about on this record. When they dropped ‘Hot Pink’ back in January, Rosa and Jenny dove straight in with a subject they feel strongly about. ‘Hot Pink’ deals with misogyny, in the way that we as a society treat femininity as being inherently weaker or less valuable than masculinity.
“Femininity is looked down on in comparison to masculinity, and it shouldn’t be like that,” Rosa says thoughtfully. “It shouldn’t be inferior; it’s such a powerful thing. I think people feel like they can’t express that side of themselves, whether it’s girls or guys or whoever. The song was just about celebrating femininity and the power in it. It’s something that we think about a lot, and a lot of our friends think about a lot and feel and struggle with, so it’s something that we felt we needed to write about.”
The track is also, at least in part, about the traditional dynamic of relationships – about who holds the control, and who is expected to behave in certain ways.
“People often approach it from this traditional point of view as to who initiates what and what happens in it. I just think it’s a bit stupid. Even when you should do things, like when you should do this with someone, when should you do that. I just think it’s bloody outdated. And dumb,” Jenny laughs. “And I think it’s fine if that’s what you want to do, but it’s not for everyone.”
Power dynamics come into play a lot on this record, in more ways than one. ‘Snakes and Ladders’, for example, delves into dependence and pressure. But while on the surface the track could be about a particularly toxic dynamic between people, that wasn’t the intention at all.
“That track’s a lot about power and consumerism. The snakes and ladders bit was just about power in society really, and game-playing,” Rosa explains.
Jenny nods. “Also the deceit element, of snakes.”
“It’s a lot about having to buy into consumerism and brainwashing,” says Rosa.
“Also the suffering involved, and the problems people have in the world as a result of it,” Jenny adds.
“And the effect on the environment as well,” says Rosa.
It’s clearly something they feel passionately about. They lean into the table, trading off sentences in one continuous shared thought.
“I have to stop myself sometimes because it gets me so down and angry,” says Jenny.
“It gets to the point where there’s only so much you can do about it,” Rosa agrees.
“You’re also aware that you’re contributing to it, and there’s no way out really.”
“That’s what the song’s about. Having to contribute to something that goes against your morals. It’s a mindfuck,” says Rosa.
The pitfalls of the mind play out elsewhere on the album, too. The gentle piano ballad ‘Ava’ tells the story of a friend mired in misery, as the narrator tries desperately to offer a helping hand.
“‘Ava”s about trying to support someone who doesn’t want your support because they’re in such a bad place, and accepting that you can’t always do everything to help people. A lot about mental health, really,” says Rosa.
Is that something they explore a lot?
“Yeah!” they say in unison.
“I think a lot of the songs are at least partially about it,” Jenny says.
“It’s quite a trend in our lives,” Rosa smiles.
“It’s something that affects us and people who we’re close to a lot,” says Jenny.
“And so many other people,” Rosa adds.
‘Ava’ is a touching tune, lilting and softer than the rest of the album. Despite being the stylistic outlier on the record, though, it is also one of the clearest examples of what the album is truly about. At its heart, ‘I’m All Ears’ is an extended riff on friendship.
“A lot of the tracks, most of them are about platonic relationships. Or even the platonic relationship that you have with someone you’re going out with. Things should be based on friendship anyway,” Jenny says.
“I think romantic relationships are important, but I think platonic relationships are important in a different way. When you break up with someone you often lose that connection, and you don’t see them again, whereas platonic relationships can last a lifetime, but you don’t have to be [officially] committed to them because they’re your friends. It doesn’t go away. People don’t really fall out with friends that much unless you’re in high school. Or if they do something really bad – and then good riddance.”
While it may be true that adults tend not to fall out with their friends the way we do with partners, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always smooth sailing. Sometimes life just gets in the way – particularly when your life is that of a travelling musician. Jenny explores this in the third single off ‘I’m All Ears’, ‘It’s Not Just Me’ with the lyric “back then I’d just decided, I was so misguided, that you’d all forget about me in time.”
“I felt that because we were travelling and doing things with the band that I didn’t have enough time to spend with my friends, and I felt like they were all doing things together that I couldn’t be a part of,” she says.
“I feel like people might read into it like, ‘People might forget about the album’, but it’s nothing to do with being in a band. I’d be far more upset if my friends forgot about me than if people forgot about the record. My friends are more important to me than that.”
She pauses for a moment. “It’s hard when you miss people.”
“It’s hard when our lives are so separate to all of our friends’ lives, and that makes it isolating in a way,” Rosa agrees.
“That’s why I like going back to Norwich, hanging out with people and going to their gigs; it makes me feel more normal,” says Jenny.
With ‘I’m All Ears’, Let’s Eat Grandma are getting their balance in a new, adult world. Maybe true ‘normality’ – whatever that might be – is fleeting at the moment, but Rosa and Jenny are establishing their own baseline. Besides, it doesn’t seem like they’d have it any other way.
“I’m just enjoying being at home most of the time at the moment, so that’s why I’m like this, but if I was there all the time I’d be like, ‘I am going fucking mental, somebody let me leave now!’” Jenny laughs.
If they mean to go on like this, then all the better for us.
Let’s Eat Grandma’s album ‘I’m All Ears’ is out 29th June.
Words: Liam Konemann