Jockstrap: “We’re coming at big pop songs from a different angle”

The last twelve months have seen JOCKSTRAP rise from buzzy newcomers to Mercury nominees. Breaking the mould, fusing genres and defying expectations, they’re not done yet.

Words: Martyn Young.
Photos: Nici Eberl.
Photography assistant: Pooja Dua.

Music can often be about scenes and specific groups of people. It can also be about sounds, defined sounds that become so popular that they proliferate to be heard in multiple different places and through multiple different artists. It’s rare that you find a band that sound truly different and entirely confounding. In the case of the duo of Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery, there’s no one else in the world making music quite like Jockstrap. It’s this visionary approach to alt-pop that has made them one of the most exciting bands around and the last year since the release of their debut album ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ has seen them scale new heights and blow musical minds, culminating in a Mercury nomination and some typically idiosyncratic events to crown a landmark year for one of the genre’s most beguiling success stories. 

One thing that is undoubtedly true about Jockstrap is they haven’t let success change them. They seem permanently unruffled. Perhaps that’s what allows them to be so open and free-spirited with their music. “I think it’s been pretty steady,” begins violinist and singer Georgia, describing their journey since they first started Jockstrap after meeting at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 2016. In typically understated fashion, she says, “Maybe this year has taken off because we’ve never done as many festivals as we’ve done this year. We’ve kept on going on with doing our creative and our visuals alongside it. We haven’t had any massive changes. No crazy team changes or anything like that. Anyone we’ve worked with has been here since the beginning.” 

This close-knit and insular relationship has fostered the dynamic that has allowed them to be so creative. The symbiotic musical relationship between Georgia and Taylor is ever-evolving and continuously thriving. “Georgia has certain things that she needs to bring to the table, and I have certain things that I need to bring to the table,” explains producer and electronic wizard Taylor. “We have found a way to allow both of them to exist at the same time. It’s an opportunity for us to focus on one thing each. We both still believe that’s useful and possible and interesting and fun. We want to just keep doing that.” 

The relationship between the two finds them bouncing off each other and discovering their different creative skills as they evolve from their first, more rudimentary electronic singles to the grand symphonic pop odysseys of their debut. “You just think I don’t do this, but you do this, and this is interesting to me, so there’s things to learn,” says Taylor. “It keeps you inspired. It’s like a self-reviving carrot. It gives you energy. You carry on doing it.” It’s a creative bond that Georgia echoes. “Jockstrap wouldn’t exist without one or the other,” she adds. “I’m always very grateful that we met and we can make music together. I wouldn’t be able to do that otherwise.” 

When we meet Jockstrap, they are enjoying some well-earned downtime in a whirlwind year while they await the Mercury ceremony and two celebratory performances at the Barbican in London in December. Taylor is in Market Harbour, where his family live, and Georgia is in Cornwall. “It’s just where I go down for a week off,” she says. Relaxing is something that the duo treasure, especially in a year in which they haven’t had much time for it. “I just like relaxing and pampering,” laughs Georgia. “Self-care.” For Taylor, he likes to unwind by enjoying visiting steam rooms and saunas. “I’ve actually realised that I think what I get from it is I don’t take any drugs, so I get quite lightheaded from that, and I actually really like that feeling,” he says. “The heat and the cold inside your body. It’s exhausting, but it’s relaxing.” It’s a wholesome way to enter a mind-altering state in much the same way that Jockstrap’s music can prompt heady stimulation. 

Something else Taylor is almost blissfully relaxed about is Jockstrap’s overwhelming critical acclaim and ascension to a new realm of success for ostensibly an experimental alt-pop act. He’s pretty sure the newfound level of attention isn’t going to change anything for them, but they’re yet to test that out. “We’ve not made anything since people have been paying more attention,” he smiles. “The album was made quite a long time before it came out, so at that point, there weren’t a lot of people paying attention. We’re surrounded by a load of musicians who are far bigger than us, so it’s quite easy to feel like there are not that many people paying attention, and there’s not that much pressure still. Maybe in the future, we’ll feel it more, but it still feels pretty relaxed.”  

Since the release of ‘I Love You Jennifer B’, Jockstrap have enthralled more and more people as a genuine crossover act. Indeed, they even supported indie legends Blur at Wembley Stadium this summer; however, their roots and the genesis of Jockstrap go back to their love of electronic music. “When we met, we both knew that we liked dance music,” remembers Georgia. “Jockstrap didn’t start off like that, but it’s become a good amalgamation of songwriting and dance music, which is what we love. I’d say we’re now making music we loved back then. We’re executing it really well now.” 

“We try to avoid feeling too comfortable”

Taylor Skye

Despite blowing up in the last year, Jockstrap have been doing this for a good while now to a loyal and growing audience, firstly from the alternative electronic underground and now to a wider spectrum of people. “We started a long time ago. About five years ago,” says Georgia. “When we made our first song together, it happened really easily,” adds Taylor. “That was the sign that there was more to be done between the both of us. We did everything quite gradually. We did singles and EPs and remix EPs. It was all testing the waters.” 

As he explains their early days of trial and error, Taylor alights on one of the main defining principles for the band. There isn’t and might not ever be a defining Jockstrap sound. “I kind of think there’s been no click point,” he says. “I think it would be good to stay away from figuring out what it is that’s working and then continue doing that. I don’t think either of us is interested in finding some template to use. We try to avoid feeling too comfortable.” 

So, how do the duo look back on their landmark debut album a year later with a little bit of distance and clarity? “Well, I haven’t listened to it for a very long time,” laughs Georgia. “We play it live all the time, so I still really enjoy all the songs. I haven’t really gotten tired of anything yet. Singing the songs is a very different experience to listening to the songs. It’s so different. You’re not really appreciating it when you’re singing it. I’m just trying to do it justice and trying to be emotive. You just think about them in a different way.” 

For a listener, the experience of hearing ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ is one of continuing to discover new sounds, new aspects and dizzying twists and turns. It’s an album that offers much to revel in even a year and dozens of listens later. From the off-kilter 80s hip-hop Art of Noise sound collages of a track like ‘Greatest Hits’ to the baroque, graceful classicism of a song like ‘What’s It All About?’ to the unhinged sound clashes of ‘Debra’, there’s nothing quite like it, and you discover something new every day. For the people actually living it, though, it’s a bit harder to find such revelations. “Maybe if you get into that mindset and say, I’m going to appreciate it and try and hear some new things or pay attention to this song because normally it sits at the back of my periphery,” says Georgia. “You can turn that on and off.” 

With the album as a living thing out in the world, for someone like Taylor who thinks so deeply about the music and their art, there’s a temptation to wonder what might have been and whether they should have changed anything. “It probably depends on your temperament, but that’s all I think basically,” he admits. “It’s been a year since it came out, and I’m finding it’s quite a weird time to look back on it. I imagine everyone’s got such a unique relationship to what they make because it’s so complicated. I think I would change every drum sound now. Not to say there’s anything wrong, but maybe that’s just me thinking about it right now.”

Jockstrap’s music feels very instinctive and impulsive, with sounds and styles clashing and meshing into each other, but really, their approach is a kind of carefully considered and refined freeform experimentalism. There is no plan, but they want to refine everything they do until it makes complete and perfect sense. “I learned that I could be a perfectionist,” says Georgia, looking back on the album process. “When I was writing the songs and doing my bit on it, I made sure I explored every single option to try to be 100% sure of my decisions when I was making it. That was very stressful.” It’s a contrast between chaos and refinement that makes them so compelling. “I think potentially that’s what the intrigue is,” agrees Georgia. 

“I’m much more confident in what I write, and I don’t really think twice”

Georgia Ellery

Taylor expands on their experimental process and desire to develop new ways of doing things. “You could say if that’s how you see it with things coming in and out without much warning or in a surprising way because there’s so little methodology,” he explains. “You do a C-minor, then go into E-flat major; there’s musical theory that already establishes what to do. If we’re trying to do things that don’t align with that, then there’s even more reason to double-check it loads because you’re doing something you’re not sure about. So I think actually it makes more sense to me to go over it a million times because you’ve not got any support in place to figure out whether it’s right or wrong.” 

The willingness to fail, make mistakes and make unconventional sounds is what makes Jockstrap so thrilling, and it’s an impulse that’s always been there. As they have grown, the desire to be inquisitive and constantly inventive has only increased. “I feel like when I listen to some of the earlier music we were doing, it’s a bit more naive,” explains Taylor. “That’s not a good or bad thing. I probably question what I do more and more as time has gone on. That’s probably been the arc of my life since I started making music. As time has gone on, I’ve found myself questioning what music is more and more. I just think about it more as we do it. That’s been a progression.” 

For Taylor, the search for transcendent music is something he’s constantly exploring, and for someone who thinks so deeply about what music is and can be, it’s something that he finds pretty consuming and sometimes even hard to work out himself. “My tastes have changed, and the artists that I value have changed,” he ponders. “The things I look for in music have changed. I’m looking for different things. I wasn’t interested in lyrical material for a long time, but I’m more interested in that now. There are certain feelings that you look for that are quite hard to describe. I believe that there are some artists who provide those feelings and some other people that don’t. There are certain qualities that are quite hard to describe. Everyone wants truthful music, and I think I’ve got a new definition of that, but it’s just quite hard to define.” 

Georgia offers the lyrical and melodic counterpoint to Taylor’s sonic collages. Her songs provide the beautiful flourishes and soul within the synthetic soundscapes of their music. Songwriting is something that requires a distinct environment to flourish, though. “Since the album, I’ve only written one new song, and that was for Black Country New Road,” she says as she mentions her other band. “That was the only time I’ve picked up something to write a song. I have to be very relaxed and have enough time and blank space for inspiration to come. When you’re travelling all over the world, then that doesn’t happen for me.” 

Songwriting has definitely become easier, though. “When I started, I was an unconfident writer in lyrics for sure,” she admits. “Knowing if it was too sincere or too funny or too subversive. Now, I’m much more confident in what I write, and I don’t really think twice. I just see it for what it is on the page, and if I think it’s good, I’m confident enough to go with it.” Often, the boldness and the ambition of their music is mirrored in equally bold and fantastical lyrics and imagery from Georgia, like in the iconic Madonna referencing of the album highlight ‘Greatest Hits’. “I think for sure the style of the track, if I’m writing lyrics, definitely inspires,” she says. “If the track feels really sexy, then I’m going to try and give that, or if it’s playful or rhythmically interesting, then I’m going to try and match that lyrically as well.”

She hasn’t yet thought about some of the stories she might like to tell on the next album, though. “The lyrics are very much about what’s going on in my life. My feelings, thoughts and experiences that I’ve had. They were definitely a chapter in my life. I expect the next time I sit down to write something, it will be in a new chapter,” she explains before adding with a knowing wink, “Things change, don’t they?”

A lot of the beauty of Jockstrap comes from contrasts. The mashups of different styles and sounds. Stuff that absolutely shouldn’t work but unequivocally does. The contrast between classic traditionalism and progressive futurism. “All the best music seems to have that,” enthuses Taylor. “You take from the past and imagine what the future might sound like. I don’t think we see it that obviously. Pastiche and doing some sort of string quartet isn’t our tick in the box of the past. It’s not really as simple as that. The practical side of using classical instruments or jazz songwriting that’s just because that’s what we’re into, not because we have some sort of agenda to conclude this period of time from the 70s or this period of time from the 80s. It just happens to be what we’re into. We’re always changing. The next stuff, we’ll definitely be listening to different things and will continue to do for the rest of our lives. It’s up for grabs.” 

“I expect the next time I sit down to write something, it will be in a new chapter”

Georgia Ellery

Sometimes, there’s a sense that Jockstrap are teasing you. A feeling that they could make the greatest pop song in the world, but they don’t want to quite make it that easy. It’s a suggestion that they refute. “We kind of do want to write the biggest pop songs in the world, but somehow we can’t,” laughs Georgia. “They’d end up too long, or the structures can’t keep it really simple. We’re coming at it from a different angle.” “We just end up doing it,” interjects Taylor. “The way we make music is different to songwriters writing songs with six other people for big pop artists,” adds Georgia. “We just do it differently. We’re coming at big pop songs from a different angle.”

People immersed and engaged in the Jockstrap world will no doubt expect a certain amount of discombobulation in their music, and the time when they find themselves making something too overtly conventional might be the time that they have to reassess. “If you’re doing something too conventional and it’s going to sound bad, then you should change it,” says Taylor. “If you’re doing something wanky for no reason, you should change that too. It’s definitely something you don’t want to do. You don’t want to get it wrong. I think we’re willing to take a risk rather than play it safe.” 

One of the areas in which Jockstrap have made a significant leap this year is their live show, which has made them one of the most must-see acts of the year. “In a similar way to how we both like to take different roles in the way we make music, we have something similar in the way we do live shows,” explains Taylor. “Georgia brings something to it, and I bring something to it. For me, it’s quite an unusual thing doing live music when it’s mostly prerecorded. What inspires me is feeling like I’m aware of all the weird paradoxes of doing live music and then making a decision on how to make it the most engaging, knowing that. That’s why we’ve gone from live bands to prerecorded stuff. What we want to do is make it as engaging for me as possible whilst feeling excited ourselves. I’m not doing what Georgia is doing onstage because that’s a big part of it as well with how Georgia performs.” 

Indeed, Georgia’s stage performance, as perfectly captured on their defining performance at Glastonbury this year, has taken them to a new level. “I’ve definitely enjoyed it. This has been the best year of touring for me,” she says excitedly. “Through doing Jockstrap, I’ve been able to take it somewhere different slowly and give a performance performance. I really enjoy doing it, embodying the songs and making it slightly campy. Singing to people and people singing back to me. That’s very different to how I started, just standing behind the mic looking angsty. I definitely feel more confident; it just took doing more and more shows, having the tech sorted, and not having to worry about tech. Hopefully, we’ll continue to grow, and maybe we’ll be doing backflips.” One other notable aspect of the Glastonbury show is Georgia’s iconic gold stage outfit. If every amazing pop star has a defining image in which they’ll be remembered, this one might be Georgia’s. “Thank you, I think so too!” she laughs. 

Glastonbury was certainly a big deal in a very big year, but in typical Jockstrap fashion, they took it in their stride while enjoying the moment. “We’d never been to Glastonbury,” explains Georgia. “We’d watched it on telly numerous summers when we were growing up, so that was really special. It was a standout moment for us. I think it went well. We were a bit nervous because it was on the telly. Maybe not at the time; we didn’t really think it was a step up. That’s not really what we think before a show; we’re just hoping that the vibes were there and we can bring the vibes and enjoy it. I have to remember to enjoy it.” 

In a further crowning of a special year, the duo are releasing a special remixed edition of ‘I Love You Jennifer B’ entirely reworked by Taylor, featuring some special guests and whole new track titles. It’s a typically inventive and diverting way to mark the end of their first era. But why give themselves extra work, though? “I just make them while I’m making the album,” says Taylor nonchalantly. It’s an almost childlike impetus to constantly rip things up and start again. “Yeah, now that I’ve finished the remixes, I don’t think I’ll do it, but I have quite a strong urge to redo those, to be honest. It’s good because it keeps you making music, but it’s also infuriating, constantly wanting to change what you’ve done. That’s just life, I think,” he laughs. 

“You take from the past and imagine what the future might sound like”

Taylor Skye

Through doing the remix album, though, new aspects of the tracks and their dynamic qualities shine through. “I like chopping up melodies that are in the track either instrumentally or that Georgia is singing,” says Taylor. “New melodies come out of it that feel like they’re born out of or connected to the original ones. There is something satisfying when you’re messing about with something, and then something almost equally just right sounding comes from something that was already right. It’s a parallel reality that this could have gone this way. That’s very objective because obviously, people will have different opinions on what makes sounds good, but for me, it just clicks, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s nice’, and move on.” 

In the very short term, the duo’s ambitions are simple. “We want to smash the Mercury performance, smash the Barbican, smash the remix album and round off the album campaign in style. There’s lots of exciting things coming up,” enthuses Georgia. As the year ends and the cycle for their debut culminates, thoughts naturally turn to what’s next. A question that even the band are not sure how to answer right now. “We’re grateful to have these Barbican shows as the last things of the year,” says Taylor. “The remix album is definitely of the time of the album. The shows are very focused on the album; the whole year has been doing that. We’ve been very absorbed in it to the point where you don’t really know what you think creatively anymore, so we’re looking forward to it ending and starting something new.” “I think next year’s plan is to have a break. Clear the slate clean and see what comes next,” adds Georgia. 

There’s a sense that whatever does come next, though, is not going to be obvious and is probably going to be wildly inventive and adventurous. The duo, though, still cannot quite see themselves in the same visionary way in which they’ve been acclaimed. They still feel there’s no limit to what they can do and how they can push more boundaries. “It’s quite hard because I don’t really know what that is anymore,” ponders Taylor. “There’s so much different music all the time. Something can seem like it’s pushing the boundaries, and then the next week, it feels old. It’s not like we have now completed our inspiration list. I think there are still many people we’re still inspired by and in awe of that humble us to the point where we don’t feel like we’re pushing things forward. There are tons and tons of other people who I think are way ahead that I’m aspiring to. I feel like we want to get closer and closer to our heroes.” 

Going deeper into the rabbit hole of the future of music, Taylor cites a book he is currently reading by Adam Harper called Infinite Music, which explores the ways in which new technology and new horizons have brought us to an era of limitless musical possibilities. It’s an idea that feels very Jockstrap and is emblematic of what could come next. In reality, literally, anything can come next for Jockstrap, and that’s the really exciting thing. As we talk about all this musical philosophy, we’re interrupted by the piercing sound of a cordless drill. “That’s a drill, btw. Just so you know,” laughs Georgia. “It’s my family getting a new kitchen. I’m just coming back to the chaos, so I don’t have to live through it all the time.” It’s a fittingly unexpected moment of discordance for a duo who thrive on surprises and doing the unexpected. They never really should have gotten this big, and y’know, maybe they might just be the future of music, or maybe not, but they’re resolutely going to follow their own vision. Whatever comes next, though, the legacy of their thrilling debut era is enshrined forever. ■

Taken from the October 2023 edition of Dork.


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