Let’s Eat Grandma on moving their music beyond the macabre

When the Norwich duo emerged aged 16, critics dismissed them as pop puppets. Their new album bristles at the disparagement of teenage girls – and the restrictions of femininity

Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth – AKA Let’s Eat Grandma (or LEG) – don’t understand why anyone would find their music unsettling. On their 2016 debut album I, Gemini, released when they were just 16, they juxtaposed folk whimsy with anxiety inducing electronic beats and macabre lyrics. “My cat is dead, my father hit me,” they sang on Rapunzel, sounding like something out of a Tim Burton film. A review in this paper described the album as “deeply creepy”. But for Walton and Hollingworth, the whole thing was “just a bit of a lol”.

“I don’t think I ever viewed the album as dark before everybody said it was,” says Hollingworth. “What people see in a record is more a reflection of what they’re thinking than what we were thinking when we wrote it,” says Walton, sipping on an afternoon pint. But what about the peculiar influences they spoke of in interviews – the horror films and serial killer documentaries? Walton starts to cackle: “I actually think we made that up.”

“People wouldn’t stop asking us about all our dark influences,” says Hollingworth, “and to be honest we didn’t really have any, so we were trying to give them something. Also, we went through a phase, in interviews, of making up the most elaborate lies we could.” Words to put any journalist at ease.

A few years ago, the pair now sitting in a north London pub would have been a mirror image of each other – they both had wavy brown hair down to their waists and wore matching outfits frequently enough that people assumed they were twins. But since then, the 19-year-olds have diverged. Today, Walton is wearing a white suit, her hair reddish and straight, while Hollingworth’s remains curly, her outfit an assortment of denim. “For the first album, we wanted to be marketed as twins,” says Walton. “Whereas now we have developed a bit more individual confidence, we wanted to be marketed as individuals. But our friendship’s just the same.”

Walton and Hollingworth in 2016.
Walton and Hollingworth in 2016. Photograph: Simon Sarin/Redferns

Let’s Eat Grandma’s friendship has already lasted longer than most bands. The duo met in reception class, aged four, in their home town of Norwich and started making music together at 13. They wrote the songs for I, Gemini before they even knew they were making an album. When they signed to Transgressive a few years later, it didn’t take long for their self-proclaimed “experimental sludge pop” to start turning heads.

But no one quite knew what to make of two 16-year-old girls at the helm of their own strange artistic vision. When they weren’t being compared to the twins from The Shining (“I’ve never even watched The Shining!” “Me neither!”) they were being accused of fronting someone else’s creation. “Mostly, it was like: ‘It makes you wonder how they could possibly do this,’” recalls Hollingworth, “That really does fuck you off a bit.”

“It is frustrating,” says Walton, “when you’ve spent all this time making an album and then people say you didn’t do it.” In a way, I suggest foolishly, it’s almost a compliment. “A bit of a back-handed compliment,” scoffs Walton. “‘Too good for two young girls.’”

If their first album was good, their second, I’m All Ears, is exceptional – denser, poppier and less oblique. The songs are so physical you feel you could reach out and grab them – beats and samples meticulously layered, like Jenga blocks that build without ever toppling. Two songs, Hot Pink and It’s Not Just Me, were produced by Sophie and the Horrors’ Faris Badwan.

Rather than using organic instruments, as they did first time round, LEG wrote using music software (which they learned from a production course at sixth form college last year), leaning into a sound rooted in technology. The album mirrors the way phones and screens pervade our lives. Hot Pink samples Walton’s old Nokia; Missed Call (1) was designed to feel like a ringtone. “Guess I’ll see you when my screen is vibrating,” they sing on It’s Not Just Me.

Let’s Eat Grandma.

“I like it when people reference phones because that’s what it’s like being alive at this time,” says Hollingworth. “When people don’t include it, I’m like, ‘This doesn’t resonate with me.’” And yet, part of them fears a growing dependency on being plugged in. Hollingworth only got a “proper phone” a few years ago; Walton resisted until last year. “When I’m out, I like talking to people instead of just scrolling,” she says. Both of them find it hard to manage the constant stress of social media, notifications and read receipts. “Have you got any tips, actually?” Hollingworth asks me. “Genuinely?” Not really. Although I do put my phone on flight mode at night. She nods solemnly. “That’s quite a good idea.”

For LEG’s generation, technology is an unavoidable source of anxiety – and I’m All Ears is full of such anxieties. Whereas their first album sang of chimpanzees, shiitake mushrooms and chocolate cake, here they draw from their experiences as young women. I’m All Ears, says Hollingworth, “is really about being a teenager”. Cool and Collected chronicles a failed attempt to play it cool around a crush; It’s Not Just Me teems with separation anxiety; Hollingworth’s verse is about her friends leaving to go to university. Falling Into Me traces a fumbled attempt to take control in a romantic relationship. “Over the last few years, when my friends have started dating, I’ve always found it so … urgh,” says Hollingworth. “I just find it very limiting: ‘This is your role in this relationship, and you need to be attractive in this way.’ I’ve never liked it and I think Rosa’s the same.”

The bold, industrial Hot Pink bristles at rigid gender roles and the disparagement of womanhood. “I’m just an object of disdain to you,” they sing, just before the clattering chorus erupts. In Hollingworth’s view, everyone except “really masculine-presenting cis men” suffers under patriarchal expectations. “If you present in a masculine way as a woman,” she says, “it’s seen as something unattractive. Meanwhile femininity in women is also mocked and made out to be stupid and not powerful. And then femininity in men is made fun of. It just seems like nobody’s winning.”

Walton agrees. “It’s all just overanalysed. Everybody should be able to do what they want.”

It’s something they have grappled with themselves. “I still find it hard to work out what I want to present sometimes,” says Hollingworth. “Or even just being comfortable with being feminine.” It would be easier, she says, if people could alter their appearance – facial structure and all – to express who they feel they are inside. “Some people would be, like, full-on aliens. I sometimes feel like I want to be a bit invisible and then people can’t make judgments.”

“Just, not have a body,” laughs Walton. “Yeah. I wanna be a concept.”

Judgment may be unavoidable, but Let’s Eat Grandma don’t need to don alien facades to express who they are. “No matter what we say in these interviews,” says Walton, “the best way of actually working out how we feel is just to listen to the music.” Besides, she adds with a mischievous grin: “Who knows if everything we have said today is the truth or a lie?”


Alexandra Pollard

The GuardianTramp

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