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Let’s Eat Grandma On Making Music With Your BFF

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Photo: Francesca Allen
Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are 17-year-old best mates from Norwich. Together, they make up Let’s Eat Grandma, the British band with a buzz that reverberated throughout 2016. The Guardian called them “The Freaky Teenagers Reinventing Pop”, for example, while NME declared they were “one of the most interesting acts to emerge this year”. But just who are the girls hiding behind those long brown waves of hair?

When I met up with Let’s Eat Grandma in Reykjavik, where they were soon to be playing at Iceland Airwaves music festival, they were in a bit of a food coma. “Sorry, we are being shit aren’t we?” says Rosa, slumped in her chair. And later, halfway through, Jenny echoes her: “Sorry, we’ve ruined this interview, haven’t we?” Luckily for the girls, who have a brutally dry sense of humour – only heightened by the Norwich accent – this is part of their charm; they are anti-pop stars, if you will.

“We met when we were four, at school,” says Rosa, reluctantly starting to tell me the story of the band’s formation. “I think I was drawing a picture of a snail at the time,” Jenny adds. After that, they “stayed tight” until they began making music in one another’s bedrooms at 13. At 15, they started laying down songs that would make up their debut album, i, Gemini, and were signed to the indie label Transgressive Records after being spotted at a gig they played in Norwich. All of this before the age of 16.
i, Gemini came out this June and its sound ranges from gloomy to “bit of a piss-take”. Some tracks, like “Deep Six Textbook”, are ambient slow burners, made distinct by the girls’ high-pitched Björk-like vocals. Others, like “Sax and the City”, come with a trace of irony – and not only in the name; the song features a comically incongruous saxophone. In the video, the girls are dressed up as giant babies, with dummies in their mouths – perhaps a gag about how everyone’s always going on about how young they are.

“People are so often patronising because we’re 17,” complains Rosa. “It happens all the time...” Jenny continues: “So often when we enter a venue and put the gear on stage, people – mostly men – look at us like, ‘You can’t set that up’. Sometimes one of the male audience members will point to something on stage and say, ‘Do you want that to be there? Shall I move that for you?’” Reviews seem to take a similar stance: Pitchfork, frustratingly, called their album “Wise beyond its years,” with a reminder that “we have as much to learn from teenagers as they do from us”.
Do reviews piss the girls off, I ask? “We’ve stopped reading reviews,” replies Jenny. “They’re usually patronising in some way and it influences the way you think about your music, when it shouldn’t. It’s someone who doesn’t know as much about your music as you, and at the end of the day, if you do what people want you to do you’ll only fail to please someone, so you should just try to please yourself.” Rosa agrees: “We do want people to like our music or find it interesting but I think it’s just important not to let that influence your process.”

That process is one that shifts every time, I’m told. “Most of the time one of us starts playing a loop, or plays some melody, and then we work out the rest,” says Jenny. “We like to change the process every time.” Their lyrics range over everything from baking cakes to having a dead cat. Sometimes this results in eclectic tracks that sound like three songs in one, they admit, but they still resent the label “experimental pop” – mostly because they think it sounds pretentious. “We don’t play objects,” jokes Rosa, “We’re not playing the radiator or a wine glass.”

On stage, it quickly becomes apparent how many instruments they do play, with the girls swapping keyboards, drums and guitar parts between them, sometimes even jumping onto the recorder. With just the two of them, it makes for a lot more work instrumentally – and then, of course, there’s the performance aspect. Let’s Eat Grandma are becoming well-known for their strange stage antics; playing pat-a-cake, lying on the floor, dancing in unison from behind their hair. It’s chaotic at times, but also a little bit creepy – if only because they’re so in sync.
It’s the same in person, off stage, with the two finishing one another’s sentences. “Well, the band is built on the tightness of our relationship,” says Rosa. “We hang out every day. We don’t ever not see each other. I think we’ve seen each other every day for the last month.” I wonder if they ever fight and Jenny responds: “You reach a stage where you know someone so well that if they’re pissing you off you just say it, and it doesn’t escalate into a real argument. I tell her when she’s being annoying. And she tells me when to shut up.”

Before Let’s Eat Grandma slink off to play their gig, I fire a few parting questions at them that I hope won’t patronise – because frankly, by this point, I’m a little bit scared of the feisty duo. They consult and decide to give joint answers: Best experience so far? “Playing Latitude festival.” Dream thing to do? “Play a gig in Japan.” What makes them most proud? “Mmm... challenging people’s opinions by being two girls jamming alone on stage. Or at least we try to challenge opinions.” Hardest part of the job? “The part between dinner and the gig when you have to give an interview.” Ouch. Bit close to the bone.
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