Let's Eat Grandma interview: We get to know the Norwich duo and the genesis of their polychromatic new album I'm All Ears
Let's Eat Grandma are the duo of childhood friends Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, who, as teenagers, released their debut album I, Gemini to much acclaim and fawning over their youthful exuberance and hallucinogenic creativity. In the interim they have grown up considerably, been to music college and started writing with a more personal, mature and pointed perspective. Coupling with producers like David Wrench and SOPHIE, the duo has created a gobsmackingly ambitious second album, I'm All Ears, which has seen them take their bedroom-spun songs all around the UK and overseas to collaborate and record.
Despite their bolstered reputation and experience, sitting down with Rosa and Jenny you still feel as though you're in the company of two sisterly companions, gabbing away about whatever springs to mind. In our chat they simultaneously got excited and effusive about the smallest details of their sound, and more pensive about their growing understanding of their place in the word, all the time open, honest and bright-eyed with their responses. I was fascinated by their symbiosis, trading off answers to my questions naturally, and I discovered that that can often be the way they create their multi-part songs, which evidently goes a long way to making them unique. They told me "the record is very us," which is a truth that can be heard in each and every moment.
I walked away from the interview not only with a deeper understanding of I'm All Ears and the personalities that created it, but also (not to harp on their youth too much) a new and powerful feeling of hope for their generation. Enjoy our chat below.
The first thing I have to ask, which you've probably answered before, what do your grandmothers think about the name Let's Eat Grandma?
Rosa: I think they're just happy to be included, happy to be involved.
Jenny: I feel like my grandma hasn't even mentioned it, to be honest.
Have they heard the music?
Jenny: I don't think my grandma even keeps particularly up to date with it, you know?
Rosa: My grandma's pretty supportive.
Does she have a favourite song?
Rosa: She kind of likes the poppy ones. She's a pretty cool grandma, she's recently got Facebook and she's like 78. She got very into that and she was telling me the other day how she's made friends with this Japanese guy on Facebook, he has the same surname as her and she thought he was part of the family, but actually... He lives in America and we're going to America on tour so she's recommending that he comes to one of our shows!
Wow, that’s grass-roots promotion! Let's talk about I'm All Ears; what have been the biggest changes between your debut and this one?
Jenny: It's hard, because I feel like a lot of things have changed, but they're not deliberately planned out things, they're loads of small changes to many different aspects.
Rosa: I guess there's been a lot of changes in our lives. When we wrote the first album we were 14, now we're 19, that's quite a short period of time, but a lot of changes happen in that time. We've had a lot of experiences, and had more to write about from that.
You've both been to music college in the interim, how has that changed things?
Jenny: We studied production for a year, so I think that influenced it. I think we had a lot more input on what we wanted everything to sound like production-wise on this record. Quite a lot of references. I think it changes the way you listen to music when you study that kind of thing. I think we're more concerned about that than we were for the last record.
Rosa: Yeah. And how you view music itself when you're writing it as well; we made most of this record using our laptops, which we hadn't done before. Before we just wrote it using instruments, we didn't even make demos.
Jenny: We made one demo I think, and it was hilarious [Laughs]
Rosa: Which one? I'm trying to remember.
Jenny: 'Angry Chicken'. That wasn't even on the record.
Rosa: Oh yeah! [Laughs] No, we had no clue about technology when we wrote the first one, but that worked as well, it's just different approaches.
You recorded I'm All Ears all over the place, tell us about the different locations.
Rosa: We had a week at Rockfield, we had two separate weeks at Eve studios in Stockport, and the songs that we wrote with SOPHIE and Faris, we wrote 'Hot Pink' in London and 'It's Not Just Me' in LA. Lots of different locations, which I think helped for sure. I don't think we would've written 'It's Not Just Me' how it sounds if we'd recorded it in London.
Jenny: I think we tried to reflect that in the videos as well. We shot 'It's Not Just Me' in Ibiza, which is a lot more similar in climate to summery LA.
Rosa: It definitely has a much brighter sound than anything else we've written before.
Is SOPHIE a co-writer on 'It's Not Just Me'?
Jenny: Yeah, we went round her house. It's so nice. She has a house studio.
Rosa: It was really good vibes.
Jenny: It's not like an underground studio, it has really big windows that you can see out, which is great for the purpose of writing. Obviously she records so much using synths and stuff, you don't need everything closed off like a guitar room.
Rosa: It definitely felt very surreal, in a good way.
How were you introduced to SOPHIE in the first place?
Rosa: Through our label [Transgressive].
Rosa: Through SOPHIE. Faris and SOPHIE are good friends from a young age.
Jenny: I think they went to school together. They get on so well.
Rosa: They're kind of similar, you wouldn't think but... they kind of are.
Jenny: I think people often judge how similar people are based on scene and dress sense, rather than people's actual personalities, but really you get on better with people who have the same values - and SOPHIE and Faris are both really cool. It makes sense.
Maybe SOPHIE should produce the next Horrors album...
Both: That would be amazing!
That would be really cool. Apart from those two songs [‘Hot Pink’ and ‘It’s Not Just Me’], you worked with David Wrench on the rest of the album, what was that like?
Rosa: That was a completely different process, really, because we'd written all those songs before we went into the studio.
Jenny: We had demos for all of them.
Rosa: Yeah and we used quite a lot of the bits from the demos in the finished tracks.
Jenny: Yeah we balanced it all. Then we used those and added loads of vintage synths that they had in the studio. That's the good thing about studios actually, because I can't afford that many vintage synths!
Rosa: David's got all the best ones.
Jenny: Which ones has he got?
Rosa: He's got that ARP 2600, and very few people have that synth.
Can we hear that on the album?
Jenny: Yeah! It's on like all the tracks. It costs so much money and he has like two of them!
Where do you write songs?
Rosa: Anywhere really, because we 've been writing on our laptops. But mainly in our bedrooms.
Together or apart?
Your voices have changed a lot since the first album, it's a bit easier to tell them apart now.
Jenny: I think it depends on the song. I do actually think that we have quite different voices, it's just because we always sing on the same songs that it's hard for people.
Do you think you'll always both sing on every song?
Jenny: There's on song I sing on my own, 'Ava'.
Rosa: On 'Snakes & Ladders' Jenny sings up to a point and then I sing the end.
Jenny: In that song you can really hear the difference in our voices.
Rosa: But also it's definitely nice to have the overlapping voices. It just depends on the song, what works.
Lyrically you've diversified a bit as well. What do you both individually bring?
Jenny: I think we're both quite visual when it comes to music.
Rosa: I guess because we've had slightly different experiences now, we have the same visions of what we want to say in a song but we can bring different things from our lives to the table.
Jenny: I think in a song like 'Snakes & Ladders' you can really hear the difference, because we wrote the majority of our sections by ourselves.
Is there any recorder on the album? I didn't hear it, but I feel like that's one of your trademarks.
Rosa: There is! On 'Donnie Darko' at the end.
Jenny: I swear the recorder had to be autotuned a bit, because it was out. It's mixed with a synth as well.
Rosa: We always use it in the live show, because we've played 'Donnie Darko' for a long time.
Alright let's go through some of the lyrics on the individual tracks. You introduce us with the instrumental 'Whitewater'...
Jenny: We didn't really have a name for that one for ages, and I think we wanted something quite visual. We were thinking white water rapids, also it ties in nicely with some of the album track names we've got. There's a lot of references to colour on the album and songs throughout; 'Hot Pink', 'Falling Into Me' has got loads of references to violet, 'Snakes & Ladders' is green.
Rosa: Every song on the album has a different colour.
Interesting. That ties into the album cover as well, which we should definitely talk about for a second. Who made that?
Rosa: We found this really cool artist on the internet called Yan Jun Cheng, and we contacted her - she lives in New York. We got our management to send her a message and say would you be able to paint the album cover, and she got back to us and we sent her a collection of photos of us. We've never actually met her, but she really captured our expressions well, and she didn't copy any of the photos, she just combined them, and I think she did a really good job.
Jenny: I think she really connected with the album. She does digital painting and I think she really likes music; she's never done a cover before but she's a real natural at it. I think we just really appreciated each other's art and what we wanted to achieve with it.
Let's talk about 'Hot Pink', you must be really happy with the reception?
Both: Yeah, definitely.
Rosa: It was one of the songs that we wrote early on, and we didn't know what the rest of the album would sound like, but once it was finished we knew it would be a good way to introduce the album.
Jenny: I think it's fun in some ways launching with a collaboration. But everyone might have been more focused on who we've collaborated with rather than what we're doing, so it was a good idea to release 'Falling Into Me' next, but I think people wouldn't expect us to collaborate with SOPHIE, which made it interesting - although it makes total sense to us. I think people always have the assumption that our main influences are Kate Bush or Cocteau Twins, when we've never really been that influenced by them, we're actually more influenced by PC Music and stuff. We like both, but for the first record when we were making it we were listening to PC Music and you wouldn't necessarily think that. The things that people think influenced the first album are more stuff that we've listened to later because they've said that!
Rosa: Yeah, it's like recommendations of what to check out, like "oh, that's cool." I think people are definitely very quick to jump to assumptions of who artists have been influenced by.
Jenny: I also think it's all about what people listen to, really. It says more about the journalist than the actual artist.
Do you think people got the message of 'Hot Pink'?
Rosa: I think they did.
Jenny: I love all the comments on the video saying my wig is snatch, I'm like "yeeees." I feel like it attracted a younger audience as well, which is nice. We like having a mixed audience, but I think quite a lot of the songs are about things that young people think about more, because obviously we're from that generation.
Rosa: We're hoping that more young people are going to relate to this one.
You don't think young people related to the first one?
Rosa: I think with the first one there were so many metaphors that it was hard for anyone to make sense of what the songs were actually about, because we said it in such a roundabout way. With this one we've been a bit more open about "these are our feelings."
Was that a conscious change in your writing style?
Rosa: I think it was just natural.
Jenny: This doesn't happen much, because obviously being a musician is a really fun job, but even when I'm really exhausted and every other aspect of being in a band feels like hard work, writing never does, because writing is like a healing thing. I love everything else, but it's probably my favourite part of being in a band, is just writing,
Rosa: It feels quite separate to everything else, when we're writing it's like us in our own bubble, as opposed to something we're doing as a job or for other people.
Jenny: A lot of people have asked, because it's our second record, were we worried about what people's opinions are? But when we're writing it feels so separate to press stuff and everything related, I feel like I'm just being myself, who I am when I'm at home and with my friends. I feel like the record's just very us.
Was it your idea to go to Ibiza for the 'It's Not Just Me' video?
Rosa: Yeah! We just wanted to go somewhere warm and tropical looking. We were only there a day, and it wasn't clubbing season. All the clubs were shut. It was really quiet. It was completely empty but it was such a beautiful place.
You could play in Ibiza. Do you DJ at all?
Jenny: We tried once. It didn't go particularly well.
Rosa; We spilt our beer on the desk. And then Public Enemy 'Harder Than You Think' got stuck on a loop, just four bars of it going round and round.
'Falling Into Me' has been praised for its ambition and its prog elements.
Rosa: People like to use that word [“prog”]. I guess there isn't a chord sequence that is repeated, except in the chorus. There's a chord sequence in the verse, the build, the chorus, a different one for the second verse, one for the bridge and another one for the solo at the end... so I guess prog does work for that.
: Honestly, I know nothing about chords. I think if Rosa was writing chords for a section and I was writing a different section I wouldn't know how to write it in the same key anyway.
Whose line is the brilliant opening "I pave the backstreet with the mist of my brain"?
Rosa: I think we both wrote that line.
Jenny: I think we did most of that song together.
Rosa: I think I wrote "I pave the backstreet with the something of my brain," and then I said to you "what could we say?" and you said "mist.”
Jenny: I think we did that song really collaboratively. We didn't sing the parts we wrote, we just split the lines and sang them alternately.
I really love the verse that includes the line "you left a dent in my home screen." You're talking a lot more about phones and technology on this album.
Jenny: I started watching more TV shows where they would have references to people using phones, and then I'd go back to watching a show where they made out everything happened in real life and I thought it was really inaccurate. I feel like today phones are such an integral part to everyone's social lives, you need to reference them.
Who plays the sax solo at the end of 'Falling Into Me'?
Jenny: Me! I think it was a couple of takes mashed together. Live I play it in one go, I didn't think I'd be able to because there's some long notes; I wouldn't call myself the most technical sax player.
You mentioned the colour of 'Snakes & Ladders' is green, as there's the line about being "head to toe in bright green," I can't decide if that's a good or bad look, but you mention Armani shortly after so I guess it’s stylish?
Jenny: That's actually about jealousy. I think that verse is about consumerism and comparing yourself to other people and the amount of damage you're doing. I think that's one of my favourite verses I've written for this record, every word I used has two different meanings to it. I wrote it for a composition that I did for college, and we ended up reusing it.
Rosa: It was too good to just be used for college, we needed to use it in the album. I think a lot of the lyrics have lots of different hidden meanings, multiple messages.
Jenny: I hope people will read into them.
And Rosa, in your verse in this song you take us on quite a journey all over the place, from the Everglades to Jupiter. It feels like a lucid dream.
Rosa: I'm trying to learn how to lucid dream at the moment. There are certain techniques you can do, like a state check where you ask yourself "am I dreaming?" and then to see if you're dreaming or not you can try to put your hand through the table, or you read a word and you look away and look back again and the letters aren't jumbled up you're not dreaming. When you get used to doing that in your life, then you just do it naturally in your dream, and you discover "oh, I'm dreaming." It has worked for me once. I floated around and did some crazy shit, jumped off buildings.
Jenny: I feel like you need to be careful to make sure that you are dreaming, you don't want any of that Inception shit. If you're flying you're probably alright, but don't jump off a building.
Tell me about writing this verse.
Rosa: There's a lot about the environment and consumerism. I guess it's about trying to get happiness out of possessions and working jobs to earn that money to buy the possessions, and then the possessions end up owning you, and you have to make more money to look after them.
Are you trying to change your lifestyle to be less materialistic?
Jenny: I feel like the lyrics of that song are also about the challenges of trying to do that.
Rosa: There's only so much you can really do. It's also a lot about realising how brainwashed we are and coming to terms with that.
Jenny: It's something that bothers me every day a bit. All the companies in the world are owned by a few. The fact that Nestlé own everything and then buy water sources and don't give money to people… But if you try and boycott it you end up not being able to buy anything, and you don't really have an impact.
In 'I Will Be Waiting' I like the line "you'll know it when your head gets real," is that like a higher state of consciousness or understanding?
Jenny: I think the whole song is about embracing change. It could be talking about a person, but for me it was more about talking to the universe, saying "I'm waiting" when you're ready for something to change in your life. It's like when you're in a really down state and then you understand what it's like to actually feel relaxed and happy.
Rosa: It's like coming out of a bad mental state.
And when that bass synth comes in it's really uplifting.
Rosa: It's maybe the happiest song on the album, with ‘It’s Not Just Me’.
Jenny: It's quite emotional though. It's not so care free.
The central idea of 'Cool & Collected' is wanting to be "bold and unaffected," do you often feel that way?
Jenny: I think the song's not just about that though. I think it's about that feeling of awe that you get for other people, and I don't think that necessarily fades as you get older.
Rosa: I guess everyone has different sides. Some days you feel hot pink and powerful, and other days you feel insecure.
Jenny: I really like the lyrics to this song, because it's the kind of thing where people could be like "oh that's a really teenage emotion," but I'm like "I really don't care, because that's the way I feel!"
Who is 'Ava' about?
Rosa: It's not written about a specific person, it's a collection of things that have happened in real life that we've made into a fiction.
Jenny: The emotions and experiences are true, put into a fictional person called Ava.
The last track is called 'Donnie Darko', which references The Yellow Pages - I'm surprised you've heard of it, they've been practically obsolete in your lifetime.
Jenny: I think it's more of a contrast between the really up-to-date technology in the album. The thing about the Yellow Pages is it was more anonymous; these days when you're trying to look up someone you just search for them on Facebook. It's not the same as saying "I had to find your phone number in a phone book;" it suggests that you're more foreign to the person you're writing about. If you see them on Facebook it loses its mystery.
There is definitely something romantic about it. Tell me about being in a "self-alienating phase"?
Jenny: I think it's a self-destructive phase. It can be when you isolate yourself. I think a lot of people do that at some point in their lives.
And how does Donnie Darko come into it, why does he just suddenly appear in the song?
Jenny: It's a reference to the car scene where Gretchen gets hit; in the end it couldn't really be prevented, because Gretchen lives but he dies... and also because the song's about mental health and the fact that Donnie Darko's a character presumed to have psychosis, it just tied in really well. I like the ambiguity of the ending [of Donnie Darko]. It's been so long since I watched it that I've forgotten what I was even writing about.
Do you prefer that people listen to I'm All Ears as a full album?
Jenny: Even though we have streaming services, I always save albums onto playlists, and I almost always listen to songs in album format because I think it's really important.
Do you two have similar taste in films?
Rosa: I don't really watch that many films.
Jenny: I only watch films sometimes, but when I like them they have a big effect on me.
If not movies, what is the thing you mostly spend your free time investing yourself in?
What have you been spinning lately?
Rosa: I'm really into the new Janelle Monáe album.
It's good isn't it? Also her 'Pynk' and your 'Hot Pink' make a nice pair.
Rosa: She copied us! Our song was out first [Laughs].
Jenny: I've been listening to a lot of post rock recently, like Jakob and Slint. It gets you in a certain zone, it's really good. I don't think people think of that kind of thing as one of our influences, but there's a lot of stuff like that that we listen to; we're not like "we're gonna write a song like that for this record," but it still has an influence.
When you're on tour how do you divide up the song selection?
Jenny: We often listen to our tour manager's records. He likes post rock, that's probably why I've been listening to it more lately.
Rosa: We had an R&B CD and a Caraoke Classics CD that we bought at Tesco.
Jenny: I wanna listen to more pop music in the van. We don't listen to enough of it.
Have you started thinking about moving out of Norwich, or will it always be your home?
Jenny: No. I don't want to move to London. I might change my mind.
Rosa: I don't think I'm going to live in Norwich forever.
Jenny: I think I'd like to move for a while, but honestly I quite enjoy living in Norwich.
You could move out of your parents' and into a house in Norwich together. Would that be a good idea?
Jenny: I don't know if we'll ever actually live together. We tour together, but that's quite different.
Rosa: I think we do need space though, that's the thing. Maybe we should talk about this after.
Let's Eat Grandma's second album I'm All Ears comes out this Friday on Transgressive.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 27th June 2018.