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Escape Velocity

Hypnosis Osmosis: Let's Eat Grandma Interviewed
Suzie McCracken , April 19th, 2016 10:24

Suzie McCracken meets Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, the Norwich teenagers producing genre-hurdling experimental pop, to connect the dots between fairytales, subliminal songwriting and lepidopterology

"My dad runs moth events," says Rosa Walton. I'm chatting with her and her best friend of more than a decade, Jenny Hollingworth. Together these two Norwich natives are Let's Eat Grandma, an experimental pop duo preparing to release their debut record I, Gemini, due out in June.

They're also teenagers; Walton is 16 and Hollingworth is 17. So the grossest, most jealousy-ridden corner of my personality hears "moth events" and assumes that the band have had a bit of a leg-up by a father that's 'in the biz'. Surely she's referring to the Moth Club in Hackney?

No, I'm just an asshole. "Yeah, he's an ornithologist. He likes moths and birds."

What's even worse about that momentary assumption of mine is that, at this point, I've already listened to their – properly brilliant – album. Walton and Hollingworth are fantastic and surprising songwriters, totally unafraid of wielding cumbersome intros and atypical instruments, forming songs from fragments of dreams and fairytales. They have an ear for the texture of words and they understand the capacity of their hauntingly similar voices.

And it's an absolute treat to hear their exploration of what it's possible to create using classroom recorders and birthday-present synthesisers. I, Gemini leaps between styles and moods and Hollingworth and Walton seem as comfortable creating layered, nursery rhyme-style rounds as they do rap interludes (you heard).

The pair are currently studying at the Access to Music college in their hometown, which suits them well. They've recently toned down the gigging a bit though, mainly because they stopped feeling the pressure to accept every show they were offered. Although they did enjoy that one at the car boot.

Now that they're in the process of putting out an album, it'll be interesting to see how many other people (journalists) have their preconceptions obliterated: LEG are good at snuffing out any fetishisation of their youth and my embarrassing urge to mother them (they cleverly turn my question about their parents' music tastes into a discussion about siblings, and they don't entertain my clumsy use of the word 'mature').

They enjoy challenging expectations on stage, too. The two have boundless excitement for the gross, the twisted, the demented and the uncanny – and because they look almost identical when viewed from halfway down a venue, they enjoy confusing and freaking their audiences out with choreography and screaming.

For all these reasons, their future is completely opaque. Sure, they're on a wave of hype. But they are so headstrong and confident in the fact they are making art that is valuable beyond giving people a good time, that it would be stupid for anyone to assume their trajectory or for me to make a prediction as to where they'll go. But I wouldn't be surprised if they gave up music to start a psychic retreat in the Norfolk woods. I'd just be disappointed, because I'd like to hear a second album.

So are you guys really into punctuation then?

Rosa Walton: Not at all! But our name kind of shows the two sides of us. We can be quite poppy and sweet in our music but there's the other side which is quite dark and creepy.

You've known each other since you were four. What did you listen to as you were growing up?

RW: We listened to just a lot of stuff that our parents were listening to.

Are you guys blessed with cool parents then?

RW: We've definitely got cool parents!

Jenny Hollingworth: Actually I think my sister had a big influence when I about ten. She was a teenager then. My parents were more into pop music and Pink Floyd and Tears For Fears and stuff, but my sister was into like lots of hardcore music and folk. And she's into post-rock too. I don't think we're particularly influenced by those genres, but we are influenced by the range of different sounds. It gives you a big palette from which you can take tiny things.

The record has a huge palette.

JH: I think there's so much more to learn. When we get compared to people in interviews we really don't know who a lot of them are. There's still so much more to listen to and take influence from. I think if we ever did hone down it would be after we've listened to loads more stuff!

You get my utmost respect for admitting that you don't know who those acts are.

RW: We rarely do to be honest! And it's hard to remember the bands' names because we don't know them.

Can you tell me a little about the narratives on the record? 'Rapunzel' in particular has a recognisable thread that then kind of goes off on one…

RW: Well, with 'Rupunzel' it was based a lot on the original fairytale but it was also inspired by the real-life story of a girl called Genie, who was locked in solitary confinement for 13 years of her life.

JH: It's drawing a parallel between those two stories and trying to entertain people with a really dark story.

Do you enjoy exploring characters?

JH: I think it can be useful, not only in songwriting but in everyday life, because it makes you understand people and be more open-minded. I think we do it sometimes for songs, but it's not so much that we find a person that exists to make a character… but it can be useful to have a character, like a stage persona.

RW: I think LEG is a character. The whole twin thing...

JH: … I think the connection between us is...

RW: … it's hard to explain.

I've heard you that do quite a lot of choreography – is that part of your performance? What do you want the audience to think of you?

RW: I guess it's partly about the shock factor. We like to grab people's attention and create a variety of emotions within our sets.

JH: I think it's really important to us to create some sort of response from people. We're not so concerned as to whether they like it but more whether it affects them.

Do you like to play on the fact you look alike? What do you think that brings to it?

JH: I think we definitely like to play on it.

RW: It represents the way we have a connection. It's quite…

Both: …twin-like.

That was terrifying. Are you into doppelgängers and doubles?

JH: Rosa's always talking about how she finds twins interesting.

RW: Yeah, I saw this thing about these two twin girls who were both adopted and they met up when they were seven, and they had the same manners and were saying the same things... there's something so intriguing about it.

Have you guys heard of the uncanny valley? Like when something is so close to real that it is completely unreal and awful? It happens a lot with humanoid robots, or when twins are disarmingly similar…

JH: Isn't that similar to how we're attracted to near symmetry but when things are totally symmetrical it freaks people out?

Absolutely, it's totally terrifying. It's the point where biology shudders up against magic and gives you the creeps. You guys have been described as witch-like and supernatural.

JH: I think because we're creating our own world and because it's very surreal and unreal, I really understand where people would get that from.

Can you tell me about your fascination with sleep and liminal states?

RW: When I'm in the state between being awake and asleep – which is what 'Sleep Song' is about – I get loads of inspiration and odd combinations of words coming into my head. I keep a notebook by my bed and I write things down.

JH: She talks in her sleep.

RW: And walk!

Do you lucid dream?

RW: Yes! I do. It's the most incredible experience ever. One time I sleepwalked out onto the road and my dad just happened to be coming home from work, because he runs moth events in the middle of the night. He had to bring me back inside.

Sorry, your dad runs moth events?

RW: Yeah, he's an ornithologist. He likes moths and birds.

JH: He's a moth man.

RW: That's what people say. You should look in our fridge. We have moths. It's not cruel though, it just slows them down. When they're released they just continue with their lives.

It sounds like your kind of thing. There are elements of lullaby in 'Sleep Song' – do you like the idea of playing with your listener's state of consciousness?

JH: Yeah, that's a really interesting thought. We're quite into self-hypnosis videos too. Incorporating the idea of a self-hypnosis video into a song could be really cool.

RW: You're inspiring us!

What are self-hypnosis videos like?

JH: We like these videos by this guy called…

Both: Michael Sealey.

JH: There's absolutely loads of them. There must be over 100.

RW: He puts you in a trance. There are different ones for different things, like feeling anxiety or to prompt lucid dreaming.

JH: There are different dream adventures you can go on, cosmic ones and stuff. But I think my brain is a bit too awake... I listen to them quite a lot but I can never actually go into a full trance.

RW: I think I've got a quite flexible brain in that way.

I like the idea that songs are coming to you in subliminal states.

RW: Yeah I often get ideas for melodies and then I have to think: "Is this good enough to get up, record it and then go back to sleep? Or am I too tired?"

How long have you been making music together?

JH: I think it's almost four years.

RW: I got a guitar for my birthday when I was 13 and Jenny said: "Oh, you can be the new Jessie J."

JH: That is of course what we're still aiming for.

Is it a tin whistle or a recorder on 'Chocolate Sludge Cake?

Both: It's a recorder.

RW: There's a recorder in quite a lot of the tracks actually.

Why, oh why?

JH: It was what was available to us at the time and then we sort of fell in love with them. They're just so...

RW: …magical. I think they're one of the most magical instruments to be honest.

Using the recorder seems to be part of your love for big juxtapositions in songs.

JH: It's like how when you're a teenager you have the two elements in your life. You don't just suddenly become a teenager and lose all the elements of childhood in your life. But you're also living in an adult world and people are considering you as a 'lower adult'.

RW: You can't really win.

JH: It's also to do with shocking people. Childhood is always associated with innocence and good things but it's not really like that – when I think of Lord Of The Flies, it's an interesting thought to put so much darkness around childhood, you know?

You mentioned folk earlier…

RW: We don't really like the word folk... I just don't think it's us.

JH: It's the connotations of the word, not so much the music.

RW: I don't like it because people often think: "You're young girls so you should be creating folk music." Especially when we use the mandolin and acoustic guitars, people just assume things.

What are your hopes for the record and future?

JH: I think in terms of the record, what would measure success for us is more about how much people understood what we're trying to do with it. It'd be important that people got what our point was.

So what is the point?

RW: That's something that people have to work out!

JH: We can't give away the point, as then we couldn't measure our success.

I, Gemini is out on June 17 via Transgressive Records. Let's Eat Grandma play Maze in Berlin on April 26 before touring; for full details and tickets, head here