Moments Of Hyperreal Intimacy: Jockstrap Interviewed

London duo intrigue, transport and transform with smart, glitchy, ‘easy’ listening orchestral pop. John Doran talks to Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye

Let’s start with what we can hear.

A shower is running noisily. In the background, in another room perhaps, a lofi recording of piano plays. There is a person in the shower and she is humming along to the piano. A singing glossolaliac attending to her happy ablutions. La-di-dee, la-di-dah. But then there is a non-diegetic swell of strings (or diegetic, I guess, if this person has a string section in her bathroom) which sits harmoniously under her singing. This reverie is ruptured by a caustic burst of noise as bows scraped atonally across strings are processed harshly.

(After a hectic edit) this is herald to a fully foregrounded string section efflorescing in glorious clarity. The luxuriant orchestral intro calls to mind Bernard Herrmann – and if that sounds like high praise, I mean it as such. Hold on though… Bernard Herrmann… a woman having a shower… strings… Mother? MOTHER?! What blood… Oh God, Mother what have you done!?

Relax, I don’t mean Psycho, and while we’re at it I don’t mean ‘Scene D’Amour’ from Vertigo either you prurient bastards. So not horror, not sex exactly or entirely but… what then? Try intrigue, transport and transformation for starters. ‘Nocturne’ from Marnie maybe. The power of pop music summed up elegantly in just a few seconds. One moment it’s the start of just another day, you’re in the shower humming along to a lossy MP3 played through the shitty speaker of your shitty phone, the next minute you’re… God knows where but some place infinitely better.

‘Wet’, the very opening track of new EP Love Is The Key To The City out now on Kaya Kaya records was recorded by Jockstrap, a new London-based pop duo who excel in distilling moments of hyperreal intimacy. They blindside the listener by combining elements that are both studiously arch and disarmingly frank; doling out classic pre-rock & roll orchestral pop, lounge and exotica combined with the experimentally and glitchily electronic; music that is mainly melodiously sweet and sophisticated yet tempered by bursts of naivety and caustically fucked up-ness.

Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye are two 20-year-old students who met at London’s Guildhall School Of Music And Drama (“It’s a music school; it’s a conservatoire”) and are now in the third year of a four year course, studying jazz and electronic composition respectively. This information might – if like me you’re quite old – make them sound like tyros but why should it, as they’ve both been making music for as long as I’ve been writing about it. Nor do they seem particularly young generally speaking.

Skye is tolerant of my layman’s attempts to talk to him about combining electronic music with strings, so he makes me feel like the neophyte if anything (his insistence on using the word “jokes” as an informal adjective instead of either a noun or verb notwithstanding, so help me fucking God) and I’ve seen Ellery in no less than three great bands already: Nervous Conditions, playing auxiliary violin for Goat Girl and in the astounding Black Country New Road – I’m yet to see Jockstrap or the Happy Beigel Klezmer Orkester) but then it’s all relative isn’t it? They both declare their love for the “genuinely young” Lemon Twigs – the baroque & roll 4AD two piece who were both born this millennium: “We love that band so much right now. We’d love for Jockstrap to support them live.”

Jockstrap. Jockstrap. Ugh, bloody Jockstrap. I really want to talk to them about their intrigue, their transport, their transformation but first we have to deal with their almost transcendentally awful band name. Why do they insist on torturing me with this awful nomenclature?

Ellery laughs: “I chose it and that’s the effect I was going for. I like that kind of gross, shock factor in music and lots of people I admire use that. So I think the name Jockstrap has that effect but it could have been much worse. Jockstrap is quite tame. Also, I tell younger people and they’re like, ‘Cool.’ But I told my grandmother and she didn’t reply to the text and she hasn’t mentioned it since. As long as people remember it though I don’t care.”

“Younger people.” Ooof – take that, old people, like me and her grandmother.

But how did these young people meet? Georgia wrote her first Jockstrap song in August 2017 and the pair started working together the following month. Skye says: “ We had been talking about music for a long time before this project, then Georgia said she’d written some songs and asked if I would produce them.” Their first gig was in March of this year, featuring Skye on synths, Ellery on violin and vocals, backed up by Michael Dunlop on bass, Melchior Giedroyc on SPD drum pads and “general hype man” Lewis Evans on flute, auxiliary percussion and pocket synthesizer. (The large string section on the EP was recorded by fellow students at the Guildhall; free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t.)

On their debut EP Jockstrap have made music that casts you, the listener, in the role of the eavesdropper or voyeur. The narrative of their songs are neither topped nor tailed. They drop you in the middle of the action without exposition, treating you like an adult: a luxurious and subtle treat. Ellery’s lyrics are hard to discern, adding to the effect. And though there is something adult about what they do, in the sense that she is singing about modern relationships, it’s about sex but not sexualised if you’ll take the distinction. Exotica that stops short of erotica. Not workmanlike by any stretch but Safe For Work nonetheless. (Which might not be true of all the videos embeded in this feature by the way.)

“There is a bit of a theme. The first EP is all about girls”, says Ellery.

“‘Charlotte’ is about my friend, who became more than my friend. It was a really big experience for me. I’ve tended to write about big [autobiographical] experiences – I can’t write fictionally. I wrote it, I sent it to her and she liked it. I was really struggling with whether to call it ‘Charlotte’… it’s a bit romantic, a bit over the top. Like if people heard it they would be, ‘It’s so scandalous!’ But Taylor persuaded me…

“Everyone in my social circle knows what it’s about. My grandmother knows what it’s about. It’s so good having it out there. It feels bold and it also feels like now I can be bolder and I can write about anything. Writing songs about personal experiences is very therapeutic. It makes you acknowledge the experience, and then preserve the feeling in a little piece of art. Like Joni [Mitchell] said, songs are like tattoos, they add to your personality. At first I was nervous about people hearing it. But then, when no one questioned it and everyone enjoyed it, I felt it had been accepted. [The story] is part of my makeup now. I’m proud of it. It’s very empowering.”

And how about ‘I Want Another Affair’?

She laughs: “Similar…”

Skye mock admonishes her: “Georgia!”

Not all of the songs are about people Ellery knows however. ‘Hayley’, for example.

She says: “You know those Louis Theroux documentaries? One of the series they did in LA was was about prostitutes and Hayley was someone who just made such an impression on me. She was so outspoken but so charming. Her laugh… The way she was flirting [with Theroux]. I thought she was very glamorous and funny but she’d also had such an awful time. There was quite a narrative through the programme about how she really got on with Louis Theroux. They really took a shine to each other, it was obvious but then she started drinking again. I thought it would be a good story to write about.”

In a wider context, the music of Jockstrap sits on a broad continuum that includes lounge, easy-listening and exotica with a healthy dollop of wonk to it, so we’re talking everything from late period Stereolab to Insecure Men; L.Pierre to Sukia; Stock, Hausen & Walkman to Nurse With Wound (Huffin’ Rag Blues, Cooloorta Moon, Alice The Goon etc.), although they tend to draw direct inspiration themselves from friends and peers such as filmmaker/ producer Enid Gunn and pop musician Arthur from the PLZ Make It Ruins label.

But it really feels like, bar these contemporaries, Ellery’s grandmother is the name that comes up the most often in the Jockstrap interview. Has there been any more feedback from the great lady since the EP was recorded?

Ellery concludes: “Not recently! She’s waiting for the release. She was very proud to hear we’d recorded the strings successfully.”

Love Is The Key To The City is out now on Kaya Kaya

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