Sunday, July 15, 2018

Let's Eat Grandma profile

LET'S EAT GRANDMA
director's cut version, NPR, June 26th 2017

by Simon Reynolds

Let’s Eat Grandma arrived last year as a perfect  package of pop-not-pop oddness.

The back story was intriguing.  From Norfolk, one of the more remote regions of England, came this freakily talented pair of teenage girls whose close-verging-on-telepathic friendship dated back to pre-school, clutching a debut set of sophisticated yet wonderfully askew songs. Every instrument on I, Gemini was played by the duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth themselves.

Let’s Eat Grandma’s image in the break-out video “Deep Six Textbook” – long golden tresses, buttermilk skin, white lace frocks – compounded the idea of  Walton & Hollingworth as virtual twins and as out-of-time figures seemingly plucked right out of Picnic At Hanging Rock (Peter Weir’s eerie film about disappeared schoolgirls in Victorian-era Australia).   Songs like “Welcome To The Treehouse,” “Chocolate Sludge Cake” and “Rapunzel” seemingly sealed the child-eye’s viewpoint running through the album, something exacerbated by the homespun feel  of the playing and instrumentation choices like recorder and glockenspiel, which conjured the atmosphere of the elementary school music room.  “Sax in the City,” the most recent video off I, Gemini, regresses even further into the nursery: Walton & Hollingworth are togged out as Edwardian toddlers in pink onesies, bonnets and bibs.

A year on from the release of their acclaimed debut, Let’s Eat Grandma are sporadically touring the album while preparing to make the follow-up. And they’re giving the occasional interview too, like this one, which took place in an Echo Park café shortly before their debut Los Angeles concert. But here’s a funny thing: Walton and Hollingworth appear keen to shed – even shred -  the public perception that’s wrapped itself around them, despite the fact that it’s solidly based on a sound / lyric / image approach that they’ve rather concertedly worked to establish. 

Take that album title, I, Gemini.  The word “gemini” is Latin for twins.  But Walton and Hollingworth now claim the title was always “a joke,” a subtle riposte to those who liked to imagine they operated as a single mind stretched across two bodies.  Yet onstage and in videos – where so far they’ve always worn identical clothes – they’ve played up the almost-twins image, and it was certainly part of the framing of their advance publicity.  Even their singing voices are uncannily alike, to the point of being virtually indistinguishable. In interview, they regularly answer questions with the same single simultaneous word, creating an eerie unison effect.  Still, Hollingworth stoutly insists that “when we write songs it’s not like we become one personality. We both have very different skill sets and are very much individuals.”

The friendship, which began when they were just four, was forged from the start through creative projects. “It’s our way of processing the world,” says Hollingworth.  They started with a series of increasingly ambitious tree houses, built by themselves, unsupervised. But that’s a subject – one of several – that they’re now reluctant to be drawn on, precisely because reviewers and interviewers have found it so charming in the past. Walton & Hollingworth seem wary of being infantilized (well, except in videos like “Sax in the City”, where they sport pacifiers and crawl hands-and-knees through the city).

After the tree house phase, Jenny and Rosa progressed to making short films, each taking turns handling the camera while the other acted. And then, aged thirteen, after making “loads of films”, they decided to “try something else. So we formed a band”. 

Perhaps the duo’s eagerness to sidestep received ideas of what Let’s Eat Grandma is about is more understandable if you take into account that they are currently repping songs written as long ago as four or five years.  The recording process for I, Gemini started when they were fourteen and it took two years to finish. They had management early on, but no record company at that point: the album was laid down for free in a recording studio at the local college where they now study.  But because they were still in high school back then, Walton & Hollingworth could only access the studio during the summer holidays, which is why it took so long to complete. 

This long, fitful process has led to the mentality gap between I, Gemini and where the duo’s heads are at today. Think of how different you felt about things aged thirteen from how you saw the world aged eighteen (the duo’s current age). Let’s Eat Grandma are keen to surprise everyone with new songs they’re writing that address social issues. “When we were younger we were obviously less clued in on politics – we were writing about what we were experiencing then,” says Walton. They are also forthright feminists, indignant about the sexism they’ve encountered in the music industry. It’s not just a case of being taken less seriously on account of their gender and age, says Hollingworth. “It’s more blatant than that.  When we’ve done festivals, and we haven’t gone with our own engineer, people have said really objectifying things to us. It’s the kind of thing that happens so subtly that you don’t really notice at first.”

Let’s Eat Grandma might have started to put away childish things, but they are still very much teenagers. There’s an incommunicative tendency that any parent will find familiar. Even a hint of  “whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not” intractability. That’s a saying of Arthur Seaton, the bloodyminded working class young factory worker in 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that later adopted by Arctic Monkeys as the title of their debut album.

One evasive tactic in evidence this evening is “wait until you see the show tonight, that’ll help you understand”.  Yet their performance at the Echo is largely in line with the expectations created by the videos and the album.  The live rendition of “Deep Six Textbook”, for instance, involves a patty-cake handclap routine to generate a percussive pulse.  Then there’s their disconcerting stage moves, like Hollingworth sitting on the floor beneath the keyboards during one number, or the pair lying flat on the stage during the first part of another song, as if hiding from the audience. These stunts are wonderfully suspenseful (you start wondering, ‘are they ever going to get up again?’) but recall nothing so much as children throwing a sulk.  The couple of new songs in their short set sound terrific and do showcase new sonic directions (they feature electric guitar, in the form of Walton’s elegant lead patterns, for the first time). But I couldn’t really discern a new social consciousness.  Even their refusal to play an encore seems characteristic, which is to say, a bit bratty.   

Rewind to early that night and back in the café, after another line of enquiry is parried, I try a different tack. What is the least Let’s-Eat-Grandma-like fact about Let’s Eat Grandma that is actually true? What information about them would most thoroughly blow their image and blow the minds of their compact but devoted following of fans and critics? Like, are they secretly into sports cars? Do they avidly watch Top Gear?

“That’s quite a hard question.... there’s so many things,” says Hollingworth, not very helpfully.

“Everything!” says Walton, less helpfully still.

Finally, they think of one secret truth, or one they’re prepared to share, at any rate.

“Even though we like them...,” offers Hollingworth cautiously. “We’re not really inspired by CocoRosie.... or Kate Bush.... or Bjork... or—“

“Cocteau Twins!” they both say, in that charming, chiming unison way of theirs.

“People just like to compare us to any female performer who’s doing something slightly different,” complains Walton.

Another thing that vexes Let’s Eat Grandma is language – terms like “kooky” or “ethereal” that get applied in a gendered way to any female artist doing something unusual or arty. “If we were a male band,” suggests Hollingworth, “people wouldn’t say ‘kooky’, they’d probably say ‘psychedelic’. Because, in lots of ways, our music is quite psychedelic.”

“Eat Shiitake Mushrooms”, one of the most delightful tunes on the album, might - they hint - be inspired by a mushroom trip. But just try to get them to elaborate.  “Can’t disclose this information,“ says a coyly tight-lipped Hollingworth.

One hallucinatory form of inspiration they do talk about freely is the hypnagogic state between wakefulness and sleep.  “I get lots of inspiration for lyrics from that phase just after I’m gone to bed and I’m very tired and falling asleep,” says Walton. “Lots of images and interesting combinations of words come into my head. When I’m in that state, I can wake myself up a bit and write things down or record them, then I slip back into the state.  I’ll keep doing that over and over for maybe half-an-hour, until I’m just too tired and feel like I really need to fall asleep.”

Hypnagogic imagery is quite different to the mind-movies you get in the rapid-eye-movement phases of deep sleep, which are more, well, dreamy. “You have more control over the images,” says Rosa. “I can think of myself as being somewhere and then I can change things and they become weirder and they start controlling themselves.” She points at the air-conditioning vent hanging off the ceiling, near our table in the upstairs balcony section of the café. “If I was in a [hypnagogic state] now, I could look right up  that pipe. And then as I went up the pipe the dream would start controlling itself.”

Let’s Eat Grandma’s fascination for dream worlds is very psychedelic-Sixties. But it’s also harks back to the surrealism, to psychoanalysis in both its Freudian and Jungian schools, and to all manner of religious and mystical belief systems going back to antiquity that have set great store in the oracular truths revealed in our night visions. What it’s not, this interest in dreams, is contemporary in any sense. We live in an era that has lost all interest in dreams as an artistic or spiritual resource, as a deeper truth of the self or of the collective unconscious.  As a teenager growing up in the Seventies, when books decoding the symbolism of dreams were popular, I kept an incredibly detailed dream diary. But nowadays “dream” generally refers to secular ambitions of fame and glory: the sort of dreams where if you keep on believin’ they’ll come true, or if you work your butt off they’ll be achieved. Instead of dreamed otherworlds we have the virtual realities of games and CGI. So when Rosa talks about writing her dreams down in her diary “as soon as I get up” or exalts the dream life as “free entertainment when you’re sleeping”, it’s a sign that the duo are probably not typical of their own generation. 

Let’s Eat Grandma’s music often has an oneiric aura. The twinkly upper-octave piano trills at the start of “Rapunzel” have the quality of a cinematic dissolve, or the kind of vaseline-on-the-lens effect that lends  gauzy enchantment to a movie.  Sometimes the songs appear to evolve according to dream logic, starting somewhere and ending up somewhere completely unexpected, as with the multi-part suites of “Sleep Song” and “Welcome to the Treehouse Part 1 and 2”, or the listener-ambushing eruption of the rap section midway through “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” (albeit rap as if performed  by a eight-year-old with a mouthful of dulce de leche).

When I ask Let’s Eat Grandma if they enjoy playing tricks on listeners like that, they predictably downplay. “It wasn’t so much ‘Ooh we’re going to surprise people with a rap bit here’ as ‘this bit needs a rap’,” says Walton, the MC in question on this song. True children of the post-internet, listen-to-everything generation, Let’s Eat Grandma have in the past described what they do as “experimental sludge pop” or “psychedelic sludge.”  Well, that’s how I took those descriptions anyway: tags for a messily smushed-together splodge of flavours, like the cup of a kid at a frozen yoghurt joint who’s gone a little crazy with the toppings. Actually, sludge - they say, in unison again – refers to “drone notes”, their love of extended-notes that create a smeary, woozy feeling in the music.

Asking Let’s Eat Grandma about specific bands that possibly have an affinity with what they do – if not an outright inspirational connection – isn’t a productive pursuit.  Most of the groups that tend to get mentioned in reviews as reference points or influences  - like Kevin Ayers, Caravan, Virginia Astley - are ones they say they’ve never heard or even heard of.  “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s fully got it right yet,” says Walton, sounding neither pleased nor displeased.

So what is the most misguided, off-base thing that a professional pundit has ever said about Let’s Eat Grandma?

“The worst one,” says Walton, wrinkling her nose with annoyance, “was someone who said ‘I think there’s a few very clever adults behind this’. That just made me sooooooooooo cross.” 

Let’s Eat Grandma bitterly resent this reverse-ageism, finding even praise of the “oooh, look how prodigiously and precociously talented they are!” type to be “a bit backhanded, like it’s surprising,” complains Hollingworth. “People find us quite confusing, that we’re two girls and we bond over being creative,” she adds. “Like teenage girls are just supposed to go shopping together or something! But I think there’s loads of girls like us out there.”


[version as published at the end]


LET'S EAT GRANDMA
I, Gemini
The Wire, June 2016

by Simon Reynolds

Nationality feels like an impermissible topic to bring up when writing about the appeal of music.  Like something that’s vaguely discredited, or at least outmoded:  left behind for good (in both senses) in our post-geographical, distance-shrinking world.  Celebrating hybridity, intermixture and impurity is always going to seem more progressive than fetishising the essential, the unchanging, the parochial.  Yet national character continues to have a potent attraction.  Englishness of a particular musty sort seeps from every pore of eMMplekz’s dankly addictive Rook to TN34. And Englishness of a brightly enchanted kind forms a fragrant haze around I, Gemini , the debut album from Let’s Eat Grandma.

This teenage duo could hardly be more English, from their names – Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton—to their singing voices, which have the crumbly texture of Wensleydale, reminding me at various points of Sophie from The Detectorists, Cassie in Skins, and Lola from the kids’s animation series Charlie and Lola. The only time they break the spell of quintessential Englishness is their name – they should really be called Let’s Eat Granny.

Musically, too, they summon to mind a bunch of frightfully English things:  Danielle Dax, Matching Mole, Pram, Kate Bush.  Not that they ever really sound much like any of these. But the ballpark –  or should I say, cricket pitch – is the same: quirky, homespun, a little precious, child-like in a way that teeters close to twee but never crosses the line.  

Let’s Eat Grandma play up their Englishness and their tender years with the way they present in photo sessions and in the video for the single “Deep Six Textbook”. With their lace frocks, long golden tresses, and milky complexions, they come across a bit like modern-day equivalents of the miscreants behind the Cottingley Fairies photographs – girl-cousins who let their imaginations get away with them and fooled half the world. On “Deep Six Textbook,” Jenny and Rosa sing as classroom daydreamers who’d rather be communing with the starfish and the ocean than stuck indoors being trained for productive adulthood: “we live our lives in the textbook... I feel like standing on the desk and screaming ‘I DON’T CARE!’”.   Listening to their motley sound-palette, you often picture a school music room full of battered instruments: recorder, ukulele, electric organ, xylophone, triangle, rough-toned violin, the stray components of a drum kit, a long outmoded synth.  
Song titles like “Chimpanzees in Canopies” and “Welcome To The Treehouse” evoke Nature Studies projects, school trips to the zoo, and back garden fun ’n’ games.

But the innocence doesn’t feel forced. At sixteen and seventeen, Hollingworth and Walton are barely out of childhood.  More like sisters than the friends-since-age-four they are, their voices appear to have grown alike through prolonged proximity, like plants entwining together in a neglected garden. Gemini is the Latin for twins and the album title I, Gemini seems to speak of a near-telepathic bond: a single mind shared across two bodies.

One of the emerging clichés of today’s brainy music-making (and music-reviewing) is “world-building”. Everybody’s at it: constructing sprawling concept albums that are the audio setting for Game of   Thrones- scale sagas or epic near-future dystopias. I, Gemini sounds like a world, yes, but not one consciously assembled, just the byproduct of a private space of pure imagination that flourished between constant companions. Think Heavenly Creatures, without the upsetting ending. 

Sometimes the organic quality of I, Gemini feels a little off the cuff.  “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms” coalesces haphazardly at first, like a primary school music class converging around a tune, while “Sax in the City” sounds like a one-man band with its ukulele, toy cymbal, and honking horn. But the thrown-togetherness is deceptive:  there’s a consummate attentiveness to texture, structure, and, most vividly, space in evidence.  “Deep Six Textbook” sounds like a song heard with a seashell cupped to your ear. Its muzzy washes of Caravan-keyboard and stoic tick-tock beat set deep in the distance have me casting back to late Eighties recordings by A.R. Kane and Cocteau Twins for an equivalent sense of intimate emptiness. 

Norwich, the girls’ hometown, is a bustling city in a county that’s largely rural, full of flat expanses, and often considered a bit of a backwater.  Like an audio illustration for Raymond Williams’s English culture study The Country and The City, the album shuttles back and forth on a branch line that stretches from Virginia Astley to Lady Sovereign.  Just when you think they’re all about winsome pastoralism, Let’s Eat Grandma will starting rapping – sounding, on “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms”, like Cranes’s baby-voiced Alison Shaw reborn as a grime MC from E3.  Whether sung or spat, Hollingworth & Walton’s slack enunciation belies their out-of-time, Picnic At Hanging Rock image:  this is actually a rather modern style of singing, something you hear across the spectrum from Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding to AlunaGeorge and James Blake.  But Let’s Eat Grandma push it further, smudging  fricatives and bilabials, making syllables fold and kink sideways,  half-swallowing their vowels or swilling them around the palate. It’s like they’re delectating in their own voice-stuff, and who could blame them?  

This meld of savory-sweet singing, moreish melody, glistening texture, strange space and surprises galore makes I, Gemini the best pop-not-pop album since Micachu & the Shapes’s Jewellery. (Without ever resembling it at all).  And as with that album, Gemini is backloaded: each new song better than the one that precedes. Things really take off as we pass the half-way mark. “Rapunzel” is their “Wuthering Heights”:  romanticism so gauchely gushing only 17 year olds can get away with it. The song starts with an upper-octave piano cycle that spins an atmosphere of twinkly magic, like the moment in Le Grand Meaulnes when the protagonist stumbles on the lost chateau in the forest. Then it gathers to a pounding pitch of tempestuous grandeur, with a storyline about a 7-year-old runaway from domestic discord suddenly stricken with the realization “I’m not having fun in this fairy tale”.  “Sleep Song” likewise starts gently with wheezy harmonium and plangent crinkles of guitar, then the lullaby bends to the sinister with a babble of increasingly clashing voices, before spiraling into a sort of soaring plummet of night-terror.  A song in two parts, “Welcome To The Treehouse” is their “Cloudbusting”: the angelic screech of the vocals is the sound of hearts exploding, but who can tell whether they’re bursting with joy or dread.


The star sign Gemini  (mine, as it happens) has among its strengths imagination, quickness, and adaptability; among  its weaknesses, impulsiveness, flightiness, and  indecision. That all just sounds like the checklist for adolescence.   I Gemini ‘s allure for me as an aging expatriate is not just the reassuring idea that Englishness abides, but that adolescence is much the same as it ever was.  The trappings have changed – Instagram and Snapchat, rather than scrapbooks and pen pals – but the fundamental things apply:  boredom, longing, restlessness, wonder, lust, spite, curiosity, confusion.  “Oh yeah life goes on / Long after the thrill of livin’ has gone”, warned that least-English of all singers Johnny Cougar, before advising: “Hold onto sixteen as long as you can/Changes come around real soon make us women and men”.  If you can’t find still and grasp tight within yourself those sensations of unformed possibility, then second-best is to grab them vicariously, through music that’s as thrillingly alive and ardently awake as this.  


LET'S EAT GRANDMA PROFILE FOR NPR AS PUBLISHED

From Norfolk, one of the more remote regions of England, came this preternaturally talented pair of teenage girls, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth. Their close, verging-on-telepathic friendship dated back to pre-school, and they emerged from pre-pubescence clutching a debut set of sophisticated, wonderfully askew songs. Those recordings – collected on I, Gemini – had the duo playing every instrument themselves.

Growing Up

A year on from the release of that acclaimed debut, Let's Eat Grandma is still sporadically touring behind it. But here's a funny thing: Walton and Hollingworth now appear keen to shed — even shred — the public perception that's wrapped itself around them, despite the fact that it's based on an aesthetic approach to the project that they've rather concertedly worked to establish.

Most teenagers hope to look as adult and sophisticated as possible. They're keen to grow up in a hurry. But the way Let's Eat Grandma has presented itself up to this point, in live performance and in promo videos, is the complete opposite. The pair's image in their break-out video "Deep Six Textbook" — long golden tresses, buttermilk skin, white lace frocks — casts Walton and Hollingworth as virtual twins and as out-of-time figures seemingly plucked right out of Picnic At Hanging Rock, Peter Weir's eerie film about disappeared schoolgirls in Victorian-era Australia. Songs like "Welcome To The Treehouse," "Chocolate Sludge Cake" and "Rapunzel" seemed to cement the child-eyed viewpoint running through the album, exacerbated by the homespun feel of the playing and instrumentation choices like recorder and glockenspiel, which conjured the atmosphere of the elementary school music room. "Sax in the City," the most recent video off I, Gemini, regresses even further, into the nursery, with Walton & Hollingworth togged out as Edwardian toddlers in pink onesies, bonnets and bibs.


Their friendship began when they were just 4, forged from the start through creative projects. "It's our way of processing the world," said Hollingworth. They started with a series of increasingly ambitious treehouses, built by themselves, unsupervised. It's a subject – one of several – that they're now reluctant to be drawn on, precisely because reviewers and interviewers have found it so charming in the past. Walton and Hollingworth seem wary of being infantilized — except in videos like "Sax in the City," where they sport pacifiers and crawl hands-and-knees through the city.

After that treehouse phase Jenny and Rosa progressed to making short films, taking turns handling the camera while the other acted. Then, aged thirteen, after making "loads of films," they decided to "try something else. So we formed a band."

Only In Dreams

Let's Eat Grandma's music often has a dream-like aura to it; twinkly, upper-octave piano trills at the start of "Rapunzel" have the quality of a cinematic dissolve, or the kind of vaseline-on-the-lens effect that lends gauzy enchantment to a movie. Some songs appear to evolve according to dream logic, ending somewhere completely unexpected, as with the multi-part suites of "Sleep Song" and the two-part "Welcome to the Treehouse," or the listener-ambushing eruption of the rap section midway through "Eat Shiitake Mushrooms."

As it happens, dreaming is where the duo derive much of their inspiration. "I get lots of inspiration for lyrics from that phase just after I'm gone to bed and I'm very tired and falling asleep," says Rosa Walton, referring to a stage in the onset of sleep called 'hypnagogic'. We chatted in an Echo Park café shortly before Let's Eat Grandma were to perform their debut Los Angeles concert. "Lots of images and interesting combinations of words come into my head," continued Rosa. "When I'm in that state, I can wake myself up a bit and write things down or record them, then I slip back into the state. I'll keep doing that over and over for maybe half-an-hour, until I'm just too tired and feel like I really need to fall asleep."

Hypnagogic imagery is actually different to the mind-movies you get in the rapid-eye-movement phases of deep sleep, which are more, well, dreamy. "You have more control over the images," Rosa said. "I can think of myself as being somewhere and then I can change things and they become weirder and they start controlling themselves." She pointed at the air-conditioning vent hanging off the ceiling, near our table in the upstairs balcony section of the café. "If I was in a [hypnagogic state] now, I could look right up that pipe. And then as I went up the pipe the dream would start controlling itself."

The pair's fascination for dream worlds is very psychedelic-'60s. But it also harks back to surrealism, to psychoanalysis in both its Freudian and Jungian schools and to all manner of religious and mystical belief systems going back to antiquity that have set great store in the oracular truths revealed in our night visions. What it's not, this interest in dreams, is contemporary in any sense. We live in an era that has lost all interest in dreams as an artistic or spiritual resource, as a deeper truth of the self or of the collective unconscious. As a teenager growing up in the '70s, when books decoding the symbolism of dreams were popular, I kept an incredibly detailed dream diary. But nowadays "dream" generally refers to secular ambitions of fame and glory, the sort of dreams where, if you just keep on believin', they'll come true, or if you work your butt off they'll be achieved. Instead of dreamed otherworlds we have digital, the virtual realities of games and CGI. So when Rosa talks about writing her dreams down in her diary "as soon as I get up," or exalts the dream life as "free entertainment when you're sleeping", it's a sign that the duo are probably not typical of their own generation.

Evolution! Evolution?

Perhaps the duo's eagerness to sidestep received ideas of what Let's Eat Grandma is about is more understandable if you take into account that they are still repping songs written four or five long – especially relative to their chronology — years ago. The recording process for I, Gemini started when they were fourteen and took two years to finish. Because they were still in high school back then, Walton & Hollingworth could only access the free studio at their local music college during the summer holidays, which is why it took so long to complete.

This long, fitful process led to an inevitable mentality gap between I, Gemini and where the duo's heads are at today. Just think for a moment how different you felt about things aged thirteen from how you saw the world aged eighteen (the pair's current age).

Let's Eat Grandma are keen to surprise everyone with the new songs they're writing, which they say center on social and political issues. "When we were younger we were obviously less clued in on politics – we were writing about what we were experiencing then," says Walton. They are also forthright feminists, indignant about the sexism they've encountered in the music industry. It's not just a case of being taken less seriously on account of their gender and age, says Hollingworth. "It's more blatant than that. When we've done festivals, and we haven't gone with our own engineer, people have said really objectifying things to us. It's the kind of thing that happens so subtly that you don't really notice at first."

Let's Eat Grandma might have started to put away childish things, but they are still very much teenagers. There's an incommunicative tendency that any parent will find familiar — even a hint of "whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not" intractability.

"Wait until you see the show tonight, that'll help you understand," they said. Yet that performance, at the Echo, was largely in line with the established image they were ostensibly in the process of shedding. The live rendition of "Deep Six Textbook," for instance, involved a patty-cake handclap routine to generate a percussive pulse. Then there's their disconcerting stage moves, like Hollingworth sitting on the floor beneath the keyboards during one number, or the pair lying flat on the stage during the first part of another song, as if hiding from the audience. These stunts are wonderfully suspenseful — you start wondering, are they ever going to get up again? — but can recall, too, children throwing a sulk. The couple of new songs played in that short set sounded terrific — and did, indeed, showcase new sonic directions, featuring electric guitar, in the form of Walton's elegant lead patterns, for the first time. It was hard to discern a new social consciousness.

What We Are Not

Back in the café, after another line of enquiry was parried, it was time to try a different tack. What is the least Let's-Eat-Grandma-like fact about Let's Eat Grandma that is actually true? What information about them would most thoroughly blow their image and blow the minds of their compact-but-devoted following of fans and critics? Like, are they secretly into sports cars? Do they avidly watch Top Gear?

"That's quite a hard question... there's so many things," says Hollingworth, not very helpfully.

"Everything!" says Walton, less helpfully still.

Finally, they think of one secret truth, or one they're prepared to share, at any rate.

"Even though we like them...," offers Hollingworth cautiously. "We're not really inspired by CocoRosie.... or Kate Bush.... or Bjork... or—"

"Cocteau Twins!" they both say, in that charming, chiming unison way of theirs.

"People just like to compare us to any female performer who's doing something slightly different," complains Walton.

Asking Let's Eat Grandma about specific bands that possibly do have an affinity with their sound – if not an outright inspirational connection – isn't productive, either. Most of the groups that tend to get mentioned in reviews as reference points or influences — Kevin Ayers, Caravan, Virginia Astley — are ones they say they've never heard or even heard of. "I don't think there's anybody who's fully got it right yet," says Walton, neither pleased nor displeased.

Another thing that vexes Let's Eat Grandma is language – terms like "kooky" or "ethereal" that get applied, in a gendered way, to any female artist doing something unusual or arty. "If we were a male band," suggests Hollingworth, "people wouldn't say 'kooky', they'd probably say 'psychedelic'. Because, in lots of ways, our music is quite psychedelic."

"Eat Shiitake Mushrooms", one of the most delightful tunes on the album, might, they hint, be inspired by a mushroom trip. But just try to get them to elaborate. "Can't disclose this information," says a tight-lipped Hollingworth. That song, which surprisingly erupts midway into a deliciously unexpected rap section, is a wonderful example of Let's Eat Grandma's unconfined approach to genre. True children of the post-Internet, listen-to-everything generation, Walton and Hollingworth have in the past described what they do as "experimental sludge pop" or "psychedelic sludge." Well, that's how I took those descriptions anyway: tags for a smushed-together splodge of flavors, like the dripping cup of a kid at a frozen yogurt joint who's gone a little overboard with the toppings. Actually, sludge — they say in unison, again – refers to "drone notes", their love of extended-notes that create a smeary, woozy feeling in the music.

So – on the subject of critics and their misperceptions — what is the single most misguided, off-base thing that a professional pundit has ever said about Let's Eat Grandma?

"The worst one," says Walton, wrinkling her nose with annoyance, "was someone who said 'I think there's a few very clever adults behind this'. That just made me so cross."

Let's Eat Grandma bitterly resent this reverse-ageism, finding even praise of the "oooh, look how prodigiously and precociously talented they are!" type to be "a bit backhanded, like it's surprising," complains Hollingworth. "People find us quite confusing, that we're two girls and we bond over being creative," she adds. "Like teenage girls are just supposed to go shopping together or something! But I think there's loads of girls like us out there."

1 comment:

Sadmanberty said...

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