INTERVIEW

Rosa and Jenny met in reception class and their first song was about ‘a chicken-shaped alarm clock’

lets-eat-grandma8

When they were 10 years old, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth were hanging out at the top of the stairs. Bored. Flopped over the banister. In unison, they began to sing: ‘When you don’t know what to do / And you’re feeling kinda blue…’ “And then my mum came along and said, ‘Get that leg off the banister!’” says Jenny. “And we went: ‘Get that leg off the banister! And you’ll know just what to do, d-d-doo, d-d-doo.’” Rosa and Jenny sing out the jazzy tune as they snap their fingers. They laugh hard, as they have done all day. If ‘Get That Leg Off The Banister’ wasn’t Let’s Eat Grandma’s very first song, it was ‘The Angry Chicken’, written with the aid of Rosa’s thirteenth birthday present – a guitar – and inspired by her chicken-shaped alarm clock. Jenny played along on her out-of-tune ukulele.

Bored kids, amusing themselves with literal ditties – it was all of us once; with a friend that we would have died without, if we were lucky. Yet Rosa and Jenny – now 16 and 17, respectively – seem even closer than that.

They’re not the identical twins that they’re so often mistaken for, or even sisters, although they’re happy to propel the myth with matching clothes and all that hair that’s got people comparing them to the sinister apparitions from The Shining. It’s precisely because they’re so inseparable… and because they want to fuck with people. They met in reception class, aged 4, and say they felt a special connection from the beginning. “Even when we’ve had other friends, we’ve always been separate from everyone else,” says Jenny. Rosa recalls play times at school spent “just the two of us, wandering around in our own world, playing games with stones and planning our escape from the playground – we used to think, ooh, we’re going to climb over the fence and then go to this place. I think the whole creation of our own world, which we use in our music, started from that young age.”

Year on year, at Jenny’s birthday parties, the two of them would eat their food away from the other children. Jenny’s sister might have been allowed to join them (Rosa is an only child), but everyone else sat on the other side of the table. Invited friends, but not Rosa. “We’ve got loads of photos and videos of Jenny’s birthdays over the years where we’re on our own, and every year it was like, ‘oh, this again…’”

lets-eat-grandma7

It’s to their credit that they’re even in touch now that they’re young women, especially since they’ve not schooled together since they were both seven. At that time they vowed to meet up every 2 weeks, which might as well be a year when it’s your number-one friend and you’re upgrading to middle school. I made similar arrangements with friends at the end of high school – I’ve not seen Keith Howgego since.

Today, they’ve got plenty of other friends, but none that are mutual. They either hang out just them, or totally separately. “I feel like that would be a weird dynamic, if we hung out with other people,” says Jenny, who describes Rosa as a daredevil. “I think that’s what appealed to me about her. I’ve always been a bit more cautious and sensitive, and Rosa balances me out. But we have the same creative ideas and imaginations. It’s almost like, where all the games we used to play was just us and nobody was watching, now it’s exactly the same but the difference is that there are lots of people looking in.”

lets-eat-grandma

Rosa and Jenny bluster across Eaton Park towards our meeting point by the bandstand. It was snowing in Norwich before we arrived; now it’s slate grey with interchangeable spells of icy rain and sudden blue skies. They laugh off the cold as soon as they reach us and break into song while we’re still shaking hands. “I’m Jenny” prompts a blast of ‘Jenny From The Block’ from Rosa and another song that I don’t know, but think has been spontaneously made up on the spot. It triggers more laughter, and so sets a happy pattern for the rest of the day – they burst into song and laugh a lot, and the rest of us (photographer, PR, stylist and hair and makeup artist) try to keep up.

I can see how their other friends might not get a look in when Rosa and Jenny are together – they seem capable of speaking to one another with a glance, although that’s not to say that they’re not inclusive, and both are mindful to explain private jokes whenever it feels like they’re the only two giggling away. Like when they’re doing their surreal musical bit ‘Jenny feat. The Dying Cat’, where Jenny strikes up a popular song and Rosa deliberately harmonises off-key. They demonstrate it to me with a rendition of James Blunt’s ‘Your Beautiful’. At the end they always sign off in a cod Chinese accent promoting whatever big has happened to them recently – today it’s “When you’re on the cover of Loud And Quiet.” They fall about.

We walk to the model boating lake and Jenny makes chit-chat by telling me how Eaton Park reminds her of being sick, after Rosa once made her take part in the weekly 5k run that’s held here at weekends. “Sorry,” she says, in one of a number of self-aware moments, “I don’t know why I’m telling you about the time I ran around the park constantly throwing up.”

lets-eat-grandma4

She excitedly plays music on her phone while we photograph her and Rosa by the lake. She opts for a guy called Macintosh Plus and introduces me to an ambient microgenre called vaporwave. It reminds me that this is how teenagers listen to music, and that Let’s Eat Grandma are teenagers themselves. Rosa and Jenny aren’t ashamed of the fact, but they are aware of the risk of being treated as a novelty because of it. The truth is that they are all the best bits of being 16 and 17: quite mad, instantly confident and out to please themselves. And positioned here, squarely between adulthood and childhood, they’re awarded that unique free pass on dipping into either world whenever they like.

So they sing James Blunt like dying cats, use the word ‘gourmet’ where we used to say ‘sick’ and repeat the saxophone hook from ‘Careless Whisper’ over and over, but they also eloquently voice their concerns about the British education system and the institutional sexism of the music industry that’s led them to explain to sound engineers that yes, they are the drummers in the band, even though they are girls. At one point, halfway through our sit-down interview, Rosa suddenly asked me if she can give a shout out to someone called Arthur Dellow. Then we’re straight back to the importance of challenging pop music archetypes. It’s a happy, lawless, disparate existence that’s fun to be around, and it’s had a direct and positive affect on the music Let’s Eat Grandma make.

Their debut single, ‘Deep Six Textbook’, has led most people to say the same thing – “At last, something a little bit different” – but they have no idea. ‘Deep Six Textbook’ is a down-tempo, slightly psychedelic alt. pop number full of wide open space and pinned-on a drum track played somewhere in the middle distance. The girls’ vocals are just witchy enough for Kate Bush to be thrown in to most online summations and reposts, and this already beguiling single now comes with a video that piles on the weird as Rosa and Jenny tumble around a deserted beach in slow motion, dressed in the finest Victorian-ghost-children lace dresses. The stats on their Facebook page have a majority of their fans marked as 45- to 50-year-old men, but only half of LEG’s debut album (coming early summer via Transgressive Records) is in a remotely similar vein.

Subsequent tracks include a deep synth banger called ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’, featuring cute J-pop vocals and girlish rapping – the kind of song that PC Music have been trying to land on radio playlists for the last two years. There’s the distorted stromp of ‘Sax In The City’, too, ‘Chocolate Sludge Cake’, which features a pagan-sounding school recorder and pat-a-cake singsong, and a beautifully harmonised folk song accompanied by a mandolin, entitled ‘Chimpanzees in Canopies’. It’s a record that features no sampled instruments or extra musicians – every keyboard, guitar, drum, saxophone, harmonica, mandolin, cello, recorder, glockenspiel and ukulele was played by Rosa and Jenny, practically in a different, strange style on each of the ten experimental tracks.

lets-eat-grandma3

“Because we were listening to so much pop music we worked out the aspects we liked but also what we didn’t like from pop music,” says Rosa. “For example, if you listen to a whole album of pop, it gets really samey, and that was the point where we thought how about we make an album where every song is in a different style.

“We can’t wait for people to hear ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’, because they’ve got us pinned as these creepy girls, which is how we’ve been presenting ourselves. But another part of our whole creepy thing is partly about not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of people do expect females in the music industry to be docile and acoustic and we’re not either of those things.”

“The aim is to create a really strong response from people,” adds Jenny, “and that’s why it’s really fun having really jumpy tracks, because people are like ‘What!?’, and we’re like, ‘Yeaaah!’ As female artists, and especially young ones, you get so many people who think we’re going to sit down and play some folk, and then we bring the big synths in…

“When people talk about emotions they talk about them as if they’re really clear cut, and they’re really not like that,” she says. “From when we talk about how we feel about things, it’s really difficult to tell exactly how you feel. It’s conflicting and confusing, and I guess that’s how it comes across as scary sometimes. And that’s how the album’s ended up pretty dark.”

Its payoff is a closing ukulele rendition of the opening ‘Deep Six Textbook’ – the darling version you’d hear on an advert of an online dating site. “That’s like, ‘we’re teenage girls,’” says Jenny. “‘You thought we’d be doing this throughout the whole album but here it is right at the end, just to make you feel more secure.’”

lets-eat-grandma6

When the rain really starts to come down in Easton Park we jump in a taxi to an artists’ studio in the centre of town. It’s just gone 3pm and the school Rosa left last year has recently kicked out. A kid she knows called Kyle is walking home, which instigates more laughter as we zip by.

Rosa and Jenny are themselves enrolled in music college, where Let’s Eat Grandma counts towards their final grade. It’s called Access To Music and it’s where they recorded their album while they were still finishing their GCSEs. The facilities are a major perk, while the curriculum is based around how genres develop, and a more experimental approach to composition. Rosa says that it’s important for them to be in the company of other teenagers, too, “otherwise you feel really separated.”

When I ask them how their music fits in with the other students’ they say that it doesn’t – there are a lot of traditional band setups.

Once the A&R clamour was over (and LEG really did have their pick of the indies) and Rosa and Jenny had signed with Transgressive, they tried to keep their new deal to themselves. Their classmates found out online, and were unanimously supportive. Still, it must feel strange for Rosa and Jenny – young adults enrol in music college as a step towards life as a jobbing musician, in one form or other; they’d managed it within five months of their first year. So what of college now? Rosa is still hopeful that they’ll be able to complete their second year, but doesn’t appear too confident that their commitment to the band will allow it.

“I think it’s weird,” explains Jenny, “because compared to other people at college our goal has been quite different because we never thought that we wanted to be musicians – we just wanted to learn more and improve. Even though we’re doing the musician job now, we’re still working towards our goal because there’s always more to learn. Other people are aiming for the job route, but we’re aiming for the learning process.”

College is a good place to start, but Jenny says that she learns just as much online, “reading about different murder cases and stuff. That’s not doing anything for this creepy thing, is it?” she laughs. “Or reading posts about science, microgenres and interior design.”

“We’re really into education, we just hate school,” says Rosa. “The school system, they’ve just got it wrong, basically.”

“I feel like a lot of young people don’t feel fulfilled doing what they’re doing, but they feel so much pressure to do that,” adds Jenny. “It’s so nice to create something so freeing. For example, in the album if you literally just pick up all the places that are mentioned, they’re not real places, and it’s freeing to not feel like you’re in real life anymore.”

She continues: “Some of my friends are such amazing people, and it almost upsets me because I feel like things have made them feel like they’re not good at anything. I really don’t know how to apply that to culture these days, or anything, but I love learning, and the way [the education system] works, it really puts people down. I’ve nothing against learning, which is why we go to college, but it’s about the way you teach, to make sure people feel as though they can do things.”

lets-eat-grandma5

‘Deep Six Textbook’, although cryptic in its title (“Deep Six” is an old nautical term for throwing something overboard, and has come to mean the disposing of something so that it’s impossible to recover), is these feelings of disenchantment set to beautiful, foreboding music. “We live our lives in the textbook / Letter by letter / I feel like standing on the desk and screaming ‘I don’t care’ / And I was such a quiet child.”

“That track can be applied to different things in society, but we were studying for our GCSEs at the time,” says Rosa. “For us, it was about the education system – the expectations of it and that there’s this certain path you have to follow.”

Forums and reviewers will soon enough be able to pore over Let’s Eat Grandma’s other lyrics for meaning and secret messages, but it’s an impossible puzzle to solve. It’s a thin line between abstract words with poignant backstories and literal, weird imagery that’s been written by a band when they were 14, nonsensical and amusing only themselves. Sometimes a slug is a slug, as is the case on ‘Chocolate Sludge Cake’, which is also literally about cakes and fridges. As Jenny describes it, “It’s the playful music people expect young people to make, because we were even younger when we wrote that, but it’s got this synth base that tricks people.”

Rosa confirms that ‘Sleep’ – a truly creepy netherworld waltz with jabbering, hard-to-decipher words – is purposefully abstract, because it was written subconsciously halfway between being awake and asleep, but the pair stop themselves from talking about any other tracks. They want to experience the glee of seeing so many people get it wrong, and I can hardly blame them.

This is Let’s Eat Grandma’s own world, where nothing has changed since ‘Get That Leg Off The Banister’, or perhaps even earlier, when Rosa and Jenny met in reception class. They refer to LEG as “just another one of our projects”, like the spy movies they used to make and tree houses they used to build and the time they had a spa day in their swimming costumes in the bath. By performing only to one another, without the hang-ups that separate adults from teenagers, they’ve allowed themselves to indulge their frivolities as they explore the darker sounds of experimental pop music. Lots of people are now looking in, but it’s all the same to them. I’m not surprised that the only time they’re stumped all day is when I ask them what they’d like the band to achieve. It’s an alien question, as if being together with music isn’t achievement enough.

“That’s what they asked us at the bank and we don’t know,” Rosa finally says. “If we go to a house party and someone plays ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’, that would be success to me.”

On the roof of the artists’ studio, they dance and sing to Michael Jackson playing on Jenny’s phone.

dot