If your mum hates your band name you're doing something right
Jockstrap aren’t messing around tonight. Running slightly late as usual, I discover Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery sat in the Jai Krishna curry house in Stroud Green (their favourite spot) having already ordered two thalis before I’ve even arrived. “Sorry, but we haven’t really eaten anything today,” smiles Ellery, offering me a glass of wine across the table.
Eating with strangers has never really been my forte, so already I’m desperately glancing around searching for an icebreaker. Fortunately, I spy a holdall sat next to Skye. “Have you guys been at practice?” I blurt out, with a barely concealed note of triumph in my voice. “Oh, no, I’m going on a five-day meditation retreat,” comes the matter-of-fact reply. “I know, it’s kind of a radical thing to do, but it’s a bit like going for a run – it’s not natural, but you do it to have a better life.”
“It’s quite rare that you’ve realised that at an early age,” adds Ellery, her eyes following the two ginormous thalis that have just been delivered to our table. “I feel like most people don’t worry about this kind of stuff until they’re a lot older?”
“Yeah, it’s weird,” says Skye. “The year before I started school I had a few weeks of being really broken down without any reason for it, and that made me realise that I needed to take my mental health seriously. These days, though, I feel like it’s become the basis for a lot of what I do. It’s more than a defence against breakdowns and more of how I live if you know what I mean?”
Sitting in curry houses chatting about meditation and smartphone addiction isn’t the most conventional way to start an interview, but, then, Jockstrap aren’t really a conventional band. An eclectic mix of influences have coalesced around Skye and Ellery, and their sound is a glorious hodge-podge of pop, jazz and synthetic sounds, that effortlessly manages to navigate romantic, big band-style compositions through kaleidoscopic seas of electronic dream pop.
“We were in the same halls at the Guildhall School of Music,” Ellery recalls when I ask her about how Jockstrap got their start. “I was listening to a lot of Paul Simon and writing songs when I came across Taylor’s productions on Facebook. I had all these bare bones of songs, and I started to envision them through his aesthetic. It made perfect sense to start making music with him.”
“To be fair, we didn’t have any specific influences, we both liked what each other did and we just thought it would be interesting to see what it sounded like meshed together,” continues Skye, picking up the story. “We didn’t start out trying to make a certain sound or anything like that, in a way, it’s almost like we came at it the other way.”
With the music being a blend of ethereal chamber pop and delicate synths, I’m curious to find out the reasons why the duo landed on the jarring name Jockstrap. “I love how people don’t like it,” chuckles Ellery, with a mischievous glint in her eye. “I love the effect it has on people and the contrast it has to the music. My mum hates it!”
Remarkably, Jockstrap haven’t been a band for all that long. Having officially been together for a little under a year, the beginning of 2018 found Ellery a member of the hotly-tipped post-punk band Nervous Conditions – she was only composing with Skye on the side. That all changed when her band imploded in the wake of sexual assult revelations concerning their lead singer, Connor Browne. “Yeah, it’s certainly been a bit of year,” sighs Ellery when I ask her about it, “but we’ve come out of the other side. As well as Jockstrap, I’m also doing [new band] Black Country, New Road, and it’s great that something amazing has come out of it.”
Even though I don’t really believe in it, it’s hard not to chalk-up the rapid rise of Jockstrap to karma. Even before releasing any music at all, the band had already become hot-property on the back of a series of well-received live dates. Now, with two singles out and a mini-album about to drop, the band have secured upcoming bookings at Pitchfork Paris and Iceland Airwaves, and have featured alongside ASAP Rocky and Mica Levi on Dean Blunt’s latest EP ‘Soul on Fire’.
Almost overnight the band (two at its core, five in total) graduated from a bedroom project into a fully fledged live group, featuring friends and coursemates Melchior Giedroyc, Michael Dunlop and Lewis Evans. They’ve recently supported Let’s Eat Grandma at Heaven and have some marquee slots in their immediate future, so I feel out Ellery’s and Skye’s thoughts on all this sudden attention. “We’ve generally been doing a normal amount of gigs,” smiles Skye with practised understatement. “It’s been cool to play some proper venues, although we mostly play with synths and sample pads, so it always feels like something is about to go wrong.”
“Live, we’ve tried to keep things as close as we can to the records,” says Ellery. “Four of us are on the jazz course at Guildhall, and we’re all improvising musicians, so we want to keep that element when we’re playing live, but do it a way that is also very regimented. It’s cool when you can play live and sound exactly like you want – it’s such a skill.”
With our curries demolished, the conversation turns to the band’s brilliantly weird videos for ‘Joy’ and ‘Hayley’ which have been released to promote the band’s forthcoming mini-album ‘Sounds In the Key of the City’, due out on Kaya Kaya in early November. Directed by Ellery and featuring a recurring cast of friends, the two videos perfectly capture Jockstrap’s idiosyncrasies with their dream-like production quality, romantic story-telling and quirky characters.
“I slaved away over those,” laughs Ellery. “We had just done the video for ‘I Want Another Affair’ (a track that was until recently the band’s only recorded output) and it was really fun, so we just thought it would be funny if we had a bit of running theme to our videos. Like all the same people just playing different characters.”
The band’s latest single, ‘Joy’, is a beautifully lush sounding slice of romantic jazz accompanied by a video that starts like one of those home movie girlfriend montages that the depressed character in a revenge thriller watches while obsessively drinking, before taking a sudden turn into surreal electronic pop. The video for ‘Hayley’ feels a lot more familiar, however, and it’s no surprise to find out that it was inspired by Louis Theroux’s 2003 documentary about sex workers. “I only really started watching his documentaries about a year ago,” says Ellery as we talk about the concept behind the video. “The song is really about the woman in it, I thought she was so cool. Usually, he’s very distant with the subjects of his films, but in that one you can tell that he really likes her and wants to hang out with her. I was very taken by that.
“It filmed near our old house in Dalston on a bleak-looking road just behind Bardens,” she continues. “The idea was to make a bit of a ‘mock western’ so it was perfect really, as it’s a private lane so we could get away with whatever we wanted. At first I was hoping to film it at a petrol station, but there was no way we’d get away with drawing a fake gun at one of those without permissions.”
With our meals eaten and our time rapidly running out, I ask Ellery and Skye about their plans after they graduate. After all, it’s easy to forget that both are still students and have their whole careers ahead of them. “There is literally nothing else I want to do, so I have to plan things out,” says Skye, reaching into his wallet to pay the bill. “I mean, people are always saying what are your backup options? But, to me, backup options are a difficult place to start as they’re sort of like admitting that you might not make it. Yeah, it’s risky, but it also motivates”
I aim the same question at Ellery, who seems completely nonplussed. “It’s like anything, I suppose. If you work at it, you’ll come up with something good.”