Each issue, we ask an artist or group to share three musicians they think have gone under-appreciated, and three new names who they hope will avoid a similar fate. This time, Let's Eat Grandma's Jenny Hollingworth is in the hot seat
Listening to Let’s Eat Grandma’s music, it’s hard enough to get a grasp on the music that’s immediately in front of you, let alone try to parse out the countless number of influences and genres that have been marinating together in their minds in order for it all to have been made possible.
The Norwich duo of Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, school friends since the age of four, release their third album Two Ribbons this April; another head-spinningly infectious concoction of twisted and mutated synth-pop, it’s as beguiling as it is irresistible.
In an effort to cast a spotlight on the inner workings of their creative minds, we have asked them to pick out six of their favourite under-appreciated artists, three of them from today and three from the past. Jenny Hollingworth guides us through their choices, ranging from ’70s Laurel Canyon to anonymous hyperpop, from Bristol trip-hop to East Anglian disco revival.
Jenny Hollingworth: I’ve just been really into the folk and folk-rock stuff from the golden period, which to me at the moment is 1968-1973, there’s just so much good music from there. There’s a lot that I’m lucky to be delving into for the first time and it’s really exciting. I particularly enjoy music that has a transcendence to it, something quite spiritual – not necessarily in the actual religious sense, although in hers it kind of is. For me, a lot of music is about connecting to something more transcendent and she is one of the artists that does that the most for me.
Particularly with a track like ‘The Kiss’, which is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard. What I find interesting about it is that there is a very surface level reading of it of being about God – which isn’t really surface level – but at the same time she writes it so that it can be a love song as well. That’s not necessarily her intention; it’s almost undefinable, this feeling of love and transcendence in one track. And her delivery, she doesn’t overly hammer the emotions, she’s just like, “Yeah, this is just how it is.”
Max Pilley: Hers is an incredible story. She was surrounded by Laurel Canyon and unimaginable success, but it never happened for her and she just disappeared into heroin obscurity and died. It’s a real tragedy.
JH: It’s incredible. It’s not really shocking, because there are a lot of people in the industry who don’t manage to get the amount of success that they deserve, but when you listen to such a unique artistic voice and so many amazing songs, she’s just totally up there with the very best.
MP: There’s something occultish about her as well, she seemed able to channel something that was invisibly scary and unknowable.
JH: She seems very strong-willed and very intense, in the best possible way. There are stories of her where she was like, “I don’t want to fucking open for anyone.” She gets compared to certain artists within that world, like Joni Mitchell, but she’s not really like that. She’s a bit more intense.
JH: When I was about 16, I had a massive trip-hop phase where I just listened to all of the classics. I get most of my recommendations through word-of-mouth; a lot of my friends are music mad and one of them recommended Earthling. To me they’re an amazing band with such an interesting sound. Even though it fits in with Portishead and Tricky and stuff, I feel like it’s even more spaced out and trippy. It borders on being quite bizarre! It’s still one of those records that I listen to and I feel like I’ve been put in a completely different headspace. I’m always quite surprised by the fact that they’re not very well known at all, given the quality of the music. I think they had links to Geoff Barrow too, he worked on the record Radar, which is the one I really love. There are some really quite powerful songs on there – there’s one called ‘Planet of the Apes’, which seems to be about sexual abuse; that’s my reading of it, anyway.
MP: Would your trip-hop phase have overlapped with the time when you started recording with Let’s Eat Grandma?
JH: Yeah, I think that was after we finished recording our first album, I think we would have been putting it out at the time. It overlapped into making I’m All Ears, I think. It has definite second album vibes.
MP: Can you hear traces of artists like Earthling in I’m All Ears?
JH: I think so. The song ‘Snakes & Ladders’ was kind of ripping elements of it off, to be honest! Me and Rosa had to do projects delving into different genres and I picked trip-hop. We had to compose around that style and that’s where ‘Snakes & Ladders’ originally started out really, and then we just adjusted it into something more LEG.
JH: Jeff Hanson is honestly quite a new one for me. With his voice – and not just his actual physical voice, although that is obviously a massive feature too – he gets compared to Elliott Smith a lot, which I can hear with some of the phrasing, but there is something about him as an artist that is unique and stands out still. His actual songs are just consistently really great, his songwriting is brilliant. When you have those rare attributes, it’s quite difficult to understand why he isn’t more well-known than he is.
MP: It’s another tragic story where he was getting close and then he died incredibly young [in 2009, aged 31].
JH: Yeah, it’s so sad. I just think it’s a real treasure trove of great songs. And getting to his actual physical voice, it’s just incredible. Even though it’s very high, it has a lot of emotional weight.
MP: He’s a great melodist as well, with just a simple vocal line he can conjure these incredibly moving melodies.
JH: I love the way that artists like him can use elements that are so simple and create something that’s quite emotionally and musically complex. In some ways, it’s quite a different approach to pop. When I’ve been making synth-pop tracks in the past, you build loads of simple layers to make something complex, but that’s a lot of stuff, whereas the melodies that someone like Jeff Hanson uses seem complex but actually they’re not.
MP: Can you imagine making a stripped-back singer-songwriter-y type record yourself one day?
JH: I think I probably can, to be honest. ‘Two Ribbons’ from the new album is a bit like that. It interests me because it’s new and it feels challenging. It’s healthy to try new things.
MP: There’s something about his music where he’s letting you in so far that you know it must be authentic.
JH: I think the word is raw, definitely. Me and Rosa first saw him when we were watching the Mercury Prize coverage, so we were probably a little late to the party, but he really stood out. I’ve watched a few of his performances of the same song since (‘Glory’) and every time it’s a bit different in terms of where the emotional peak is. It definitely feels really raw and that he’s giving a piece of himself in every performance. It’s also quite confessional. I just think it’s powerful.
MP: When you listen to him, you just know that he can’t be faking it.
JH: And also the production’s just really good, he’s got an amazing voice and the songs are really good. Songs like ‘I’d Rather Die Than Be Deported’, they’re just really moving. I would say don’t change, Berwyn!
MP: First of all, what a great name. You guys have a great name as well, but Vanity Fairy is the band name of the year.
JH: Daisy from Vanity Fairy is our friend, she’s from Diss, which is near Norwich. She’s just got so much charisma and energy as a performer and as a writer. I’ve seen them live so many times, probably six or more, and every single time, I’m just like, “This is exactly where I want to be right now, this is the most fun I could possibly be having at a show.” It’s so disco, so fun, just really good pop songs. I think she’s really good on record, but live I think it’s even better. I’ve yet to be at a Vanity Fairy show where I haven’t ended up completely losing it, to be honest. I totally recommend seeing her live.
It’s basically Daisy’s project and when she performs live, she has backing tracks. Somehow I feel like if she actually had a band, it would almost be too much! She’s got so much stage presence and she’s got an amazing vintage wardrobe that she wears on stage. She did a show at The Amersham Arms in New Cross [South London] and all of the Goldsmiths students were there and they all absolutely loved it, it was just the right target audience. I think the new generation, which I just about count myself as part of, appreciate a performer that doesn’t play it cool in any sense and actually gives energy.
MP: There is a whole folklore story attached to 8485. The story goes that the hyperpop collective Helix Tears captured a young punk singer in Toronto and implanted her with an AI bot and now she is a conduit for their music. Have I got that right?
JH: To be honest, it’s hard to know whether you’ve got it right or wrong! What I find interesting from being a proper PC Music fan, and of the beginning burst of this new musical scene, is it feels like 8485 and Helix Tears and artists like that are the new direction that things are going in. The collective element is interesting. The fact that they’ll just collab and release a new song per week, it’s just so different to how a lot of other artists function.
I think having a whole fictional character, where nobody knows your name or your age or anything and you’ve got this whole backstory, it’s a really cool way of going about being a pop star. It’s the direction the industry is going in, in some ways.
What’s weird about it is that even though she’s this AI, all of the songwriting is so emotional and cathartic and that’s a weird crossover that I really like. Again, there’s quite a spiritual element to a lot of the songs, I think, especially on her Plague Town EP, which I particularly like. It’s just so good!
Lead Let’s Eat Grandma photograph by El Hardwick
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