Let’s Eat Grandma Are Wizards of an Everyday Reality
More playful than cannibalistic, Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton want you to join them in the supermarket of their dreams.
Not even a few minutes into my conversation with the British experimental pop duo Let’s Eat Grandma and I have already crawled inside one of their dreams. Well, sort of. “Rosa had a dream that [white-haired Welsh musician/producer] David Wrench was a toothbrush,” Jenny Hollingworth is telling me over the phone about her musical partner-in-crime Rosa Walton’s unconscious visions. “It was quite a significant dream,” Rosa asserts. I am not totally surprised by this anecdote, considering that most of Let’s Eat Grandma’s music feels like a phantasmagoric portal to their combined creative subconscious. From the beginning, our chat about their new album I’m All Ears—the follow-up to their 2016 debut I, Gemini—is as lively and enlightening as their fantasy-indulgent music.
Over the past couple years, Walton and Hollingworth have been welcomed by a wealth of critical praise and intrigue for their witchy folk-pop. They’ve known each other since preschool, and have been making music since their early teens. Now, at the end of those teenage years—a period where time moves at the speed of a selfie-flash and lessons are accrued at every turn—I’m All Ears reveals how well they have welcomed the personal development and artistic growth that follows the release of a first album.
Before I can even fathom the impact a David Wrench toothbrush transformation will have on my brain and my own dreams later, Rosa launches into another story in which she, Jenny, and David (who served as the main producer of I’m All Ears) headed to the supermarket to stock up on food for the week they were in the studio. “We went up to the person at the front of the shop and said we’ve lost our dad, would you be able to call for him on the loudspeaker? And she sort of said, OK, what’s his name, and we said David Wrench, and she called out into the shop, ‘Can David Wrench come to the front checkout please?’ David was embarrassed.”
“It’s really hard to live a life where your own actions can be affecting other people with the things that you consume. It’s also quite exhausting, trying to be aware of that.” — Jenny Hollingworth
Aside from having a good time, there wasn’t much of a plan for their sophomore album. Hollingworth and Walton teamed up with Wrench this time around, whom they call “a wizard”—which is not a far reach in light of his glistening work with Caribou, Bat for Lashes, Jamie xx, and Empress Of. Setting aside his technical skill and experience, what also stuck out to Hollingworth and Walton was Wrench’s penchant for fun, complementary for the duo that loves a good laugh. “By the end it just felt like we were having a holiday with David,” Walton explains. Hollingworth quickly returns with the witty tagline “Holi-David,” before the two light up the other end of the phone with laughter.
They express the same complementary chemistry with their collaborators SOPHIE and The Horrors’ Faris Badwan, who produced together on “It’s Not Just Me” and “Hot Pink.” “It felt like a natural pairing, even though we hadn’t met either of them before. As soon as we started making the music, it just felt right. It’s interesting how you connect on that level,” Walton says.
The album begins with “Whitewater,” an intense instrumental that builds gradually and eerily, readying itself for battle. It’s an ’80s pre-fight-scene soundtrack, raw-rubbing violins preparing us for battle: For Let’s Eat Grandma’s purposes, “Whitewater” is heightening our senses and letting us know that the next near-hour will be tense, bewitching, and full of existential pondering.
What follows is the soft-starting “Hot Pink,” which challenges feminine tropes and the hierarchy of gendered traits. Their bioluminescent vocals give way to clamorous industrial shatterings that are almost bursting at the seams, before the song retracts itself into a recovery period with soothing synths. Succeeding the club-worthy banger is the pensive and tender “It’s Not Just Me,” where darting, crystalline synths recall CHVRCHES’ golden period. “Falling into Me” is the tail-end of an energizing and somewhat edifying trio of singles. It brilliantly doubles as a fierce pep talk from a friend or a persevering anthem for new love, bleeding with an aura that makes the Rainbow Road seem dull.
What comes after these optimistic and encouraging pop experiments, however, is not quite as joyful. “Snakes & Ladders” is a somber gearshift into social consciousness; they wanted to explore the “kind of effects [capitalism] has on people and the kind of greed that there is in society,” says Jenny.
“We are quite aware of consumerism and we wanted to write about that,” she continues. “How inevitably we all contribute to things that we are not morally behind. It’s really hard to live a life where your own actions can be affecting other people with the things that you consume. It’s also quite exhausting, trying to be aware of that.” With lolling electric guitar, “Snakes & Ladders” is a melancholic waltz. “’Cause I’m addicted to things I go off and buy into / Selecting the pails I’ll be pouring your tears into.” Their lyrics marinate in the anxiety consequence of moral dissonance.
“‘Snakes & Ladders’ has got quite an intense and in-depth meaning that wouldn’t work as a pop song, whereas something like ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is more powerful in that way.” — Rosa Walton
This tonal shift fits on I’m All Ears. Hollingworth and Walton pay attention to the collaboration between content and sonic atmosphere; they aren’t going to make some witty remark on consumerism with a pop track that ends up being fuel for the beast. “There are lots of different topics on the record and some of them are more suited for pop songs, whereas some of them were more suited for experimental tracks. ‘Snakes & Ladders’ has got quite an intense and in-depth meaning that wouldn’t work as a pop song, whereas something like ‘It’s Not Just Me’ is more powerful in that way,” Rosa explains.
It’s not that killer capitalism or color-coded gender roles are revelatory topics, but the duo grounds these issues in a modern context and nurtures them with moments of space or instrumental experimentation. They allow technology and social media to seep into their music without tainting it with a preachy agenda. “I think when people leave it out, it’s leaving out a massive chunk of what it’s like to be alive in 2018,” Jenny says. “It just comes out naturally because it’s part of our everyday lives. We’re not the type of people that are like, ‘it’s all bad,’ because we use it every day and it has a purpose.”
The album is a tumultuous and playful ride that leads back to hopeful moments—recording sounds of shattered glass, nodding to the chaos of a pub, the recording of a Nokia ringtone, and even a cat’s purr breathe life into I’m All Ears. (They recorded Adam the studio cat for the humorous ASMR-winking track “The Cat’s Pyjamas.”) “Again, it’s just a reflection of our lives—these are literally sounds you hear in everyday life,” Jenny reaffirms. “Especially since a lot of the sounds on the record are electronic, it makes it more real,” Rosa adds.
On I’m All Ears, Hollingworth and Walton don’t take a political or lecturing stance, but reintroduce the notion of listening—to others and to themselves. They remind us that there is splendor in our routines and in the mundane sounds that accompany them. And yet, the track “Cool & Collected” exemplifies the universal doubt every human experiences: “It becomes about always comparing yourself to people’s lives online and how unrealistic it is,” Jenny explains. “I guess part of the thing about it as well is, cool people wouldn’t write songs about ‘I want to be cool.’” They laugh. “It kind of admits our defeat, doesn’t it?” FL