Cats purring, Van Halen-style synth, playground clapping and the most outrageous saxophone you’ve heard since the opening bars of ‘Run Away With Me’: pop prodigies Let’s Eat Grandma are back with their second album and they are not messing around…
The teenage duo were sort of messing around on I, Gemini, their mesmerising take on dark pop released in 2016. Its swirling, ornate songs were witchy and hypnotic but dealt variously with fungi, bugs, cakes and the luxurious boredom that comes with being 14. Since Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth, the wild-haired Norwich natives who make up Let’s Eat Grandma, actually were 14 when they wrote them, we suppose that makes sense – the sly, fantastical nature of the album seemed to be emulating but also poking fun at po-faced “dream pop” and its ilk. The record seemed to bamboozle music writers, causing us to use words like “swirling”, “witchy”, “mesmerising”, “hypnotic” and “dark pop”.
“When I listen back to I, Gemini, it feels so nostalgic because it’s about such a long time ago,” Rosa tells us over a smoothie in glamorous Deptford two years later. Amazingly to someone who can barely re-read a paragraph she just wrote without wanting to peel her skin off, Rosa and Jenny manage to listen back to their tween opus without cringing. Released when they were a bit older, around 16, the timbre of their voices was still childish, the pitches high and sing-songy. “We just think how were our voices that high pitched?!”
Like discovering black kohl, Directions hair dye and irony, I, Gemini was a sort of junior goth outing, all shrouded in heavy synths and echoing beats. Their second album, I’m All Ears, is out this month and it sees them maturing sonically, vocally and when it comes to subject matter. You get the sense that the band has something more to say this time; dealing with social anxieties and what the kids these days are calling “big moods”. “When we wrote the first album we were like 13, 14, so between then and the time we wrote the second one, we had so many new experiences – and much better formed opinions,” she adds.
Just as I, Gemini‘s lead single was a revelation, I’m All Ears was launched with a revelation of its own. ‘Hot Pink’ is a fiery reclamation of femininity as a power force and blew us away when we first heard it earlier this year. It’s heavy and hooky and brilliant, with SOPHIE and The Horror’s Faris Badwan collaborating on the production side. The album swings from aggressive electro-pop to lolloping guitar-based balladry without missing a beat. ‘The Cat’s Pyjamas’ quite literally features a cat purring over a hurdy gurdy organ for 90 seconds – that’s Adam, the studio cat with a loud purr who became ingrained in the record’s DNA as they recorded.
We’re chatting after a photoshoot, the results of which you can see on these very pages. Rosa is quick to laugh in her angular white suit, talks with a languid rockstarish drawl but with a Norwich tint. Jenny is more guarded, pixieish in her acid wash denim and glitter eyes. Fast friends since they were four years old, they used to look so similar it was hard to tell where one mane of hair ended and the next began but they’re exiting adolescence by embracing their individuality. As Rosa says, “I think that naturally happens as you grow up.” Their clothes are straight out of the 90s, a decade neither of them experienced first hand – they allow sentences to drift off into the ether. Sometimes the other will come back in to anchor it with a conclusion, and sometimes they’ll just let the words hang there… the whole thing makes me feel about 100 years old and, as is the way of being in the presence of people who are so close they could pass as one another, a bit like a third wheel.
Because when I, Gemini came out they were so young and so female – and sounded it – they didn’t get taken as seriously as say, 18-year-old Alex Turner or 19-year-old King Krule did on their first releases. It’s basically what ‘Hot Pink’ is about, starting with the lyrics “I’m just an object of disdain to you…” before dissecting notions of femininity and masculinity and pointing out, “you won’t believe the shit I could do.” Forget ‘girl power’, the phrase “Hot pink” is the perfect, inclusive battle cry.
“When we wrote the first album we were like 13, 14, so between then and the time we wrote the second one, we had so many new experiences – and much better formed opinions…” – Rosa Walton
Although there’s an argument to be made for grounding a musician’s work in both social and personal circumstance, it’s easy to understand why women, minorities and the LGBTQ+ community are sick of their work playing second fiddle to this perceived element of “otherness” – elements that are only “other” because these artists have the audacity to operate in the patriarchal, cis-white-male dominated music and media industries. Gender is not a genre, nor is youth, sexual orientation or race. The most fired up Let’s Eat Grandma get is on behalf of SOPHIE, the PC Music veteran and producer extraordinaire who worked with them on ‘Hot Pink’ and absolute pop hit ‘It’s Not Just Me’.
“We were just talking about some of the quotes in the reviews of SOPHIE’s album,” Rosa says, referring to SOPHIE’s excellent debut Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-insides that had just been released the morning we spoke. “The reviews she’s got just really…” Jenny cuts in: “They just really focus on her gender identity when she’s already said that she doesn’t want to discuss it. And the reviews are like “She refuses to discuss her gender identity” when it’s actually none of anybody’s fucking business.”
“It’s a bit like that, but obviously very different [for us]. Around I, Gemini it was difficult because a lot of the comments people made were quite patronising,” Rosa sighs, adding that a lot of people assumed there was “some old guy” behind them. “It’s hard even knowing how to react to that. Because even if we are… I mean, frustrated wouldn’t be the word I’d choose but it’s annoying.” They want you to know they did it all. All the sounds, the melodies, the approaches, the production reference points, the rhythms are all them. There’s no shadowy man behind the curtain pulling levers, there’s just Let’s Eat Grandma.
Jenny is animated on this topic, like she’s been waiting years to let loose about it and suggesting that perhaps frustrated is the word after all. “It’s also the idea that we make the music we do in spite of being young girls and not because of it,” she says, sitting bolt upright to do so. “And I feel like it’s just like ‘Oh, they managed to get through the obstacle of being young and girls, well done’.” A magnificent eye-roll sums her feelings on the whole thing up. One suspects the best revenge is to hit these people round the head with an absolutely killer record and they’re about to do just that with I’m All Ears. “We’re embracing the fact that we’re young and girls,” Rosa adds. Hot pink.