Let’s Eat Grandma: An Alchemic Pop Duo With an Unbreakable Bond
These lifelong friends want you to know they can sing about way more than mushrooms
Best friends Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton have the same favorite composers: Mozart and Debussy, which they like to pronounce “De Boosie.” They themselves go by the name Let’s Eat Grandma, a moniker lifted from an old grammar joke about the importance of proper comma placement. Together, they make weird, enchanting pop music that cribs from fairy tales, hip-hop beats, and the classical music their parents played at home. They call it “psychedelic sludge-pop,” something that sounds as likely to come out of Willy Wonka’s factory as your headphones.
Hollingworth and Walton, both 17, grew up near one another in Norwich, England, where they became fast friends at age 4. The title of their debut album I, Gemini (out June 17 from Transgressive) is a reference to the celestial twins, but LEG’s collaborations date back much farther than their upcoming record.
“I remember one of our projects actually was teaching ourselves how to fly,” Walton says. “We used to get a tree and say, ‘I bet you can’t jump to that branch.’ And you’d have to jump up and hit the branch. And then gradually we’d increase the height of the branches. The idea is that eventually we would shoot up into the sky.” As children, they built a series of treehouses in their back gardens. They picked up a slew of instruments: keyboard, recorder, guitar, drums, saxophone, cello, glockenspiel, harmonica. They shot homemade spy movies, precursors to the home-recorded videos that attracted the attention of musician Kiran Leonard, who passed their work to their first manager.
The friends were already performing as Let’s Eat Grandma around Norwich, but Leonard’s recommendation helped turn a local curiosity into an international one. Now, the pair have a full-length album, two professional music videos, a bevy of interviews, and a spate of tour dates in the U.K. this summer. They’re pleasantly mystified by the attention, but they’re also sharp enough to affect an ingénue attitude when it suits their needs. They joke that they don’t know how to play their instruments; no, wait, they don’t even have instruments. There’s an organ on I, Gemini, right? Nope, says Walton: “There’s a ‘hot organ’ effect on the keyboard.”
“[The media is] like, ‘They use organs’ and we’re like, ‘Heh, kind of,'” says Hollingworth. Midway through our Skype interview, she pauses to retrieve a generous collection of empty fruit jelly pots and demonstrates cup stacking.
“See, this is the part of the interview that you’re going to describe us as clearly childlike. You’ll say, ‘The girls are clearly stuck in the past,'” quips Walton as her friend piles up the sticky plastic cups. And in a way they are, through no fault of their own. Even established artists risk outgrowing their latest work before the records are pressed and the shows are booked. For musicians as young as Hollingworth and Walton, the risk is a certainty. Let’s Eat Grandma started working on I, Gemini songs when they were just entering teenage-dom. Now, only a year away from graduation, their worldview is wider and their past selves can’t keep up.
“I think, like, straight after we finished the album pretty much we got really into social issues and we really want to talk about that,” says Hollingworth. “We’ve been interested in that for a couple years now. The problem is when people think [the album] is where we’re at now. It’s not really who we are anymore because our interests are so much broader now.” As strange as I, Gemini can be, its concerns are youthful: cool-looking fungi (“Eat Shiitake Mushrooms”), playing hooky (“Deep Six Textbook”), and some of those backyard projects (“Welcome to the Treehouse,” parts one and two).
“‘Oh, these two girls they just sing about mushrooms,’ but that’s where we were at 13,” explains Walton. “That’s what you think about — mushrooms.”
“Depending on what kind of teenager you are,” Hollingworth adds.
Let’s Eat Grandma are those kinds of teenagers: clever, imaginative, and mischievous, with an inside joke for every occasion. “Haven’t you ever gotten in a fight?” I ask. They volunteer a story from when they were 8 years old: Young Walton was fixated on a seemingly perfect apple growing on a tree in her back garden. “I was waiting for it to ripen so I could eat it,” she says. “But Jenny was in the garden one day and she ate it. I was absolutely furious. To get back at her I wee’d in a cup and gave it to Jenny telling her it was apple juice.”
“I had a bit of it. I wasn’t particularly pleased about that,” says Hollingworth.
“She didn’t speak to me for a week. It was a hard time in our friendship,” Walton finishes.
That’s it, the worst fight they’ll admit to. But the duo’s trickery and silliness belies the complexity of the song structures and melodies that propel their unpredictable, unearthly music. It’s evident in the discordant layers of medieval-sounding recorder that open “Chocolate Sludge Cake,” the goofy sax blasts that anchor “Sax in the City,” and the sticky-sweet rap break on “Eat Shiitake Mushrooms.” I, Gemini is simultaneously reminiscent of the plucky, piano-driven pop of Kate Nash’s breakout hit, “Foundations,” the eery, woozy hush of sister duo Casket Girls, and especially the quirky mash of opera, beatboxing, and musical toys practiced by another pair of sisters, CocoRosie.
Let’s Eat Grandma have been hearing that comparison a lot lately. “Who are CocoRosie?” they tweet, hours before our interview. They’re asking honestly — they’ve never listened to CocoRosie, they say — and disingenuously: They’ve probably already Googled them. The internet is just one of their many instruments, used not only to promote their work but to discover the undercurrents of contemporary music culture.
“We found a lot about microgenres on the internet, like vaporwave and witchhouse,” says Hollingworth.
“There are less genre divides ’cause everything’s just smushed together on the internet,” says Walton. “It’s not like going to the rock section in a record shop or something. There’s so many ways to find stuff. And people who aren’t even musicians do remixes and mashups.”
But Let’s Eat Grandma aren’t ones to settle for posting a few homemade remixes. With natural-born curiosity, a creative partnership honed by two childhoods’ worth of projects, and the boundless imagination of their learning-to-fly gambit, they’re well on their way to wunderkind status. They won’t share any details about what comes after I, Gemini, but they’re so eager to release more music that they get jumpy talking about it.
“We’re gonna say three words that everyone says when talking about a new album,” Hollingworth begins, before Walton joins her in sarcastic, singsong unison: “More expansive, bigger, and more developed.”