Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton are still only 19, and have just released their second album, I’m All Ears, the follow-up to their stunningly inventive debut I, Gemini, which was written when they were aged 13-15, and was finally released just over two years ago. Born and bred in Norwich they first got to know each other when aged just four. “We used to draw together,” laughs Rosa, “and do other creative stuff and make short films together.”
“The thing is when Rosa met me I was drawing some quite dark pictures on the drawing table,” informs Jenny.
“Jenny was drawing dragons, actually,” explains Rosa.
“Rosa likes to say it was a snail. It was actually an upside down cross. I’m joking. I can’t let that out otherwise the Americans won’t want to listen to our music anymore,” laughs Jenny.
Living in the ‘outpost’ of Norwich, with only friendly rival Ipswich for close company, has perhaps informed the duo’s maverick musicality, one born of encouraging parents, and a deep connection developed over the years. At the age of ten they had composed their first songs about boredom using percussion that had been accumulated over the years by their parents.
They even went to the same music college in Norwich in order to further their fledgling career, one that took shape at an unusually early age, booking their own shows from at just 14. “We went to Access to Music in Norwich,” says Rosa. I say that I taught at Access to Brighton for a while and enjoyed the freedom of spirit there, one that encouraged innovation and individuality. “Definitely,” says Rosa. “We went there after we finished our GCSE’s, instead of doing A levels. By that point, we were so fed up with the education system, and we needed a bit of that.”
I also tell them I nearly moved to Norwich before deciding upon Brighton way back in the day. “Brighton is the more hipster version. Norwich isn’t a Bristol or Brighton” they laugh. “We did play The Great Escape last month – that was really fun that one,” says Rosa. “But for some reason every time Norwich gets brought up, because no one knows where it is, it’s like ‘Are you moving?’ It was referred to as unfashionable recently in an interview, and that caused quite a storm on Twitter with the locals in Norwich. It’s really not unfashionable at all. It’s very cool,” laughs Rosa.
“It is a city which usually surprises people when they find out. It has two cathedrals and a castle, and one of the lowest crime rates of cities in the world. There’s also a dragon museum. There are lots of dragons in Norwich. And also lots of mustard. It’s where the first Coleman’s mustard factory opened,” informs Rosa.
I, Gemini was a breath of fresh air when it came out in 2016. Its mix of fairytale folk, stark electronica and offbeat pop was the work of just these two girls, made in their respective bedrooms, with the help of Yamaha synths, recorders, xylophones, ukuleles, guitars and Logic. Songs such as ‘Deep Six Textbook’ and ‘Eat Shiitake Mushrooms’ were infused with a dream-like quality, that was married to a unique musicality that understood space, texture and dynamics. They called it ‘psychedelic sludge-pop’, and it quickly caught on.
“On this album, a lot of the instrumentation is the same, although we use old analogue synths more and music software more. The instrumentation is the same, it’s just not used in such a ‘here’s a solo on another instrument’ type way,” says Jenny. “We used a lot of Logic, and then when we went into the studio we would bounce those sounds down and then layer with old analogue synths. As well as that, we still use quite a lot of instruments on the album. Jenny plays cello on the intro track, but it’s distorted loads, so you wouldn’t necessarily be able to recognise it. We also used xylophones and recorders and sax, as well as guitar.”
I’m All Ears is an extraordinarily sophisticated work that showcases the girls’ talents for songwriting, arrangement, and production, as well as a natural propensity for musical diversity via the many genres they touch, and the instrumentation at their disposal. From the distorted cello-techno instrumental of opener ‘Whitewater’ to the Tune-yards meets r’n’b of ‘Hot Pink’. Then there’s the electro-pop drive of ‘It’s Not Just Me’, the atmospheric synth-pop of ‘I Will Be Waiting For You’, and the raw and minimalist guitar-interplay over the nine minutes of ‘Cool & Collected’ as well as the dreamy house flavoured 11-minute epic ‘Donnie Darko’ that closes the album. I’m All Ears is the work of mature and confident artists.
For the first time in their short career, Let’s Eat Grandma have been collaborating with different artists, an experience they were initially wary of, but which they ended up enjoying. “We wrote most of the tracks, except the ones we did as collaborations, at home in our bedrooms. We would write and mix and make demos as we went along,” says Rosa. “We wrote ‘Hot Pink’ and ‘It’s Not Just Me’ with SOPHIE (aka writer/producer Sophie Xeon, Charlie XCX collaborator). We wrote them in the studio with her, in LA. We’d never been. Definitely a very surreal place,” says Rosa.
“I think it needs a second visit,” says Jenny.
“Yeah, it needs further exploration,” agrees Rosa.
What about (The Horrors’ frontman) Faris Badwan? How did he get involved in the production? “He’s an old friend of SOPHIE’s,” says Rosa. It worked out well. When SOPHIE was in LA and we were in London we’d work on the tracks with Faris in the studio. He co-produced and co-wrote them.”
Were you nervous about working with other people, and how that could upset the chemistry that exists between you two? “Yeah, we were,” says Jenny. “We’d only ever written with each other up until that point. We thought that at first, we might be fighting with other people. But actually it felt really natural. The skills we have are very different from what Faris and Sophie have. We weren’t competing for space, we were complimenting each other. They are very cool and calm people,” says Jenny.
Jenny and Rosa are simply two creative mavericks who have fashioned a wonderfully distinct and, often quite beautiful, music that is dark, but also energetic. As two young women they have had to endure some pretty off-hand criticisms. “I don’t mind people criticising our music, I don’t like it when they have to bring sexism into it,” say Jenny. “But, to be fair, although there have been a few patronising reviews, as a whole we’ve had quite a positive experience so far. But definitely more recently the way people have been talking about us has got better in that sense.”
How do you think you’ve developed as songwriters since I, Gemini? You are obviously growing up and maturing whilst being in the public eye. “I think our writing has developed gradually,” says Rosa. “We’ve written a lot in-between the two albums as well. It’s hard to tell when it’s such a gradual thing. We’re always writing even if it’s not like a full song.”
But you seem to be writing more from your own personal points of view, rather than the playful lyricism that informed I, Gemini?
“I don’t think we would write a directly offensive song about anyone we know, but I’m All Ears is definitely based on personal experiences. This record is definitely a lot more honest and personal,” says Rosa. “It is its own thing. It was lots of things about listening to people and being open to different ideas.”
What about the music you’re listening to now. There’s so much diversity on the album. Where does someone your age get their music from? “I think we’re very open minded,” says Jenny. “That’s what it’s like being a young person these days. We don’t just go into a record shop and choose what section we’re going to browse in. It’s a lot of word of mouth.”
Gone are the days when the girls wouldn’t even be able to buy their own alcoholic drinks at their own shows. A huge drawback for those trying to make a go of music when they are young, is the lack of gig opportunities. Venues are often reluctant to allow under 18s, for licensing purposes, reasons of cost (extra security etc) and also the fact you can’t make any money if the punters are only buying soft drinks. The girls have been lucky. Early success meant it was easier to secure shows organised by eager promoters. “Most of the gigs we used to go to it was a 14+ show, and we were 14 when we started playing gigs,” says Rosa.
There were a couple of times when we were barred out of our own fucking gigs,” laughs Jenny. “On our last tour we got ID’ed on the way down to the stage. They wouldn’t let us down. “We were like, ‘we’re about to go on! We have to get there, we’re playing a gig!!”
“Luckily we had lots of alcohol on our riders,” says Rosa. “We now have that privilege of being able to order from the bar and have a rider,” laughs Rosa.
With tours of America, Japan and the European festival circuit coming up, it’s a dream come true for the duo, both of them quite happy in foregoing further education to explore the world via their artistic musicality. Any ideas what you may have been doing instead of this? “Not really,” says Rosa. “I don’t know to be honest. We always think about what would we have done with our lives if we hadn’t met each other. Probably something really different. I think I would be studying maths, or psychology.”
“I feel like I would have wanted to do science,” says Jenny, “and then realised I didn’t want to do science.”
They’ve made their choices, and for the moment it’s been the right call.