U.K. alt-psych-pop outfit Let’s Eat Grandma’s 2018 album I’m All Ears was the best-case scenario for an already acclaimed outfit’s sophomore album when it was released this June: more refined than 2016 debut LP I, Gemini, but also more expansive, showing greater maturity without sacrificing any energy or vitality.
The album has elevated the duo (of childhood friends Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth) from a promising cult act to legitimate critics’ darlings, winning album of the year at the Q Magazine awards in their home country, and appearing on Stateside year-end best album lists from Pitchfork, Noisey and here at Billboard. But talking to Billboard before their show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn back in September — one of the final dates of their U.S. tour to support Ears — Let’s Eat Grandma are more excited that the record has brought them more teenage fans, closer to their own age.
“We want, obviously, everybody to enjoy us,” says Walton. “But the fact that we’re young ourselves, we kind of wanted young people to relate to it on that level. ‘Cause that’s what it’s about, our experience of being a young person.” At their shows know, the pair say they still see plenty of those older fans, but they’re now complemented more by their own peers. “We’ll have like, a group of young people at the front, then we’ll have people in their thirties, then we’ll have people in their forties and fifties at the back,” Hollingworth explains. “We get them to stand in order of age!”
Read a condensed version of our conversation with Let’s Eat Grandma below, as the duo discuss their favorite ways to listen to new music, being understood better on their second album than on their first album, and the differences between celebrating Halloween in the U.S. and in the U.K.
How has the tour been so far?
Walton: It’s been really good, yeah. I hadn’t expected the crowds to be as lively as they were. Just really good vibes.
Hollingworth: We’ve never done a full U.S. tour before. Well, not like a proper one…
Walton: We really notice the difference since the last time we played here, which was last March.
The album has been getting incredible reviews pretty much everywhere. Is there one that kind of stands out as a particularly surreal notice to get?
Hollingworth: Somebody tweeted, actually – they said, “This is the kind of album you listen to with your headphones on at the top deck of the bus at the front,” and I liked that. You know, like a double-decker bus, and then at the front, where you can see everything and you have your headphones on and you’re there for an hour, and I loved it. I don’t know why.
I don’t have much double-decker experience — what does that suggest for you?
Hollingworth: I think it’s kind of a bit introspective and like, I dunno, I think it’s when it soundtracks your day, that’s what I like. The idea of like people interacting with it in their own lives and relating to it.
Walton: And also that’s like the best seat on the bus. Top deck, at the front.
What kind of music would you listen to on the top deck of a bus?
Walton: Ooohh! Depends on how I was feeling when I was on the bus.
Hollingworth: I remember actually doing this when we were in London. I think I was listening to, like, electronic albums of Anticon, I think, and that was my vibe for the autumnal London bus ride.
Walton: Getting the bus in London is good cause you can, like, connect the dots between the different places — ‘coz if you get the Tube you just sort of like, go the underground and then pop up somewhere else. Like one of those moles, you know.
Is that a defining way that you listen to music? You kind of test it out on the road when you’re traveling places?
Walton: I think listening to music when you travel is like, yeah, one of the best [ways]. Walking along, or also just sitting on the train, a time where you can just literally concentrate on the music. I’ve done interviews from my room when I’m always doing something else, and I can’t fully immerse myself in it.
Hollingworth: I quite like listening in my room cause I feel like it can make it a bit more atmospheric… If you make it darker, then you have to focus more on sound – that’s quite nice. When we were writing our first record we used to always write in the dark. Or light enough that we could see, but sometimes we’d just play… and then you’re so focused on, like, sound.
Have you been able to do much walking around listening to music since you’ve been in the States?
Walton: Not really, we’ve been listening to music in the van.
What’s the road trip music of choice?
Hollingworth: Depends what country we’re in.
Walton: We’ve been listening to the new Mitski album [Be the Cowboy] quite a bit.
Hollingworth: Usually our soundtrack for U.K. touring is Massive Attack. But it doesn’t feel quite as relevant in the U.S., cause it’s so British… when we’re in the UK and we might go through Bristol, it makes so much sense.
Walton: I’ve been listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows a lot otherwise in the van. But like, it’s become my going-to-sleep album, so as soon as I put it on and I listen to the first couple of tracks, or probably just the intro to be honest, and then I’m gone. So I haven’t really caught the end of it that many times. But I keep trying!
Hollingworth: People often use an album and say that it’s “background music” as an insult, and I think that’s really stupid. Because a lot of the best albums are ones that complement exactly what you’re doing and focusing on, and I think they have that on purpose and they’re still being enjoyed.
If Let’s Eat Grandma could be the soundtrack to something besides a double-decker bus ride, what would you want it to be?
Walton: I really like this video that somebody put on Twitter… [both start laughing] It’s “Hot Pink Seals.” [Laughs.] The seals are just sort of bouncing along to “Hot Pink,” but it’s just the way that they fit the rhythm, it’s genius.
So has that replaced the official “Hot Pink” video?
Walton: I think it’s much better. [Laughs.]
Hollingworth: I think they did it better.
Walton: I think they should make a whole full thing, play the whole song.
Hollingworth: I love it when people come up with random shit, honestly. It’s so good.
Are there Let’s Eat Grandma memes?
Hollingworth: We want more of them!
Walton: By all memes.
But you aren’t on social media very much, right? At least not as a band.
Walton: Nah, not as people either.
Hollingworth: Trouble is, sometimes, I dunno… you set a hard line. ‘Cause I think — it’s not like me and Rosa are really well known, but people kind of feel like you owe them a piece of your personal life, but you never really do. You owe the music.
Walton: We’re not here to be personalities.
Hollingworth: I actually think that the reason why I wasn’t very affected from people’s opinions for writing our new record is cause I never read them. Like, it’s easy to say that if you don’t read it, but if you read it too much, it can. And I think you have to be careful, because you want to be true to yourself.
Walton: I was gonna say the reason I stay off Twitter is more just because it’s like, stressful just to be checking it all the time, reading what people say. It’s just not really necessary. I think it can be a bit consuming.
Have you read any of the reviews for I’m All Ears?
Walton: Oh yeah, we’ve read the reviews.
Hollingworth: I really appreciate the good reviews… I think what makes it interesting is getting different people’s takes on it, like how they relate to it. And everybody’s different, so it’s kind of interesting. It’s more like, it’s good to focus less on like the numbers of it and more about people’s actual in-depth opinions.
So are you paying attention to things like Spotify streams or the charts or anything like that, or do you have one person that comes in and tells you these things once and then never again?
Walton: Yeah I think, like sometimes we get a text from Tim [Dellow] from the label [Transgressive Records] saying, “You’re this number in the charts!” And it’s like, “Oh cool!” But I wouldn’t necessarily go on the chart website and be like, “Ooh, what are we today?”
One of the things I saw that I thought was cool was that three of the songs from I’m All Ears passed the million-play mark on Spotify. But they’re all very close to one another, so it’s not like there’s one song that’s really leaped in the front of the pack — just that people are kind of digging the project entirely.
Hollingworth: Yes! I did notice that, actually. I really like that, for the same reason that you said, cause I felt like a lot of people had listened to it as a whole. And even like some of the less-played tracks, like [11-minute album closer] “Donnie Darko” — for our fans, that’s probably like one of the most-liked tracks, a fan favorite. And that’s nice, cause it feels like even the tracks that are less commercial have their love.
It’s a really interesting thing about the album in general. You’re making the tightest, most finely-honed pop songs of your career, but you’re also making these very expansive soundscapes, and these epic tracks that are very meditative. Is that something that you didn’t consciously realize that you were doing at the time, or is it something you tried for?
Walton: I think that it’s just, we equally like songs that are really long and that you can fully immerse yourself in, but also we wanted to like take on the challenge of writing pop songs where you need just, like, hooks, immediately coming one after the other… I think that both are necessary for a fully rounded album.
Hollingworth I agree. I also think, in representing our music tastes and what we like listening to — I know people always say this, but if the album’s about your life, we’re not always like short and snappy pop songs that are really happy, we’re like complex and fucked up. [Laughs.]
The thing that kind of unites it all for me anyway is that it’s all very patient sounding to me. Obviously the ten-minute tracks are very steady and slow-building, but even the singles, they kind of develop at their own pace. And I hate to harp on age, but the common criticism about younger people is that everything’s always so rushed, and you can’t keep focused on anything. Where does that kind of patient approach come from for Let’s Eat Grandma?
Hollingworth: I think we’ve always written like that, actually — like enjoying space. Cause even on our first record, we didn’t have many layers in them, it was kind of sparse at points. We changed it from texture. And we always had long songs — they were all like six minutes. I don’t know. I think it’s because when we’re writing songs, we don’t think, “Oh, how long is an audience gonna be able to be focused.” We just play the loops and go, “Oh that sounds good,” and let it take its time. And then when we feel like it’s over, then we’re like, “Yeah, it’s good.”
Walton: And like some of the songs that we had had to be cut down for radio, it just felt like –
Hollingworth: The originals are better.
Walton: Yeah, exactly! Like radio edits are just fucking annoying.
So are there 20-minute versions that exist of “Hot Pink” and “It’s Not Just Me”?
Both: [Laughing.] No.
Hollingworth: We did have a longer intro [for “Hot Pink”], but we cut it, but I think it was right to do that. Sometimes it’s a bit like, “This is a bit much.”
Walton: Yeah, like when it’s gonna be like the first single, you just need to do that.
Hollingworth: Businesswoman. Businesswoman.
Walton: We’ve gotta think business sometimes.
How have your lives changed since the album came out?
Walton: Since the album came out…? Ah, well let’s think, that was in…
Walton: Yeah. Not a lot, really.
Hollingworth: I think our lives have changed since recording the album. Like, the process. I mean last year was soooo good — we did, like, whole summer festivals, then we got to record the album that we spent all summer writing… so good! And people always say that, but I didn’t really expect the reception that we got.
On our last record, even though we’ve got a lot of positive response, we’ve also been regarded as a novelty quite a lot, and I feel like since this record came out people have been treating us more like artists, which is really nice. It feels really good to have that approach to our music.
Walton: It’s also really nice that our younger fanbase has built a bit. I mean we want obviously like, everybody to enjoy us, but… the fact that we’re young ourselves, we kind of wanted young people to relate to it on that level. ‘Cause that’s what it’s about, our experience of being a young person.
Hollingworth: Yeah like, friends being away from Uni, traveling, first romantic relationships — like growing older, learning things about yourself. The whole thing is that we want people who listen to it to be able to relate to it, and I think because they’re going through it at the time, it makes sense that young people would relate a lot to it.
Do you generally feel like you’re being better understood on this album than you were on your last album?
Hollingworth: I feel like every time we have an interview, I always think how much more it feels like a lot more of a positive experience than sometimes earlier interviews in our career.
Walton: I also think cause we were so young, early in our career, and maybe.. really young girls are less easy for people to understand?
Hollingworth: I think it’s also cause we’re so tight, and really good friends, that sometimes people don’t know how to talk to us. Especially when we were much younger, when we were like, sixteen. I mean it’s not even that big of an age difference…
Walton: But it kind of feels like it.
Is there something that comes next for the two of you beyond the album cycle?
Walton: Um, just more shows, really. Sleeping and shows. Seeing our families.
Hollingworth: Well, I think there’s some pumpkins growing in our backyard. And I’m pretty excited about that. Soon as I get home. Well my dad thought he’d planted marrows, but they turned into pumpkins! Which I don’t know how that happened, I think that was a bit creepy from his part, but…
Walton: Halloween is coming!
Forgive my ignorance for this question, but does Halloween in the U.K. have the same sort of iconography as it does in the U.S.?
Hollingworth: Kind of, but people dress more spooky and less like characters… here, everybody’s like, “I’m gonna dress up as, like…” ’80s-style, or something like that. Or a TV show character. Whereas in the U.K., it’s just spooky.
Walton: Like pumpkins and witches and ghosts.
Hollingworth: And I think it’s a little bit less commercial as well. It’s more like – you wouldn’t go into a shop and there would be Halloween cards everywhere. So I had to buy them when I was here.
Walton: Yeah every time we go into Target, Jenny’s like “Wow! Halloween!” [Laughs.]