Apr 28, 2022
By Andy Von Pip
Photography by James Loveday
Issue #69 – 20th Anniversary Issue
Two Ribbons, the third album from British duo Let’s Eat Grandma and the follow-up to 2018’s acclaimed I’m All Ears, is a beautifully honest body of work that explores themes of love, loss, and friendship, as well as reconnection and hope. It also reflects on an incredibly emotionally challenging period in the lives of Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton as they attempted to reconnect and figure out how to move forward as artists whilst protecting their friendship.
In 2019, Hollingworth’s boyfriend, the talented up and coming musician Billy Clayton, tragically died, aged just 22, after suffering from a rare form of bone cancer. Hollingworth was understandably devastated and after playing Coachella in honor of Clayton, Let’s Eat Grandma was put on the backburner. “I was grieving and my communication with Rosa got lost along the way,” explains Hollingworth. “I was suffering from a kind of wordless grief which I found very isolating. I found it really difficult to express how I felt.”
Walton adds her perspective: “At that stage, the band was obviously secondary. Of course, it’s a hugely important factor in our lives, but we’ve known each other since we were four and our friendship runs much deeper.”
In time Hollingworth and Walton slowly began working on songs, and it soon became an almost therapeutic way of communicating with each other. “It was weird,” explains Walton, “for one, we’ve never really written separately before and also these songs are so personal, and yet at the time putting our feelings to music and ultimately out into the world felt less daunting than actually having a conversation with each other. It was a really confusing time because we’d always been able to read each other so well in the past and now we were like, ‘Why can’t we figure this one out?’”
A key factor was giving each other time and space. “At times we were probably both pushing so hard to try and make our relationship work that we kind of made it worse by being in each other’s faces,” Hollingworth explains. Once they both accepted that they had changed as people and let go of their old way of working, they were able to move forward.
“Our friendship and working on the band has always been based on our respect and love for each other,” Hollingworth continues. “We both are such problem solvers when it comes to relationships, but we also over-think things. We had to accept that as we grew up our relationship had changed, which I think is actually healthy, because above everything else we are just best mates. Which maybe some people forget?”
And all these experiences coalesced to make Two Ribbons such a heartfelt album informed by their relationships and an acceptance that not everything has an easy fix. “The grieving process and indeed our relationships with other people can be hugely complicated,” reflects Hollingworth. “Whilst I was grieving I found it very hard to feel part of life when life just carries on as normal around you. I think that’s reflected in one of my lines [on ‘Two Ribbons’]—‘bound to two worlds I can’t feel a part of’—which sums up that sense of trying to communicate with somebody who is no longer here and with the people who are.”
Walton agrees and adds, “When Jenny wrote the lyric, ‘Like two ribbons, still woven although we are fraying,’ it really did encapsulate our own relationship as well as Jenny and Billy’s and some of my own romantic relationships.”
The album is an incredibly moving affair. “Watching You Go,” for example—which is “definitely about my relationship with Billy,” nods Hollingworth—gives her grief a voice. The lyrics on the sublime “Insect Loop” tackle the dynamic between Hollingworth and Walton as they worked through how to let go of the relationship they once had and embrace the one they now have. Yet even in their darkest moments they still find humor. On “Happy New Year” they ask, “Do you think if we’d have been together we’d be breaking up?/I said ‘I’d want the synth.’”
“The synth is our baby, we’ve had it for years,” Walton laughs. “I was imagining a scenario wherein maybe the synth could have a week with Jenny and maybe the weekends with me. I think that was one of the last lines to go on that song, but humor is a coping mechanism.”
Hollingworth laughingly agrees. “There is a level of ridiculousness to it! I mean we both do laugh at things that are a bit fucked up.”
Let’s Eat Grandma have always worked on the production side of their music, having both studied it at college. “At the start of the process [of this album] I still wasn’t quite in the right headspace to write,” concedes Hollingworth, “so Rosa spent a lot of time honing her production skills. She’s really excellent at focusing on something and committing herself to it. We wanted the production to be almost like a color palette in the sense that certain sounds bring different emotional colours to the record.”
Walton concurs. “The production is very much linked to how I write,” she says. “For example, on ‘Hall of Mirrors’ the production is used to accentuate the lyrics, the fluttering arpeggiators are used to represent emotion like that heart-fluttering feeling or by adding delay to represent the reflections in the mirrors.”
Two Ribbons sees the duo experimenting with a diverse range of instrumentation, mixing analogue synths with digital production as they collaborated with David Wrench, the primary producer of I’m All Ears. It’s an album that has a natural ebb and flow and skilfully mixes sparkling electronic dance floor fillers with a gentler acoustic guitar led sound. The more reflective moments were partly inspired by Hollingworth seeking solace in nature.
“I could see the cycle of things,” she explains, “things being born and dying and the connection between it all.”
It’s a bold album that demonstrates how much they have progressed as artists since their experimental debut album, 2016’s I, Gemini.
“I suppose there was an element of us taking the piss a little bit,” Walton says of their debut, “but we were just having fun.”
“Our first album was a bit weird and I can almost understand why some people didn’t like it,” laughs Hollingworth. “In retrospect it probably makes more sense if you listen to our other albums first.”
Even though their relationship has changed over the years, both musicians feel this has had a positive impact on the musical evolution of Let’s Eat Grandma. “I think it’s helped us develop and think outside the box,” says Hollingworth, “and despite the ups and downs and the challenges life throws at us I do think we’ve produced something creatively satisfying, which in turn has helped us work through our own issues.”
[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]