Once upon a time, two childhood friends began to play music and lay traps ― and, sometimes, both at once.
Now 17 and 18 years old, respectively, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth are Let’s Eat Grandma, a psychedelic pop group whose sound resembles a molten lullaby that’s spawned hallucinatory properties.
The band’s uncanny name stems from an old grammar joke about the importance of commas ― they save lives! But, after listening to their music, a different image comes to mind: one of two fairy-tale children (think Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood) who, after finding their way to grandmother’s house, as fairy-tale children often do, decide to derail their sugary narrative with a cannibalistic twist.
As Hollingworth told The Huffington Post, “It’s more complicated than ‘happily ever after.’”
Walton and Hollingworth grew up in Norwich, which Hollingworth described as a “quite classic English town.” The two met in school when they were 4 years old. In the other, each recognized a familiar macabre sense of humor and a taste for mischief. In those formative years before one reaches double digits, Walton and Hollingworth enjoyed climbing onto rooftops and building tree houses. Also, playing pranks.
“We used to have this fake package we attached to a string and left on the street,” Walton recalled. “When people would try to pick up the package, we’d yank the string and make them jump.” They cackled at the recollection. “It’s kind of what we do onstage ― get reactions out of people.”
At 13 years old, Walton and Hollingworth began making music together, picking up a motley range of instruments including keyboard, guitar, drums, saxophone, harmonica, mandolin, cello, recorder, glockenspiel and ukulele. While many girls have experience escaping, within their own circles, into fantastical worlds of their own making, few execute their imagination-fueled undertakings with such skill and nuance.
In June of 2016 they dropped their debut album, “I, Gemini,” a dark, dreamlike thing that balances childish folksiness with baroque experimentalism. Their lyrics spin tales of skipping school, chimpanzees, lucid dreams and the enchanting luminescence of shiitake mushrooms ― sometimes sung, rapped in a baby animal’s chirrup or chanted in the dazed tenor of a possessed youth chorus. Words are layered atop textured soundscapes that will make you dance while easing you into a trance.
The women of LEG are well aware of the preconceptions that come along with being a musical group of teenage girls. Rather than objecting, they toy with their audience’s assumptions, amping up their innocent girlishness while hinting at the depraved underbelly beneath the surface. On stage, the ladies often shield their faces with their waist-length tresses, until they resemble witchy, pre-Raphaelite twins. They’ve been known to disarm crowds by performing secret handshakes and screaming in tandem during shows, promptly shattering any expectations casting female musicians as demure, ladylike songstresses.
In their recent video “Sax in the City,” the two dress up as overgrown babies, crawling on city streets in frilly, pink bonnets and sucking pacifiers. At one point, they play Crayola-colored toy instruments while reclining in an overflowing ball pit, a nod to those who refuse to see them as anything other than little girls playing with the boys’ toys.
“Sometimes we almost do experiments to see what people think,” Hollingworth said of the video. “It’s interesting, assuming how you think people will react and then seeing how they actually do. I’m not sure if they entirely got that one.”
Walton and Hollingworth are quick to describe themselves as “witches” and “freaks,” labels that speak to something true about themselves while simultaneously messing with preconceptions. In part, they believe others’ judgments stem from a deep-seeded fear of girls and female friendships.
“People have all these presumptions about female friendship like there is something dangerous about it,” Hollingworth said. “It’s almost like they can’t imagine women having the same drive to create things as men ― which is utter crap.”
The widespread fiction that young women aren’t capable, creatively or intellectually, is nothing new, as evidenced by the uproar over a political Teen Vogue article last month. LEG uses this falsehood as a springboard for fantasy, putting on a creepy-cute freak show that reflects their audience’s fears and fantasies back at them.
In a stellar piece for MTV, writer Hazel Cills paid tribute to the contemporary women musicians who, in their music videos, subvert the horror genre ― long used to symbolize and dramatize violence against women ― to express feminine perspectives of aggression and desire. LEG falls into this genre, disrupting normative gender stereotypes through jarring imagery that lingers in the memory like a discombobulating nightmare. They play, however, not the roles of sexy vampires à la Jenny Hval or blood-soaked brides like Bat for Lashes, but the ever-eerie role of the creepy twins, seen everywhere from “The Shining” to Diane Arbus’ work.
The idea of twin-ness extends beyond LEG’s persona to their music and visuals, which always tackle their subject matter in doublespeak, whole-heartedly and with a mischievous wink.
“Sometimes our lyrics are true, but the video is the other way around,” Walton put it. Hollingworth chimed in: “We try to express two different sides of the same song. Maybe we’re making fun of something, but there is something else behind it.”
Along with horror, LEG draws heavily from fairy tales and folktales in their work. One song, “Rapunzel,” mashes up elements of the classic narrative with the horrific real-life story of Genie, a feral child who was abused and kept in captivity by her father for 13 years. In LEG’s world, the age-old tales meant to serve as women’s fantasies often frame their female protagonists as silent and still ― yielding more frightful a fate than the most heinous news clippings.
My cat is dead, my father hit me
I ran away, I’m really hungry
That wicked witch, in all her power
She cast a spell and locked me in this tower
I can’t look down, I’m claustrophobic
Please, let me out, I can’t deserve this
I hate my name, I’m not that Rapunzel
My hair’s not blonde, and I’m not having fun …
In part, the lyrics mimic a child’s spinning mind, being lulled to sleep with a bedtime story while very real fears gurgle beneath the drafted happy ending.
“The idea of being kidnapped always freaked me out when I was kid,” Walton said. “It’s something I was always worried about ― someone coming into the house and stealing me.”
But the song also gets at just how much fairy tales have been censored and sanitized by injecting Rapunzel’s tale with some fangs and claws. Today, fairy tales are often thought to be the puritanical and patriarchal stuff of Brothers Grimm collections and Disney films. But before they were catalogued by men in the 16th century, the myths lived on the tongues and in the ears of women. And rather than reiterating tired tales of pretty princesses waiting for their prince, the timeless legends addressed the vital journeys and desires of a woman’s life ― often expressed through haunting tales dense with blood, flesh and food.
With dark humor and boundless imagination, the young women of LEG return folktales to their original, oral habitats. Their first album and its accompanying visuals artfully balance innocence and know-how ― seriousness and make-believe ― slashing gendered preconceptions of fairy tales and their contemporary counterpoint: pop music.
And the artists are, still, only teenagers.
“We’ve got quite a lot of energy, and a lot of time ahead of us,” Walton said.
“Hopefully,” she added, with a smirk.