It would be incredibly easy, yet unfair, to simply label Jockstrap as weird.
Sure, the London duo of violinist/vocalist Georgia Ellery and producer Taylor Skye have been turning heads with their bizarre amalgamation of genres, experimenting with the diverse sounds of jazz, bossa nova and electro-pop often in the space of one song (and throwing in a 21-piece orchestra for good measure). Yet in spite of this refusal to conform and their decision to fuse together such contrasting influences, there’s a definite signature style that comes with everything they’ve put out to date. Charm shines through the woozy synths and bittersweet poetry that adorn each song on their EP, ‘Love is the Key to the City’, and the lavish strings add the sublime touches in between. Jockstrap aren’t just weird; they’re pushing boundaries by creating some of the most innovative and forward-thinking music in the country right now.
To further demonstrate their versatility, earlier this year the band released ‘Lost My Key in the ❤ Club ❤️’, a remixed version of their debut EP, produced entirely by Skye, that drags the original set of songs to the dance floor. If this sounds like chaos to you, you’d be right to think that, but there’s certainly enough of a balance between the artful and the accessible across these two EPs that all of the components you think might clash actually produce something sublime. It’s worth noting that in addition to putting out this remix EP, Taylor has been busy this year putting out equally brilliant music of his own while Georgia has mostly been touring as a member of the hotly-tipped Black Country, New Road. It goes to show that these are two musicians who are not just good at what they do, but have a genuine passion for contributing to the wider music scene.
Coming towards the end of a tour supporting Arizona jazz-rap trio Injury Reserve, tiredness didn’t seem to be getting in the way of the band’s enthusiasm for discussing the praise they’ve received for their music, gushing over early noughties pop and tucking into a jacket potato – all things we had the pleasure of joining them for.
Let’s start with the current tour you’re on with Injury Reserve, how have things been going with them?
T: Yeah, pretty good. I’ve enjoyed it. This is the first time we’re doing it as a duo so we’ve been learning the set whilst we’ve been doing it, but we’ve got these new songs and they work well so it’s all been going to plan.
G: We’ve enjoyed it loads. I think it’s been really nice travelling as a duo. There’s still a lot of room to grow through the set, even though we’re playing to a track it almost feels freer than it kind of did as a five piece.
Obviously you’re on this tour as a support act, how has the reaction been from people who aren’t so familiar with your music?
G: It’s been really good. People have really enjoyed it and we haven’t had anyone come up to us and say they hated it – not that I think anyone would do that anyway – but people have really genuinely enjoyed it and have said they’ll listen to our music.
T: It bangs at the end, we’ve got some new songs which are pretty appropriate. With the old songs, you might think some of them are a bit different but we’ve got some rap elements in the new stuff.
G: So the Injury Reserve fans have really enjoyed the headbanging ones that really hit hard and have lots of sub and stuff like that, so it’s been awesome.
T: We’ve also not played any gigs for ages so some people are coming just to see us because they want to.
So there’s been a good mix of people who already know you and those who don’t?
G: Yeah, in Dublin it almost felt like the crowd were there for us. They were there from the beginning, wanting pictures, knowing the songs – it was great. I feel like the Injury Reserve fans are a very open audience, they’re there to enjoy the music and have been really respectful. At some shows we’ve had absolute silence throughout our set which is exactly how we like it, it kind of demands that because there’s an ‘on and off’ style.
T: They’ve been lovely for introducing their fans to us as well, the guys themselves have made it really easy.
G: We met Injury Reserve last year at Iceland Airwaves, it was quite funny because we were playing the same venue but we stole their soundcheck but didn’t know. They were there waiting for us to finish but they really liked the music and said they’d come and watch our set. We all went out afterwards and had a really great time. We’d 100% tour with them again if they wanted us to.
T: It’s quite hard starting with such a good tour, we’re best friends but it’s only going to get worse from here… (laughs)
In the early days of forming the duo, was the idea always to create something chaotic, or did it become that way because as you progressed, both of you were bringing vastly different ideas to the table?
G: It was literally that, yeah. We didn’t really know what it was going to sound like, and I don’t think either of us really cared either.
T: The first song was ‘I Want Another Affair’ and we did that through Georgia sending me a song having written it, and then I sent it back over the summer having done quite a lot more. From then on, that was the way songs were born.
G: I think it’s the same with a lot of our songs. We don’t think about the sound and where we want to go, we just do it and go wherever it takes us.
Does that mean that the songs go through a lot of transformations?
G: No, not really. Once we find the right sound we go with it.
T: Usually, as soon as Georgia sends something to me, that’s the song and then I won’t send anything back until I feel like I’m done. We like to do things separately and only come together towards the end. It’s not really a back-and-forth exchange to start off with, once we’ve both done our initial parts it becomes more that way.
G: Some songs have had several different guises but there’s only one song I can think of which we’re still working on at the moment where we’re not quite sure where it sits. With the rest we just trust our instincts and we trust each other quite a lot.
I guess it gets easier as time goes on and you get a better understanding of the way the other works?
G: Yeah, we’re in a good rhythm in the way we work now.
Is it still just the two of you writing or have you begun to include the live setup into the studio as well?
G: No, it’s still just the two of us!
T: Georgia writes the song and I produce it, that the essence of it. If it’s not that, it’s not Jockstrap so that’s the one thing we want to keep.
It’s been a quiet year for you as Jockstrap, but both of you have had plenty going on with other projects – how does it feel to come back to the project now after having given yourselves some time to digest everything that happened in 2018?
G: It feels great, actually. We have had a little bit of a break but we’ve still been writing, just taking things a bit slower because we’re both also still studying. We don’t have the time to come together and write for two weeks, we don’t have that luxury. So we’re slowly bringing things together so we can release something else, but we don’t really feel the pressure of not having put out new music in 2019, partly because we’re also busy with other things. We also feel very confident in the project. I know that from a label and management point of view they’re always keen to get new stuff out and they like to have deadlines, but to us it’s more a case of when the time’s right. If you’re not in a space where anything good is coming out or you don’t have anything you feel the need to write about, there’s no point in pushing it. Although now I’m finding things that I can write about, so the time definitely does feel right.
T: We are going to have new music next year, so quite soon.
G: We’ve been given some good opportunities and I think we’ve been really lucky because on the path we’ve decided to follow as a band –
T: We’ve not had to do anything we don’t want to do yet.
The live show is often quite varied as well – you say this is the first tour you’ve done as a duo, but most will have seen you as a five-piece, and others will have seen you with a full string section – how does it work for you having to reshape the set with every different lineup?
T: We’ve spent the whole year doing the five-piece, and then adding the strings for a handful of shows was the same band. Georgia already had the music from when we recorded the strings and all she had to do was reduce the score.
G: That only took a couple of days, and they were all players who we’re friends with and who played in the original orchestra, so they knew the music. It took us only two rehearsals to get it together for End of the Road.
T: This has been the biggest transformation, but because there’s just two of us, logistically it’s been so much easier.
G: It took us two weeks to get the duo set together, so we kind of sat down, decided what was going on the tracks, what we were going to play, what I was going to sing, and we didn’t really think about what it was going to look like on stage either. We knew we wanted to stand up and have a big fat rig in front of us, which we do. It’s felt really natural and we’ve both really come out as performers.
So you don’t feel like you’ve had to make any compromises?
G: Not at all, if anything it’s been really liberating.
T: The five-piece are still good though, we obviously love playing with Melchior, Lewis and Michael.
G: At first we might have been a little sceptical because coming from playing everything live without a laptop, I was very proud of that in the sense that I love live music and playing in a band is what I do, so to come away and now be playing to a backing track, we did wonder if it would be the same. But it really hasn’t been like that, it’s been the opposite to what I thought and it’s gone fine.
T: The main thing is, we don’t feel like we’re trying to recreate what we do with them. Half the set is new songs, and with the band you’d always get amazing improvised moments and each show would be different. With this we’re saying “these are our songs, we’re proud of the compositions and we’re not really going to change them that much”. We’ve got a backing track so that it bangs harder, I can control how loud each drum sound is and everything. So we’re not trying to do the same thing, so therefore it doesn’t feel like trying to reshape, we’re not losing anything by doing it this way.
I wanted to ask about the remix EP, ‘Lost My Key in the ❤ Club❤️’, – was it always the idea to create a remix EP or did it happen more by accident?
T: I didn’t think about it. I just started doing them. I make stuff every day and then realised it would be an idea after I’d done two of them, but I never did one because I thought I had to.
Do you find yourself finishing off a track and thinking ‘this might sound good done this way’?
T: Sometimes the idea does come while we’re making the tracks. Retrospectively it’s hard to say how the ideas come about. I remix things all the time, though. That’s just something that is really fun for me to do. I guess because I was DJing, and then we both started DJing as Jockstrap, it was quite fun to just be playing these sets. Also because the original EP was obviously so intense and emotional, to empty that and explore a different side of things was just really fun as well.
Are there any challenges for you trying to turn something that lavish and emotional into a set of bangers?
T: Not at all, it’s probably the easiest sort of music for me to make. When I make my own music and with Jockstrap I find it difficult, but remixes are just so easy to do.
G: And you’ll roll them off in a day…
T: Yeah, I did them all in one day and didn’t change them. And I’m more proud of those mixes, it’s quite odd how it works out sometimes. I’ve been thinking a good thing to do might be instead of releasing original songs just to do remixes. The mentality of doing a remix is so much better than doing an original song.
G: Maybe we should release the remix album before the original songs?
T: That’s actually quite a cool idea, don’t let anyone take that.
You often get asked what your dream collaboration would be, and it’s always fascinating to read because you seem to just constantly be digesting new things. What sort of things are inspiring you at the moment?
G: Recently we’ve both listened to a lot of JPEGMAFIA.
T: I’ve been listening to loads of things like Daniel Merriweather, lots of pop from when I was younger. Things like James Morrison.
G: Wow, that’s taking it back.
T: Oh, and Keane. You listened to a lot of Carly Rae Jepsen.
G: Yeah, I got super into her last album, ‘Dedicated’. But really we just like working within our own space.
T: We’re actually looking for a rapper at the moment.
G: There will be more guest appearances in the future, definitely.
T: If there’s something that we can’t do, like rapping for instance, we’ll look at bringing in a rapper. But we can do pretty much everything…
G: We can do the orchestral stuff, we can do the production, we can do the sound design (long pause), but we can’t dance. But there will be raps.
T: On our new songs, Michael, our bass player is still playing bass.
G: We’re quite self-contained and I think we quite like it that way. We’ve had a couple of opportunities to work with other producers and we’ve just turned them down.
T: Even with studios, it’s just a lot easier working from my bedroom than in studios. We don’t even mix anything, we make it and the send it off to have it mastered. And Georgia so far has made all of the videos too.
I wanted to ask about the videos – do the ideas come alongside the songs as part of one big vision since the lyrical content can be so narrative-based and bring up lots of images?
G: I guess it does sometimes, yeah. But usually the order is the poetry, then they turn into songs and then I’ll instinctively be able to think how I want them to be visually. And again, I’ll just go with it.
Is it something you’ve had a lot of experience with before?
G: No, that’s just how it works for me. It was just an impulse. The first video we did was for ‘I Want Another Affair’ because when we first released the track, we wanted to have it in a pretty little package and it was really fun to do. People really liked that and so we just carried on with it, and then when we got to the remix EP and had to do videos for all the tracks, that became a little bit long-winded. Now I feel like I’m happy to take a step back from it, maybe. Or just do it with someone else and do a different idea. We’ve done the videos now, maybe we can put it all in another artistic medium.
Does the concept of things like visual albums interest you?
G: Yeah, for sure. I’d love to but it’s just time and money isn’t it. I’m all for that if you can set it up!
On a similar note, your music has quite a cinematic feel to it at times and I wondered if the idea of creating soundtracks appealed to you?
G: Again, it’s about having the time and money but if someone asked us we’d be very interested. As you say it’s been quite a quiet year for us but it’s also been a year of discussing things and deciding what direction to take, and I think we’ve just come back to the fact that we’re still quite fresh and haven’t been working together that long so our focus is doing another set of songs.
T: Doing a film score would be a humungous deal.
G: We’re not even ready to do an album yet so taking on something like a film score would be a huge task.
Looking forward to 2020, what can be expected from the things you’re currently working on?
T: It isn’t necessarily going to be anything massive yet but it’s more than just a few songs. It’s pretty similar to last year. Some songs are ready so it won’t be long until comes out.
G: But it isn’t an album.
T: It’s whatever it is, at the moment it’s just 4-5 songs.
G: And again, it feels very conceptual and of a time.
T: It’s more elements of the string stuff and the remixes coming together.
G: You’ll love it.
T: The songs are now pretty ready, it’s just a case of finishing mixing and getting final touches sorted but all of our management and our label are ready for it to come out
G: Although it’s been very quiet from the outside, it’s been a big year for logistics and stuff like that. I don’t really buy into the whole momentum thing; if people like it, they like it.
T: We’ll always be doing the other stuff, and it’s quite good that we’ve introduced this pattern early on to say that we won’t always be doing Jockstrap all of the time. It’s quite important for us not to say “we’re this hype band” and that it’s quite nice to just do things when we’re ready.
G: Also who is demanding the momentum? If an artist releases something I really like, I’m not necessarily gagging for the next thing because when it comes out it’s really special and it’s a surprise – it doesn’t matter if that’s three years or six months.
T: We’re more interested in publishing and in the long-term aspects of things. For us, the music’s too important for us to ever rush it and so we want to build careers that will last 50 years rather than 10 years. That’s why we take things slowly.
G: I can tell you from being in Black Country, New Road that it’s the other way around and it’s show after show, but you still get to the same place doing it either way around. We’ve been given some really great opportunities and we’re in a good position with regards to who has picked up on us and who likes the music, and I think we’re just going to take our time with that. You know, when was the last time Dean Blunt did a gig? He’s still relevant.
T: When was the last time Daniel Merriweather did a gig? That’s the real question.
Words by Reuben Cross // Photos by Dali Mia Poulsom