IIt’s the hottest day of the summer and Taylor Skye has found one of the few public spaces in Penzance safe from the midday glare: a graveyard. The electronic producer, one half of Jockstrap, leads us past a man who slept last night between the gravestones of St Mary’s Church, to a bench under a giant oak tree. Georgia Ellery, the band’s singer-songwriter and singer, grew up a few blocks away and approves of the location: “Good choice! That’s where I had my first kiss!”
Jockstrap play fast and loose with pop. Their debut album, I Love You Jennifer B, touches on jazz and torch song, disco and AOR, dubstep, grime, neoclassical music and more, with tiny fragments of each formed into a dazzling mosaic. . That doesn’t mean what they do is pastiche. Skye and Ellery, 24, have a timeless gift for songwriting that’s clear even beneath the disruptive electronic production that runs through the album.
It’s already been a busy year for Ellery: when we meet, she’s taking a short break from her duties as violinist for acclaimed Black Country indie band, New Road, who are halfway through an extensive world tour. (She also performs in the Happy Beigel Klezmer Orkester and stars in Mark Jenkin’s acclaimed 2019 film, Bait.) Outside of Jockstrap, Skye makes music under her own name and has remixed songs for Metronomy and the band. experimental hip-hop group Injury Reserve.
Ellery and Skye met during their first year at the ‘very insular’ Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, when Ellery (jazz) was struck by Skye (electronic composition) ‘wearing tartan pajamas on the way to the laundry”. After Ellery wrote a song about Logic in her sophomore year, she asked Skye if he would produce it: “He had snippets of his own music on Facebook that were down my street.” Skye agreed, replaying all the instruments, adding new beats, and putting effects on the vocals. Later, the pair added digital strings: Jockstrap was born.
Skye says Guildhall was basically a “student loan” that allowed them to record “chamber music”. For Ellery, the school helped her understand the architecture of songbook-style pop music: “It’s not just about what it does to your heart – there’s math to that. A golden path to songwriting that you can tap into.
You can hear this mathematical pop writing, along with Skye’s mercurial, often seemingly counterintuitive skills as a producer, throughout I Love You Jennifer B. On a song like Debra, for example, there are rhythmic nods to Beyoncé and Lil Wayne, happy hardcore synths and bhangra strings. The idea of sticking to one genre is foreign to Jockstrap. Skye says he hadn’t even considered the idea until he went to this year’s Wireless festival and watched an entire day of rapping: “It made me imagine what it must have been like in the 1960s of going to a folk festival and seeing Bob Dylan and everybody approach their craft in different ways.
While most musicians of their generation already have a fairly Catholic taste in music thanks to streaming culture, Jockstrap ventures far beyond any algorithm-generated sense of variety. This is partly due to their music-focused upbringing. Ellery received her first violin at the age of five from her midwife mother, a self-taught violinist. At the age of seven, she was part of a local folk group that marked mid-summer and mid-winter by accompanying the pagan figure of Penglaz – a horse skull with a snapping jaw and bottle-glass eyes carried on a pole – around Penzance with a raucous song and Dance. Ellery never rebelled against classical or folk; instead, she developed “a duality”. At 14, she started attending saucy raves in the Cornish countryside: “I was there for the party!”
Skye grew up in east London. Her parents were successful performers in musical theatre. His father was in Starlight Express and “could do backflips while wearing roller skates”. But when he was 11 the family moved to Leicestershire and his parents became teachers. He grew up playing the piano and struggled to escape the gravity of his parents’ relatively hip musical tastes. “Stevie Wonder is what got me into music, after my dad gave me his Definitive Collection and we all went to see him in Hyde Park,” he says. The roles were reversed in 2010, when he got himself a laptop and discovered dubstep bands such as Netsky, Nero and Flux Pavilion: “Then I started introducing the music to my parents.”
Ellery and Skye’s roles in Jockstrap are independent but become more fluid. “It’s a success because we love everyone’s work,” says Skye. One of his recent “conceptual realizations” of how to produce their music led him to ask a “secret contact” at a national BBC radio station to anonymously air one of their demos late at night. so he can save it. The song, now called Greatest Hits, celebrates the powerful experience of hearing dance music on the radio, and BBC radio compression gives it greater musical and emotional richness.
One of the hallmarks of Ellery’s songwriting is to isolate a pivotal moment of change and lyrically strip down a complex relationship to its tiniest undivided grain to capture all of its warmth and complexity, if not. is the context. “You remind me of the night / But also the day / I think of Italy, of champagne / I think of Spain,” she sings in Concrete Over Water, reflecting on a moment she describes as “ incredibly moving.” She tries to write down her impressions as quickly as possible: “how I feel, the images it triggers – or risk losing that feeling forever”.
The dynamic novelty of Jockstrap’s music is key to their success. “Life can go from incredible light to incredible darkness in an instant, so we allow the music to reflect that,” Skye says. Ellery adds that the band’s constant metamorphosis comes, at least in part, from necessity: “It’s to keep our music fresh. What we do cannot be a repeat of what we have done, or what anyone else has done.
The combination of different production techniques, artistic quirks, genre marks, lyrical effects, etc. does it risk looking like a jumble? Skye doesn’t believe him. “I think what we’re doing is like switching between all the open tabs on your computer. Which is a familiar feeling for people these days.
Ellery puts it another way: “If we still look like Jockstrap, that’s not really a problem, is it?”