Shout out Hattie Lindert for this debut Finals piece, an interview with Jockstrap. Thanks Hattie!
If there’s an act that truly exemplifies "eclectic" in the industry today, it's Jockstrap. Composed of Black Country, New Road’s Georgia Ellery and artist Taylor Skye, the UK duo grew up on UK rave music, met in a composition class while studying at London’s Guildhall School Of Music & Drama, and ended up collaborating on their first EP with Injury Reserve’s late Groggs. It all makes for an aesthetic that, for as much as it bites off, feels nimble and light.
In June of 2022, I spoke with Taylor and Georgia ahead of Jennifer B’s release at Saturdays NYC, during a series of early New York City listening parties. Tucked back in the corner of an outdoor patio, we discussed matcha, Kit Kats, listening to Skrillex with your mom, Playboi Carti, and eventually: what the process of forming Jockstrap and creating their debut album looked like.
You met in school in 2016 at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama– can you talk about how you first connected? What led you to feel like the other would be a good collaborator?
GEORGIA: Um so when we both came to Guildhall, suffice to say that it was just a melting pot: an explosion of different people making different music. I didn’t know anyone who produced where I came from in Cornwall which is like, Southwest of England (she pauses to thank our waiter). And I heard-- Taylor and me were in a composition class together, that's how I met him. I followed him on Facebook, and then he was making these little short bits of music and putting them to YouTube videos of film scenes, and the production was all the style that I really liked, like early James Blake stuff that I was listening to. So that immediately drew me to the music that he made.
TAYLOR: Yeah, we had that class together, and it took quite a long time for us to actually connect on a one-to-one level. But um, Georgia just began writing a song towards the end of the first year at the college we were at, and over the summer, sent it to me pretty fully formed. And that’s how it remained for the next few songs after that; the song “I Want Another Affair.”
GEORGIA: That was the first.
TAYLOR: She’d made a demo in Logic outlining all the structure and the moments. And it just, it was very clear, the song; it all made sense to me. So I just had a go of making it, and that was it; it was quite easy, really.
GEORGIA: It just clicked.
Before you met, what were your earlier influences growing up? What kind of music piqued your ear as far as: “I want to be making my own stuff?”
TAYLOR: I grew up in London until I was 14, and then I moved to the Midlands. It’s probably more tame than Cornwall. There was very little drug use or smoking.
GEORGIA: Wasn’t it voted the best place to live in the U.K.?
TAYLOR: Yeah laughs it’s very safe. Not idyllic, just medium.
TAYLOR: We had similar influences-- we probably found similar things. For me, the internet stuff was just this dubstep that was being made by like Skrillex, and then in the U.K. by artists like Flux Pavilion. They had this UK Dubstep channel on Youtube-- that’s what made me want to start making music. Neither of us were old enough to go to clubs in London and stuff, I think we both really connected with club music. There was a few-- it was mostly, like, compilation albums, that’s what you’d listen to
GEORGIA: Or YouTube channels. There was that-- I don’t even remember what it was called, but a bit more housey than…
TAYLOR: Majestic Casual?
GEORGIA: Majestic Casual! Yes
TAYLOR: And there were also ones that rip songs off the radio, like, I know Joy Orbison would play.
GEORGIA: And Annie Mac was another DJ.
TAYLOR: We both really liked her. We really liked Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, who is actually-- I think he lives in America now, but he did this one album that was like, it was quite songwriter-y and dancey.
GEORGIA: And his lyrics are quite emo-ey! The delivery and stuff.
GEORGIA: I agree. I would listen to loads of different music growing up, and I don’t think I knew that I wanted to write music until I started doing it. It wasn’t obvious to me. I was playing classical violin, and I was in orchestras, and then I would listen to jazz music or things that my parents would listen to but then also through the internet and going to these raves in Cornwall that anyone could go to and rage really, and that’s how I got into dance music. I think that’s the sort of music that really made me feel good, so it makes sense that I was drawn to making that. It was definitely something that I had no idea how to approach starting to make, so Taylor was the key to that. I mean we don’t even make dance music, but that being like…electronic music that makes you feel good.
TAYLOR: But like, it isn’t even really dance music. It really ebbs and flows-- it’s not very consistent to dance to.
I love the direction on this album you went with tracks like “Glasgow” almost this folk/acoustic sound that feels really rooted in female singer-songwriter tradition. Can you talk about the making of that song specifically and what inspired the lyrics and tone? How has your writing process evolved?
GEORGIA: I think just the more practice I’ve done, maybe the better or more refined. Or the more I’ve been able to go somewhere that I want to go. With Glasgow in particular, I was listening to a lot of like, kraut rock-y music and yacht rock for the last couple of years. I’ve been wanting to put it into our music-- there’s this one amazing song by the Beta Band called “Dry the Rain,” I don’t know if you know that…that’s probably, like, the feel in the songwriting that I wanted to put in. But then, I don’t know-- I’m proud of Glasgow. I think sometimes you write a song and it clicks and sometimes you’re there for ages trying to figure out the corner of a bridge or something like that. But for that one…it was cool. I’m happy it turned out the way it did.
I’m so interested in how you guys collaborate and achieve the idiosyncrasies in each song. What does your process of working together look like?
GEORGIA: Like Taylor said, when we first started writing together, it would be a song from me, and I would send it to Taylor, and he would basically finish it. In some songs, there has only been two back-and-forths-- like “Concrete Over Water”, it was just like, I sent it, then he sent it back, and then it was over.
GEORGIA: And same for “The City”, maybe?
TAYLOR: There’s been a few other songs where it’s been like that. “I Want Another Affair” was a little bit like that.
GEORGIA: Kind of “Glasgow”, a little bit, as well.
TAYLOR: “Glasgow” was, as well. “Glasgow” was pretty simple. “50/50” was like that-- I sent George “50/50”, she sent it back, and then it was done.
GEORGIA: So that’s great when it works like that, but then sometimes, it’s the opposite, and we’re like…
What were some of the hardest ones to nail down?
GEORGIA AND TAYLOR: “Greatest Hits”.
GEORGIA: “Greatest Hits” was pretty difficult.
TAYLOR: That song “Haley” we did took ages. “City Hell” took ages to do…
GEORGIA: (laughs) We were just like where are we even at with this piece anymore?
TAYLOR: Yeah…”Robert (feat Groggs)”, that song “Robert” took like 2.5 years.
I was going to ask too, I loved your work with Injury Reserve-- are there any artists you would love to work with, or could see your sounds meshing really well with?
TAYLOR: Oh yeah. There are loads of rappers that I’d love to work with. And we’re going to do that, but like, it just didn’t-- none of the songs have called for that really. It’s mostly just vibes that we can’t bring to the table. We’ve had Luke from Black Country, New Road play guitar, but that was Georgia playing the demo, so it wasn’t like he came up with those parts. I think like-- We’re both quite specific people, so we already feel like we’re both compromising quite a lot when we wrote with each other, so to add another person to the mix? Compromise even more. (laughs) That’s not gonna happen most of the time, really.
GEORGIA: It worked with Injury Reserve well because it was Groggs…
TAYLOR: That was just a spare verse that they had. We just put that one there. So there was very little collaboration
Speaking of Black Country-- what do you feel is different working with this project and working on that? Do you notice different sides of yourself?
GEORGIA: Well, I give my everything to this project, and Black Country, New Road, it’s a little less demanding. I have a specific role in that band, like arrangement writing and collaborating, and it doesn’t sort of extend beyond that. Whereas for this project, it’s artwork, and visual ideas…it takes more time. But I mean, it’s still making music and collaborating; the more you do it the better you get.
You have your first U.S. tour coming up-- When you think about this project, what do you see or imagine that touring experience being like?
GEORGIA: Hopefully they’re really rowdy. Because we played the showcase and they were not moving!
TAYLOR: But that’s fine. I think they just need to know-- a lot of people on “Glasgow” said “Woah, it’s a bit not hitting as hard.”
GEORGIA: (laughs, gasps) I know! I was like, guys! They’ve got the blueprint of how you should behave at our gigs, which is the “50/50” video. So, I really feel like that is how!
TAYLOR: We want it to be bangin’, innit.
You’ve spoken about being inspired by dance music and wanting to make music people can dance to. I feel like there are points in some of your songs-- like when the drums come in in “Concrete Over Water”-- where something just clicks, and you’re really implored to move. How do you land on those moments, or does it just happen?
GEORGIA: You could theorize it a bit, maybe. If you’ve got chords moving, the stiller you keep the melody, that is like a trick, though maybe that’s too theoretical. So there’s chords moving on every beat, but I’m staying on one note throughout the whole thing. That’s a good trick to make something cook-y, I think. Or because the melody is simplified a bit, it’s more memorable. But there, usually it just happens. I actually think at that point, I did think about that theoretically, but I dont know; I think with “Glasgow”
Coming from that classical and arranging background, what are some things you felt limited by there that you maybe don’t feel limited by anymore with this project?
TAYLOR: Well, neither of us were ever wanting to be classical musicians I don’t think. We both studied classical music when we were younger.
GEORGIA: It’s definitely, like, you play music that’s already written with classical music. You’re given such a small allowance of yourself to put into it; oh, is this going to be a dynamic here, or is it going to be there? There’s so little you can put in. And then same with singing jazz or playing jazz because yeah, you can improvise, but you’re still within the chords.
TAYLOR: Writing music in any sort of established genre has those things really.
GEORGIA: I think when we write music, we try to make it rule-less.
TAYLOR: We just listen to so much music. We both like most sorts of music, really. It was never an issue-- before going to the university, neither of us went to like, fancy music schools or anything. We were just doing it because we wanted to do it; no one was encouraging us to do a certain thing. We’ve always just followed our intuition a little bit.
I love what you said about getting to work on visuals, and am especially touching on the weird and wonderful “Glasgow” video. What was the creative process of coming up with those visuals? Also, how long did the makeup take?
TAYLOR: It didn’t take that long, really. An hour or two?
GEORGIA: There’s a sample underneath the kick-drum in “Glasgow,” of someone like on a walk, squelching in mud. You can’t really hear it, but if you take it out, it sounds dead. So there was this already element of traveling and journeying. So I think with that in our mind, lets do a music video where we’re just running, or traveling, or moving, but we don’t stop, and it’s really simple.
TAYLOR: Also the song kind of stays the same, it doesn’t speed up or get too intense or get too quiet, you know, it’s a pretty steady song.
GEORGIA: So we said, well how about it’s like a vlog, and we’re just running? And Taylor said, I want to be dressed as a goblin. And I was like, cool. So, we really didn’t speak much about that.
What was it like filming underwater?
GEORGIA: I mean, it was fine-- I was just trying things out. My brother was there helping me.
Do you collaborate with your brother a lot?
GEORGIA: (laughs) No, sometimes he just shows up, and sometimes he drives us to shows. But he’s actually so overqualified, he shouldn’t even be doing that.
What do your families think of the music? Do they get it, do they like it?
TAYLOR: Oh yeah, my mom and dad just know exactly whats going on. They showed me, everyone that I listened to when I was younger-- I used to get into Skrillex with my mom. She’s like totally-- she wants it to be more wacky. They just repost our American tour dates, and stuff like that. And (to Georgia) your mum.
GEORGIA: My mum is very invested. She’s got all the merch bundles.
Oh, and I have to ask about the name. What happened that led to deciding on Jockstrap?
TAYLOR: We didn’t really talk about that either.
GEORGIA & TAYLOR (in unison): Suggestion.
GEORGIA: I think heavy metal band named-core. I think Iron Maiden is a really sick name, so tried to find something like that. But it was before any of the music was made, so, it wasn’t necessarily-- we didn’t know what it would turn out like, it was just a name by itself. I still have the list of names….I’m not gonna bring those up.
TAYLOR: I can’t remember them.
GEORGIA: Jockstrap was definitely the best of the bunch
INTERVIEWER: What are you guys listening to right now?
TAYLOR: I’m listening to Playboi Carti, only basically. Especially here, in New York.
ME: Yeah, it hits.
TAYLOR: Yeah, that’s it basically…Whole Lotta Red. It’s mainly Bob Dylan, as well. It’s usually Bob Dylan, and someone else. I listen to Donda, like, too much. Just rap music-- Playboi Carti and Kanye West are my favorites at the moment.
INTERVIEWER: Carti really does have that experimentation in his music, and that excitement.
GEORGIA: I haven’t listened enough, yet.
TAYLOR: It’s his live shows, I think that’s what I like. Did you see this Donda thing, where he was dressed as like the joker? He doesn’t perform, he just stands and plays his album onstage basically… we kind of do that a bit. I just stand there and press start and stop, and Georgia sings. We’re not gonna do that, probably-- we had a live band, when we both loved James Blake and were really inspired by playing everything live.
GEORGIA: No computers.
TAYLOR: We still don’t have any computers, but now we basically just do backing tracks, which I really like. I think, just people who are doing the opposite-- Playboi Carti, it’s a pretty unhinged thing to do, just play your album back. But then that will get boring, and playing live will become cool again. It just will change. But yeah,we both love songwriters deep down.
Do you have any songs you can’t put out there yet, because they still feel too close to you?
GEORGIA: No actually; I think I’ve put everything out there. Really early on, it was quite exposing.
Is that cathartic?
GEORGIA: Definitely. And also, I think maybe subjects of what I sing about is stuff that feels repressed for me, and then putting it out there is like a release, and feels like I’m saying it in a different way to the world, and to friends, and family.
Do you think sometimes it’s easier to put these things to words in music?
You’ve talked in the past about going through heartbreak-- did you feel like that brought music out of you?
GEORGIA: Well, I felt fucking alive. You feel alive, don’t you, when you’ve been heartbroken? But then, so many good things come from it: you lean on your friends, you put time into your friends and that gives you so much more than just one person. I think for those sorts of the song-- like Wicked City-- it definitely fuels those songs. But these I Love You Jennifer, B songs, I think they’re like healthily inspired by things inspired outside of relationship and in relationship.
It does feel so much bigger than just a heartbreak album.
GEORGIA: Or an angry album. I haven’t really sat down and thought about what it’s all about. There is like one tangible line where it’s like, still singing about the same person in “What’s It All About?” and then a little bit later in the album it’s like “Actually, I’m done with that.”
And for people who have listened to the past work, what do you hope maybe people will learn about you from this album, or hear in you from this album that they maybe haven’t before?
TAYLOR: All the songs are longer. Learn about us? I mean, it’s quite a lot in this album; we maxed out on everything.
GEORGIA: It took a lot, I mean as much as we physically could.
How long have you been working on this, from the inception of the album to where we are now?
TAYLOR: Two and a half years? Yeah, when you have two people in it, you’ve got to work at each other's pace and you’re not always at the same pace…just takes a while.
GEORGIA: We did like three songs, kind of finished three songs, and then three songs, and then…and I kind of felt like every block of three got even harder.
TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah.
GEORGIA: I think it was just very ambitious. I think the music is ambitious-- we’ve only worked with like five songs at a time, and then to double that. And we axed some stuff…it was definitely ambitious. And it was COVID as well, so it was a difficult time.
How did that change how you were working on things, when COVID hit?
GEORGIA: I don’t think it changed it much, but just the emotional toll of the situation, of COVID.
TAYLOR: And we weren’t going to gigs together, one of our main shared experiences, and I think that was making things difficult. When we were living in London, even though we were working remotely, we had quite a lot of shared experiences which helped us remain on the same page. And suddenly when you’re in different places or not going out, you start going off in different tangents like, oh my god, is this going to work? What are you saying, compared to me? We got back in the end-- it was a bit rough, to figure that out.
I love that word ambitious, it sums up so much of what I hear in the music. What fuels that ambition and inspiration for you guys?
TAYLOR: For me, it’s like, you’ve got to be like the Beatles. You’ve got to be writing the best possible music whilst making sounds that nobodies heard before. So if we’re not doing that, then it’s not interesting. We’re just trying to do that, basically. We both have thought about what we think music should sound like, and therefore try and change things.
GEORGIA: When I write a song, I’m definitely trying to write the best song I can. Every song, I feel like if I’m not writing it as best…what am I doing? And then if you’re doing that (to Taylor), trying to make something new sounding, then that’s a pretty good description of what we’re trying to do.
TAYLOR: For me, there’s not much music I like in the world, so there’s quite a lot of space in my brain to fill with stuff that is actually good. We’re just trying to fill those gaps where we feel like there’s space for us to make stuff.
What do you think is the hardest part about being a working artist at this level?
TAYLOR: I find it quite scary, now that this is done, thinking about the next few years of my life; that’s quite daunting. It’s just this underlying anxiety of everything being quite shit up in the air.
GEORGIA: For me, it’s the pressure. I find pressure to finish things and deadlines and being expected to do things faster than you can at points in your time, I find that difficult.
For Georgia, what are some of the main things you’ve learned about being in the spotlight coming from this early attention for Black Country into this new project?
GEORGIA: I don’t know about you Taylor, but all of Black Country stopped reading reviews…except for me! I love scrolling through and seeing what everyone has to say; I haven’t seen something yet that has put me off. I remember when Wicked City came out-- do you remember that one forum? that was just like pages and pages of people slaying us.
TAYLOR: That was like the “Glasgow” thing.
GEORGIA: Still, I enjoy it, a negative review that’s actually honest.
TAYLOR: If it was my own music by myself, I would be much more affected. Because it’s a shared thing with two people, you both agree it’s good, then it’s fine if they say shit. Especially if there’s seven people in a band.
If you weren’t doing music, what would you be doing?
TAYLOR: I don’t want to say, because I’ll get told off for saying it.
GEORGIA: Professional gamer.
TAYLOR: It’s not that bad! It’s just embarrassing.
GEORGIA: I always wanted to be a hairdresser-- so maybe I’d do that.
Where do you hope to go next with Jockstrap? Do you know what’s next, or want to just let it happen?
TAYLOR: We literally don’t know.
GEORGIA: We’ve got things that we want to do, I think.
TAYLOR: There’s a whole nother level we have yet to do, which is playing the album and have it come out.
GEORGIA: I hope people really like it.