Jockstrap on keeping secrets and opening for Blur: ‘The audience is on our side and I’m not used to that’

The shapeshifting sensations cover everything from classical to techno, and were just shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. Duo Georgia Ellery and Taylor Skye speak to Megan Graye about their idols, their process, and ‘surrendering’ to tour life

Sunday 13 August 2023 07:04 BST
Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery released their debut album as Jockstrap in 2022
Taylor Skye and Georgia Ellery released their debut album as Jockstrap in 2022 (Eddie Whelan)

Listening to your music makes me feel like I’m dying and coming back to life again.” This was written by one Jockstrap fan on the back of a handmade badge that was gifted to them after a recent show in Chicago. Georgia Ellery, vocalist and violinist of the alternative electro-pop duo, holds the souvenir up to her laptop camera for me to see, while producer Taylor Skye peers in from another square on Zoom. Admittedly, rebirth is a dramatic image, but words don’t exactly come easy when trying to describe Jockstrap’s abstract offering, which spans everything from classical to techno. “I like music where anything could happen at any moment and you don’t know what’s going on,” says Skye.

It’s fitting, then, that the past few years have been fairly erratic for the pair who are both 25. Since the release of their debut album, I Love You Jennifer B, in 2022, the duo have gained significant momentum, and were recently shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, alongside Arctic Monkeys and Jessie Ware. Not that the buzz around Jockstrap has affected them. In conversation, they are blasé, insouciant even. Sentences are short and succinct; they let their music do the talking. Playing live has become daily life, with a packed schedule of touring and festivals that includes a forthcoming slot at the Welsh alternative offering Green Man. A few weeks ago, Jockstrap supported Blur at Wembley Stadium (“Good,” they answer casually when asked what it was like to play the historic venue). Before that was a live broadcast from Glastonbury, where Ellery performed not once, but twice – both in Jockstrap and as a member of south London’s Black Country New Road. The band also now have an established and loyal fanbase. “The audience is on our side already and I don’t think I’ve got used to that.”

There’s a good reason for it, though: Jockstrap are creating something new, different and experimental – all the while still appealing to the masses. Those catchy melodies are there, but infrequent enough to keep you hungry. “I’m not very good at repeating riffs,” Skye smiles. “I just do it once and then get bored and then make something different.” I Love You Jennifer B is a 10-track whirlwind that feels akin to a haunted house ride of twisting and turning pop, acoustic, electro, folk, classical, and more. It is, by turns, euphoric and heavy. The juxtaposition of Ellery’s delicate falsetto (akin to Julia Holter) and Sky’s choppy, clunking tech make for an arresting mix. Hooky moments are all the more rewarding when combined with unpredictable shifts as they are on “Concrete Over Water”, “Glasgow” and fan-favourite “50/50”. “I’m really excited by things that surprise me and the people around me,” says Skye. “Some of my favourite musicians are the ones that make something I didn’t think could even be allowed or existed. I’m quite overwhelmed by asking what music is and this has been a nice platform for me to experiment.”

Cornwall-born Ellery met Londoner Skye at Guildhall School of Music & Drama. They come from very different music worlds (Ellery grew up playing in orchestras; Skye loved Skrillex and Kanye West) but there was plenty of common ground too, like, say, their mutual appreciation of Bob Dylan and the club scene. The pair began working together after Ellery sent Skye a song she’d written; he deconstructed it and put it back together. “It just felt right,” says Ellery on first hearing Skye’s work on the track. “He does something that I can’t do that I want to bring to music. It felt like we both understood each other and what we liked.” And so their process was born. Together, they continue to work in a fairly isolated way, bringing that distinctive dual element to the songs. “There’s not many words needed,” says Taylor of their working relationship.

The album’s name Jennifer B is an acronym that stands for something unknown – a secret they vowed never to share. I have a go, anyway. “Nope – our lips are sealed,” says Ellery with a coy smile. This secrecy seems in keeping with the band’s lyrics, which tend to be somewhat cryptic – though, not intentionally. “We work pretty abstractly, so it’s gonna be hard to work out what’s going on,” says Skye. “It’s not like there’s some meaning that we know that they don’t know, it’s just us playing about.”

Playing live shows is the focus right now. “It’s hard to make stuff while on tour, you’ve got to surrender to it,” says Skye, explaining why they’re currently on a writing hiatus. “It’s better to give all of yourself to it.” Having seen Jockstrap perform at Glastonbury, I can confirm they definitely do. Wearing a shiny gold two-piece, Ellery moved around freely with self-assurance; both jagged and supple were her movements as she rallied the crowd. “I like it when people look really comfortable on stage,” Ellery says now, adding that she finds inspiration in performances from pop singers like Lady Gaga who gives “absolutely everything she’s got inside her”.

For Ellery, being part of Jockstrap is an essential part of who she is. “I think music for me has been really affirming about identity – who I am, how I want to perceive myself and how I want others to perceive me,” she says. “It’s something I didn’t realise was happening until we were out there and playing shows.” Sometimes, that process is personal and painful, though. The sonically ethereal “Angst” situates Ellery within a panic attack. The song references lyrics by US singer-songwriter Weyes Blood whose 2019 album Titanic Rising soundtracked the moment. Thankfully, Ellery doesn’t feel the need to get into that headspace when she’s performing. “I don’t think I connect to ‘Angst’ all that much when I sing it live. I think that would be quite insane to go back to those feelings,” she pauses. “There’s lots of imagery in it and it’s good to mark that moment – I think a song does that well, like a tattoo – but when you sing it, you don’t need to go back there.”

Ellery sees creating and performing as a purge of sorts. “I’m only beginning to realise how cathartic and how much of a good crutch it is,” she says. “It’s really important for me to express these feelings or these lyrics and then to see people enjoy it.” It’s a way to control something that once felt out of control; taking the broken pieces and putting them back together. Or perhaps, as that fan’s handmade pin reads, “dying and coming back to life again”.

Green Man Festival takes place in the Brecon Beacons, Wales, from 17 to 20 August

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