Molotov Jukebox turn up the heat at Islington Metal Works
On Thursday 24th May, Molotov Jukebox held a release show for their recently completed Bang EP. With a sound coined “Gyp-Step” and a lead singer whose acting CV has been flourishing with roles in Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, the six-piece has been doing the rounds on the festival circuit, even making it as far afield as Brazil. As if the day hadn’t been hot enough, the crowd packed into Islington Metal Works, shoulder to shoulder, to sweat some more and experience the band first-hand.
Opening band, More Like Trees, worked up noise in the room and were rambunctious with their unique brand of reggae-tinged alt-pop. With a percussionist who has opted to smack the side of a wooden box rather than lug around a drum-kit and a bassist who has opted to lug around a double-bass rather than a bass guitar, their sound sits somewhere between the acoustic stoner-ska of Sublime and a Mariachi band. Topped off with a cartoon-growl vocal style that is as much Tom Waits as it is The Muppet Show, the chance of anybody being bored by their set was considerably low. They were a lot of fun, certainly memorable and their manic energy and razor sharp tempo-changes made for a powerful set that left the audience suitably enthralled in preparation for Molotov Jukebox.
The show was running late, but when Molotov Jukebox finally took the stage they did so to a rapturous reception. The six band members crammed on to the small stage beaming with delight, instantly endearing the audience to them and once some acoustic guitar issues had been overcome, they amusingly opened their set with Richard Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. Once their set got rolling, the dark room was lit up with their frenetic blend of swing, ska and gypsy. The chilled out vibe of Double Dare brought to mind the likes of Lily Allen and Blondie and had the crowd joyously bopping along with singer Natalia holding the audience with undeniable charm.
To great applause, the bold and brash Laid To Rest was powered through with swagger and attitude, the accordion and violin interplay providing an alluring and unusual vitality, punctuated by grandiose trumpet bursts and a sturdy funky bass line. As their set continued they recalled the likes of The Specials, early No Doubt and even Gogol Bordello. All six musicians remained locked in tight with each other, effortlessly intertwining acoustic guitar, trumpet, violin, bass, drums and accordion for a dense and busy wall of sound that wasn’t overcomplicated or messy. Though clearly accomplished musicians, not only did they not miss a beat, but they also delivered their set with an effervescence and energy that can’t be learned.
Proudly delivering music made for dancing, it was hard not to get swept away by Molotov Jukebox’s charisma and joie de vivre. Their meshing of musical styles is perhaps their most noteworthy attribute and there are many genre tags that almost describe them, but not quite; moments of almost-rock, guitar passages that verge on flamenco, trumpet that adds the ska flavour but by no means determines the style of a song and the gypsy-like violin and accordion. On paper it seems like a mix that perhaps wouldn’t yield such a great result, but in the hands of Molotov Jukebox the ingredients are blended wonderfully. Their music undeniably lends itself to a live setting, as the immediacy created by the band’s energy and joy of playing is such a vital element to their music’s powerful delivery and as such it was great to see them in full-flight. However, their pop-hooks are so potent and their layers of instrumentation so deceptively detailed that there is no doubt their new EP is worthy of attention.
I interviewed the band prior to their show and asked them about the recording of their EP.
Are you guys excited to play tonight?
Tom Wilson (bass): Yeah, definitely.
Had any disastrous gigs lately?
Adam Burke (guitar): We had a gig we had to drive six hours to get to and when we got there they couldn’t get the sound working. And literally once they turned it on they were like “go!” and we had time for two songs.
Natalia Tena (lead vocals/accordion): That was horrible.
How was the recording process of your EP?
Adam: It was pretty seamless. We had recorded with the same producer before and had a good relationship with him so we really just went in and it was go go go.
Were you trying to capture your live show or did you approach the recording from a different angle?
Sam Apley (vocals/violin): We tried to expand a little bit beyond that. Last time we just tried to capture the sound of us playing in a room together and when you put that on record you lose so much of the performance. So it’s not like a live show this time and we’ve added in other layers of instrumentation.
Natalia: Every time we’ve recorded something it’s been like “it’s good, but I now know what I want to do for the next one.”
Angus Moncrieff (trumpet): When you’re recording you have more of an opportunity to hear what everyone else in the band is doing…
Max Burnett-Wain (drums): And you realise you hate it.
Is your sound something that took a while to develop, or did it happen more or less as soon as you all got in a room together?
Natalia: Some songs were really easy to get. Like, Double Dare hasn’t changed really.
Sam: I think the sound as a whole is something we’ve come across serendipitously. We didn’t set out to create our sound. I think names are important and I think our name has directly or indirectly led to this genre-less sound.
Angus: It’s a curious thing, what is our sound? Because we cobble a lot of different things together and yet a couple of weeks ago we were in the rehearsal studio working on a new song and it was like “this doesn’t sound like us.” And so far we haven’t cracked that.
Is your songwriting process a group effort or do you have a main songwriter who brings a composition to the rest of the band?
Max: We talk and talk and talk. And argue.
Natalia: Usually a riff will happen first then we add some lyrics, followed by giving it to the rest of the band and asking “what can you do with that?”
At this stage of your career what are your biggest hurdles?
Sam: The fact that mainstream artists have hundreds of thousands of pounds behind them and unsigned people like us who have to compete on their level have nothing.
Natalia: A problem that we’ve been having is people listen to our music and they say “we like it, but we don’t know how to define it” whereas in Brazil they don’t care, it’s just music and they like it and they like to dance to it. That’s what’s great about Brazil.
Adam: Over here it’s like “since we don’t know what category to put it in we just won’t put it in any.”
Natalia, how do go about juggling your acting commitments with band commitments?
Natalia: As we got bigger there have been clashes. This year my agent has had to be a lot harder with people that I’m working with, like blocking out time for Game of Thrones. She’s really made it a priority and has been amazing.
What have you got planned for the next year or so?
Natalia: I want to record an album and I want to play in New York and I want to play at Day of the Dead in Mexico, dressed up as a dead person.