Whistling like an almost dead art. Can Molly Lewis keep him alive?
Molly lewis lives on top of a steep hill in east Los Angeles, where a group of wild peacocks roam lazily, as if they own the place. Peacocks and peacocks don’t have a lot of bird song – they make a high-pitched “croak” that’s “not cute,” Lewis said – but other birds have found themselves in conversation with the Whistler. 31 years.
“If I walk in the woods and hear a bird cry, I try to imitate it,” she said, lamenting that the talks are a bit one-sided: “I probably have a terrible accent in ‘bird.’ “
Humans tend to be more impressed. In her early twenties, Lewis was a veteran of the competitive whistle niche world; in 2015, she won first prize in the female orchestra division at the Masters of Musical Whistling tournament. These days, she’s focusing more on Cafe Molly, her lounge show that has become a trending affair in Los Angeles nightlife.
Led by Lewis and his band, the act typically features special guests: John C. Reilly stopped by for perform slim whitman, and indie rocker Mac DeMarco to do Frank Sinatra. All the while, Lewis will be holding the mic, pursing his lips when it’s time to take on his roles.
The show also helped her secure a recording deal. Jagjaguwar label scouts reached out after attending a Café Molly event, and during lockdown, Lewis learned the guitar, which helped her write formal songs. On Friday, she will release her debut EP, “The Forgotten Edge”, produced with the help of producer Thomas Brenneck, best known for his work with Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. The set is partly exotic tiki bar and partly a spaghetti-western dream landscape, each track anchored by Lewis’s theremin-type whistle. (Pre-orders come with a mint lip balm.)
“I always felt like we were making soundtracks for lost movies,” Lewis said.
The EP was named after the colloquial term for Lewis’s micro-neighborhood atop the peacock-covered hill near Dodger Stadium. “It’s officially called Victor Heights,” she said on a recent hot afternoon, walking up a particularly steep street to a scenic vantage point. For a while, she explained, reaching for air, these few blocks were clearly not assigned to any police station, making them a reputation for lawlessness. “This is why he became known as” – here she adopted a dramatic tone, as if to introduce a radio mystery – “‘the forgotten edge. ‘ I just loved the name. It sounded so dark.
Lewis was born in Sydney, but raised in Los Angeles, before eventually returning to Australia for high school and college. (Her family lives in Mullumbimby, known as “Australia’s biggest small town.”) She comes from an artistically inclined home: her mother, Rhyl, is a music supervisor and her father, Mark, is an artist. documentary maker, specializing in animals and subcultures. His influential 1988 film, “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History,” is viewed in schools around the world.
When Lewis became interested in whistling as a teenager, his parents showed him the 2005 documentary “Pucker Up,” which takes place behind the scenes at the now defunct International Whistlers Convention in Louisburg, North Carolina, and has a quality similar to that of Christopher Guest. to that. Shortly thereafter, she was competing in Louisbourg herself, winning the “Whistler who traveled the greatest distance” award in 2012. Lewis moved to Los Angeles a year later, where whistling concerts of all kinds. , from tours to work sessions, finally took over. (She was recently in the studio playing a whistle role for Dr. Dre.)
The city “kind of spellbound me,” Lewis said. “But I also think LA is the only place in the world where I can do what I do. I really don’t think this would have happened anywhere else.
Lewis gravitates towards the city’s older establishments – places where the food may not be great, but the vibe is. “Go to Hollywood, to any restaurant, and Molly is going to know the 80-year-old bartender,” said DeMarco, whose partner, Kiera McNally, is close to Lewis and appears in the video for the track. “Oceanic feeling” alongside Reilly and a wise hawk. “It’s Molly’s vibe.”
In true form, when asked where she’d like a bite to eat, Lewis suggested the Tam O’Shanter, a storybook-style truck stop in the village of Atwater that dates back to 1922. She trusted at the waiter’s suggestion for a cocktail (the ‘Table 31’, named after the corner where Walt Disney regularly sat) and studied the menu with amusement. “What’s a ‘toad in the hole’? She asked, laughing.
Whistling was a relatively common act in the music world during Tam O’Shanter’s lifetime. Artists like Elmo Tanner and Muzzy Marcellino made careers with their lips, and in 1967 the whistling song “I was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” became an international success.
Is the ever increasing speed of society replacing the simple pleasures of life with more complex pleasures? “I think, in a way, it’s an art lost in that way,” Lewis said of his calling. But revivalism is not really his goal. And if she’s been the only indie rock whistler all her life, that’s fine too.
“I want to play beautiful music that makes people feel something,” she said. “And it turns out that whistling is the only thing I can do that gets me into the world of musicians.”
Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs was one of the first great musicians to see the possibilities with Lewis. In 2016, the two carried out a duet, one might say, of the gospel song “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” during a concert tribute to Harry Dean Stanton. “I’ve always thought of the voice as some kind of instrument,” said Karen O. “Hissing is that other instrument – it’s human breath. I’ve never seen someone who can whistle like Molly. It is truly extraordinary.
No one around Lewis seems surprised at her ability to make whistling a career, but sometimes she even can’t believe it. “It worked for some crazy reason,” she said, still taking it all. “I’ll try to ride it. See how it goes.”