Professional whistler Molly Lewis is the old-school Hollywood heroine we need

OOne of the greatest remaining bastions of Hollywood’s golden age, Musso & Frank was loved by everyone from Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe to Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. The latest star to call herself a regular at the storied restaurant is North America’s premiere whistler, Molly Lewis. It’s a fitting match, as Lewis’ unique, tongue-in-cheek camp confection of tiki-bar blues is quite unlike anything released since the heady days of the exotica boom of the 1950s. Lewis’s high-pitched bird song is endlessly mesmerizing, not unlike the deafening coloratura soprano Yma Sumac, who was the fiery Ariana Grande of her day. Want a musician who looks like he could score Quentin Tarantino’s next movie? Molly Lewis is your wife.

I meet Lewis on a muggy summer evening at the infamous Los Angeles hideout, just before the release of their second EP. Mirage. They regularly perform at their own fabulous club nights at Cafe Molly, whistling spaghetti western soundtracks, Bond themes and their own compositions, and sharing the stage with the likes of actor/musician John C. Reilly and the Slacker Rocker Mac will share De Marco. But how did she end up as a professional whistler, not least one who has gone by names as varied as Dr. Dre, who worked with fashion house Chanel and Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs?

The answer, says the 32-year-old, is random. “My friend Nora hosted a performance art night,” she explains, raising a martini to her lips. “Whistling was something my friends knew I was good at and they asked me to sing a song. I was like, uh…” Lewis actually didn’t need too much convincing. She’d already performed at an open mic night at the Kibitz Room, a dimly lit bar at the back of LA Deli Canter’s, and was ready to try again. “It was fun surprising some people, but I didn’t think it was a possible career at all,” she says. “It was just something I enjoyed doing.”

But what seemed like a novelty quickly became serious business. “Every little thing would lead to something else,” she says. It wasn’t long before her occasional performances caught the attention of independent record label Jagjaguwar, releasing her debut EP in 2021. The Forgotten Edge. Six tracks of hypnotic Ennio Morricone-inspired originals transformed their otherworldly zing from quirky sideshow to headline talent.

Despite her American flavor, Lewis was born in the small town of Mullumbimby in New South Wales, Australia. When she was a child, her parents moved to LA to pursue a career in the film industry – before she was born, Lewis’ father had helped French high-wire artist Philippe Petit scale the World Trade Center, a fantastic feat that would later become known in retold in the 2008 documentary man on the wire. However, Lewis was largely unaware of her starry upbringing. “It’s fun growing up in Hollywood,” she explains. “I was too young to really know certain things. David Lynch was a dad in my primary school and I was like ‘whatever’.” When she was 13, the family moved back to Australia, and it was there that Lewis became strangely enchanted by a 2005 documentary forgiven, who warmly detailed an annual international whistling competition in North Carolina. She would eventually compete in 2012 as an avid whistler-wannabe. But it would be nearly a decade before she could call herself a pro. After studying film at the University of Sydney, she spent her early twenties in Berlin.

“I once made the mistake of telling a journalist that those were my techno years, but I was joking and they wrote that down!” Rather than endlessly raving — or even whistling occasionally — Lewis babysat, worked in a café and enjoyed the aimless hustle and bustle of the city. “But at a certain point I was like, what am I doing besides drinking cheap beer in the park?” Lewis moved to Los Angeles and got the kickstart she craved. After working in the legal department of american idol, Lewis got a job at a commercial director and began to embed himself in the city’s artistic underworld. “There was something going on every night at that point — so much fun,” Lewis recalls.

But it was the release of The Forgotten Edge that really changed the course of Lewis’ life. What was once an underground eccentricity was now a cult venture and the debut EP also saw a slew of offbeat international gigs. “I get some very weird requests in my DMs — but not from guys,” she says of the direct messages she receives through Instagram. There have been invitations to perform Handel’s Sarabande with the Orchester National de Paris at French lingerie shows while surrounded by BMX bikers and offers to entertain the glitterati at Chanel dinners at the Cannes Film Festival. There was even a trip to the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, where she performed in Gucci. “I felt like a pop star,” beams Lewis.

Somehow, between all the globetrotting – a look at her Instagram reveals her most recent gig was a candlelight concert on a ridiculously picturesque Greek island, as well as recent gigs at old dance halls in Mexico City – Lewis found the time to make a second EP . Mirage transplants their dreamy sound to a fabulous fictional land, this time with the accompaniment of South American master guitarist Rogê. “When we made music together, I thought of this imaginary place, this island between our musical worlds,” says Lewis, explaining the Brazilian-inspired compositions. “I love fantasy,” she adds. “I wanted one for a while Lord of the rings-style card on the back.”

Featuring a cover of the 1940s jazz standard Nature Boy, the release offers an idiosyncratic look at Lewis’ diverse interests, including the idiosyncratic fringes of popular science; the atmospheric “Dolphinese” draws on her obsession with the controversial John Lilly Dolphin House experiment of the 1960s. Lewis is also able to deepen her fascination with film, creating lavish music videos on a minimal budget, including a spy-thriller-like promo for Cabana de Mel, for which she is based in LA’s posh Bonaventure Hotel crept, filming location for the blockbuster of the nineties True Lies.

“There’s an intersection, there’s an underwater scene, there’s a helicopter, there’s guns,” she explains. The video for “Miracle Fruit” is also a vivid tribute to another classic Hollywood moment. Alongside a limp-haired “hunk,” Lewis salsas on a floating platform in a soft-focus fever dream that uses body doubles in homage to Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley Naked Gun 2½. “There’s a scene where they step back a little bit and he throws her up and she goes between his legs and twirls around and I was like, ‘Let’s do this!'” And with that, Lewis comes off her second Cocktail and head to the Hollywood Bowl for a night with Dvorak. Who said old Hollywood was dead?

Mirage will be released digitally on September 16th and on vinyl and CD on October 28th

Molly Lewis performs at Joe’s Pub in New York on September 24th and Laylow in London on November 3rd

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/molly-lewis-whistler-interview-mirage-ep-b2162239.html Professional whistler Molly Lewis is the old-school Hollywood heroine we need

JOE HERNANDEZ

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