Tropic Thunder: An Evening With Molotov Jukebox @ Bristol’s Thekla

By April 28, 2016

Music. Bristol.


Friday, April 22nd marked a momentous occasion when tropical troupe Molotov Jukebox made landfall in Bristol at Thekla.

Despite the grim, overcast cloud smudges and the rain and wind, I had the pleasure of spending a brief period with vocalist/accordionist Natalia Tena and vocalist/violinist Sam Apley in their tour van, as well as the rest of the band for 33% of a pint in the nearby pub (I’m fairly sure my pint is still in the dressing room, right where I left it). On stage, the band provided the sunlight where there was none, with their (literal, in the case of Sam) buoyancy and contagious energy; a brilliant performance.

Molotov Jukebox hadn’t been on my radar for long when I chose to interview and see them play, I must confess. Being a die-hard fan of the extreme metal scenes across the world, the band was a massive departure from my comfort zone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious though. I love swimming in the deep end, expanding my horizons. Molotov Jukebox was a big plunge. Think of flamenco, ska and funk, put them in a blender with some fruit salad; you’ve got Molotov Jukebox. Fortunately, the band was remarkable in their vitality, their persistent aura of passion was mesmerising. Their attitude to the audience was fantastic (even handing out prizes of tinned pineapples) and their presence on stage was spectacular. The sound quality brought both old and new tunes to life, particular highlights being ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Trying’ and the new single ‘Pineapple Girl’. From trumpet solos by Angus Moncrieff, to Remi Sherrington’s deft jazz grooves on drums, Molotov Jukebox were a sight to behold.

Think of flamenco, ska and funk, put them in a blender with some fruit salad; you’ve got Molotov Jukebox. Fortunately, the band was remarkable in their vitality, their persistent aura of passion was mesmerising.

Wearing my Mayhem t-shirt in a sea of people, I personally stood out like a sore thumb. A considerable portion of the audience was dressed up more appropriately for the occasion, flowers, paint and eccentric dresses aplenty swarmed the boat with a teeming atmosphere that the band clearly lapped up. Despite looking like I was in the wrong place, I felt like I was in the right one.

I had spent just over fifteen minutes with Natalia and Sam before the gig. Most will know Natalia as Osha from HBO’s Game Of Thrones and/or Tonks from Harry Potter. Her and Sam formed Molotov Jukebox in 2008. Eager to delve into their minds to discover more information about the band, I put them in the spotlight.

So how’s the tour going so far?

Natalia: The tour is pretty good! I was really surprised by Norwich actually. All the crowds we’ve had have been really exceptional for a weekday night, they made us feel like it was a Friday night so we’re really excited for a Friday night at Thekla in Bristol, which is sold out, so that’s gonna be amazing.

You were in Exeter last night. How do you think Bristol will be in comparison?

Natalia: I think the crowds will be rowdier because its sold out, the energy in the room will be higher.

Sam: I mean, last time we played here there was water running off the walls because it was so sweaty. It was out of control, insane and, y’know, know that we’ve got the full brass section with us this time, it’s only going to be more intense. It’s the night we’ve been most excited about for the tour.
I’ve listened to your new album Tropical Gypsy. I really sensed the passion in the music, how cohesive it was, how all the instruments really gelled together. When you were making the album, did that fit in line with the aims that you had with the album?

N: Yeah, I think so! Because our moniker was ‘Tropical Gypsy’ as a genre before we started making the album and that was what we decided what our music was so someone was like “Let’s the just call the album that.” So, we had that marker when we were writing songs, when we were thinking about putting it together.

What inspires you to write in this particular style of music?

S: I think it’s the sense of fun, both fun and seriousness you get from the areas of music that we’ve drawn from, y’know? The Balkan thing and the Latin thing; it says a lot! There’s heavy themes to it but it’s done in a really exciting, lush and fresh style. So that seems to be the most fun kind of music to make. It’s stuff that makes people dance. That, to us, has always been key. That’s how we wanted every to tune be. It’s not ready until people ‘feel’.

In terms of personal influences, icons, where do you draw from?

N: I think, for me, just stories that happened in your life, like in the pub if your mates say something clever and you go “Oh! That’s a good lyric! That could work; I could tell that kind of story.” Or people we know, that’s happened. ‘Pineapple Girl’ was about a couple of our friends.
S: And music that’s been around, I guess. Nat always had lots of salsa in the family. You’re just, kind of, surrounded by this music. I couldn’t necessarily pick songs, it’s like a feeling. For me, Gogol Bordello was a big influence in terms of the feel. So much of it has been about the feeling. Lots of reggae music too, y’know.

N: When we were fourteen we must have, by osmosis, been inspired by this!

How did the band come about?

N: So, basically we were another band of a mutual friend of ours and we kind of ran away from that band and made our own from the family, us two, and then over the years…we asked Adam the guitarist to join, they’ve (Sam and Adam) been friends for ages, since they were kids. We’ve gone through about seventeen or eighteen musicians and that’s often been very sad, but now I think we’ve got the dream team.

S: We haven’t changed anyone from the core six since just before we released the last album (Carnival Flower). That’s the longest it had ever been, so I think this is it. And hopefully we’ve finally got the brass section locked as well.

N: That took a while too because we had a lot of deps that couldn’t do it but now, the three we have, are just amazing musicians. We all need walking brass sections in our lives, basically.

Is it true you guys got banned from Chatroulette?

N: No–

S: Yes! Halfway through shooting the video (I Need It), they banned us because you (Natalia) were playing in a bikini and they thought that was offensive, even though…every third video…was a dick.

N: So many.

S: Though we did find out last night that the drummer of our support band, not with his penis out, was in the video!

Do you have any plans to do something similar again? Maybe not on Chatroulette this time.

N: Well, we just brought out our new video, Pineapple Girl, have you seen it?

I have.

N: Yes! So that’s what we’re pushing at the moment, the next one, we’re maybe thinking about making it an animation? We’re not entirely sure, that we think that might be, that’s the vibe and then after that, we’ll see!

Natalia, obviously people know you from Game Of Thrones and Harry Potter amongst other works. How has your work there changed your way of thinking towards your approach to music, if at all?

N: They haven’t really, I mean, I started doing this particular band towards the end of Harry Potter. They’re completely separate worlds, so, no. I think music’s been helped by being able to be amazingly involved in these incredible things, for which I’ve been so lucky. But no, it’s not really affected it in any way.

You guys have done a lot on PledgeMusic. How important has that been to you as a band?

N: Massively. The first time we did it we were terrified, it was a big risk! It was scary, we were really jumping in without ever knowing what we were doing. The fact that there are so many people out there that give a fuck about our music is so humbling and amazing. It really pushes you to deliver your best. There’s also an added a pressure that you’ve gotta give back to these amazing people that are helping you. It’s amazing, I still don’t understand how it’s happened.

You were donating 5% of your last campaign to Womenkind Worldwide. What made you choose that charity in particular?

N: I’m a feminist and I’m trying to be more proactive, but I still angry about women not having the same rights anywhere on this planet. This charity is great because they work within the community, with the leaders. It’s not like they barge in and give orders, y’know, “You’re all wrong!”, they’re very diplomatic and work incredibly hard to achieve their goals.

One last question; If you have any artists that you would love to cover, who would they be?

N: I love to cover a lot of female artists, but I came up with this idea, I don’t know if it’s right, but it’s covering the opposite sex. So I’d have to cover a male song and I’d love to cover something really crap like Peter Andre! I really want to cover Mysterious Girl. I want to do something with the brass section–

S: Spice Girls! Ace Of Bass… We used to do ‘I Want to Make You Sweat’ from Bob Marley. Adam didn’t like it because whenever his guitar strings broke at gigs, we used to start playing that and there was nothing he could do. He changes them now before tours, he’s got a bit more professional these days.
I always thought you guys would be able to pull of some Police pretty well.

S: Yeah! I’d love to play Roxanne. “Rooooooxanne!”

Molotov Jukebox are currently touring the UK. Their latest album, ‘Tropical Gypsy’ is out now.

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