GIGsoup talks to Natalia Tena and Sam Apley of Molotov Jukebox about festivals, influences and their journey as musicians to where they are now.
I wonder into the artist village back stage at Kendal Calling after an incredible performance from Molotov Jukebox. I head to meet two of the members, lead Natalia Tena (also known for her role as Osha in Game of Thrones) and violinist Sam Apley. Nat comes gliding over with open arms, hugs me and gives me a kiss on each cheek before pulling up some chairs and calling over band mate Sam Apley for our chat.
Nat:“First I want to say, I’m so glad you’re interviewing us, this is awesome!” Natalia is beaming and I can tell from the get go that we’re going to have a great talk.
Have you guys played at Kendal Calling before?
Sam: Yeah, many years ago we played here. I think we played on one of the Continental drift stages. It was a tiny little show, it was about five or six years ago, way back when we very first started. We were so in awe of the main stages.
Nat: And how beautiful it all is, especially when it doesn’t rain, and that year it didn’t rain either, it’s so beautiful.
Did you ever think you would get to play the main stage?
In unison: No!
Sam: We hoped but never really thought we would.
Nat: We pushed for it, it was the same for Secret Garden Party. We didn’t see it coming.
Sam: Yeah we played Secret Garden Party last weekend, which was a total dream. Like, wow, okay, having looked up to it for so many years thinking, I want to play that stage. The first step onto the main stages makes me really happy.
So, you’ve had an album released earlier this year, tell us about it?
Nat: Well, it’s called ‘Tropical Gypsy’, it is a fusion of Balkanic and salsa, Latin American vibes. It has deep message but also a dancing beat. This album is how we have finally defined our genre.
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
Nat: So many more festivals, Boomtown, we’re going to Ukraine, Germany and Belgium. That’s summer. I’m filming in the autumn, but hopefully we will be doing festivals somewhere in New Zealand and Australia because it will still be their winter.
Sam: That’s one of our aims, we want the European tour, Australia or South America. You’ve gotta dream, right? We’ve got to try and hit that stuff.
So what would be the dream venue or location for you guys to play?
Nat: When I recently went to New Zealand I went to this island called Waiheke which is a wine island. And there’s a dude that has a massive venue. He has acts play and gives everyone wine in this beautiful vineyard and I’d love to play there. I’d love to play Cali, in Columbia, it’s the homeland of salsa. That’s one I’d love to do before I die.
Sam: Argentina would be really nice, I’d love to go back to Brazil and Mexico. We’ve done that though. I’d absolutely love to play Fuji Rock festival in Japan. Oh there’s a few things, New Orleans, New Orleans would be pretty good.
Nat you mentioned that you’re filming in the autumn, what are you working on?
Nat: Yeah this autumn, in fact Sam is helping out, he is part of the production team. It’s called ‘Don’t Fuck Around with Love‘ it is the second film I’m working on with Carlos Marquez-Marcet. I did my first ever Spanish film with him called 10,000 km. As soon as it was finished he said “I want to do another film with you, this is going to be a big film”. And it was, it smashed it at so many film festivals in Spain. We didn’t think anyone was going to watch it. I said to Carlos, I will work with him again if it’s a comedy, because the other film was sad. You know, I’m sick of crying! Make it a comedy, and I want to have a latex nun outfit in it, and he said “done”. The script basically, is based around our lives living on boats on the canals of London. I’m going to be working alongside my best mate, Oona Chaplin, she is going to be my wife in the film. Yeah, I’m really excited about it.
When is the film due to be released?
Nat: It’s 2017.
Sam, do you have any other personal projects over the next year?
Sam: Yes, yes, in my alternate life I build big sculptures. I’ve got a company called Circus Kinetica, we build lots of festival sculptures and stages. We’ve just built a fire breathing church organ Dj booth. It’s about 6 metres tall, it’s a massive, spectacle of a thing. We are currently negotiating taking it out to Australia for their festival season this winter. That’s my current project, the main push at the moment is to make that work.
What would you say your inspirations are when it comes to writing music?
Nat: Death, betrayal, lust, love…
Sam: Wine, dancing…
Nat: The twilight zone, you know that weird time at 3 in the morning, when your thoughts aren’t stopping. When people say a phrase like in a bar or something and you think, that’s amazing. I’m gonna start with what they’ve just said and make them a character in it. Friends as well, ‘Pineapple Girl‘ is written about Oona Chaplin. We have a few songs like that, we see a friend and write a song about them”
Which artists have inspired you, who did you grow up listening to as kids?
Nat: I love Etta James, Nina Simone, and Carla Thomas. My first album when I was 5 was The Beatles, which was my first way into music. My uncle in Spain bought me the best of The Beatles. The double pack, the early years, all in red. And then the later years all in blue. I obsessively listened to all of that, that was my childhood. Then rock and roll, like Chuck Berry, Jerry Lewis they were my obsessions as a kid. I only realised in like the 90s when I was about 11, I remember thinking “oh I’ve gotta buy a NOW… 12“, or whatever it was then. I never knew what any the music my friends were talking about was. That the first inkling I had when I realised I had a place musically, in a timeline.
Sam: Michael Jackson was the first person I listened to obsessively when I was tiny. Michael Jackson and Paul Simon. My parents and their friends would play that to me when I was little. Classical music was a big part of my upbringing, then I massively shied away from it as I got a bit older. Not that it necessarily feeds into any of our music but the epic aesthetic of classical music and dedication has certainly inspired me. Stephane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt’s partner from the Quintette du Hot Club de France, jazz. As a violinist, there is no one that even remotely comes close to him. Gogol Bordello, big influence in terms of our band specifically, I remember seeing their show and thinking, okay, you can make a really exciting, electrifying show using instruments many traditionally think of as a bit out of date, classical. That led me down the Balkan, Klezmer route of music.”
How did you guys get together as a band, there’s quite a few of you?
Nat: So basically, we fell in love with another band, and we ran away with that band and made a musical family. Adam, the guitarist now has been friends with Sam since they were children basically.
Sam: Yeah, we had a band together at school…
Nat: We had a guitarist who didn’t turn up to our gigs… Oh my god! *all attention turns towards two flies on the table in front of us* Two flies mating, I’ve never seen that before!
Sam: No, no it was a wasp, that’s a wasp fighting a fly!
Nat: It wasn’t babe! It was flies making love. Anyway… This guy never turned up, we had a guy who played the trumpet who was probably on drugs, all the time. And we rang Adam, we taught him four chords and that was it.
Sam: Yeah he learnt it outside the gig 20 minutes before we went on.
Nat: Tom our bassist, knew Adam and they knew Rami, our drummer. They had always played together. We also had a trumpet player who never turned up to rehearsals, a real bad team player, a great trumpet player, but not a team player. We then found Angus. Angus is the most musically talented in the band.
Sam: Angus is by far the most musically talented. He leads a big band, he plays a lot of music all the time and when we said we needed brass he was just like, cool I’ll find some dudes.
Nat: All the brass, were brought in as Angus’ babies.
Sam: It’s been a long journey, we had been through more than one person for each position in the band, 26 or 27 people have been through the band to reach this point.
So is this it now? The finished product for the band?
Sam: Yes, finally we were like, when we found Rob, the second trumpet player. We finally locked down.
Nat: We are done now.
Sam: This is it now, yeah!
This Molotov Jukebox article was written by Lauren Scott, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson.