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Molly Lewis


Spellbinding and critically acclaied professional whistler Molly Lewis has shared her debut LP On The Lips, out now through Jagjaguwar.

Consider this your invitation to Café Molly, a lounge bar like they don’t make them anymore. The lights are low, the martinis are ice cold, the banquettes are velvet, and the stage is set for the electrifying talent of whistler Molly Lewis. Molly’s soft-focus cocktail music conjures up visions of classic Hollywood jazz clubs, Italian cinema soundtracks and lingering embraces between lovers.

After the exotica stylings of The Forgotten Edge EP and the tropicalia-indebted Mirage EP, Molly wanted to encapsulate the sound of Café Molly for her debut album On The Lips, a dreamy tribute to classic mood music. That spellbinding sound, which usually comes to life in Los Angeles, has also popped up in Mexico City dancehalls, graced the runways of Paris and London Fashion Weeks, and made a magical appearance at a children's fairyland.

Molly Lewis’s love for this smoky corner of the world doesn’t end with her songwriting. She is a devotee and an archivist, capturing and enlivening the pieces that endure. She was a regular at the legendary shows by Marty and Elayne, the lounge duo who spent almost 40 years playing LA’s Dresden bar. The duo came to global fame after an appearance in 1996’s Swingers and kept going long after that spotlight faded, finally finishing their nightly residency after the death of Marty at the ripe age of 89 last year. “That felt like the end of an era,” says Molly. But there are still flashes of that world to be found, and she finds them. “I’ve been spending a lot of time in New York lately, where there are a lot more of those moody, classic jazz bars,” she explains.

Molly celebrates the poet Kenneth ‘Sonny’ Donato, a former drinking buddy of Charles Bukowski, on the album’s swooning ‘Sonny’. “He’s a total LA character with a great voice and great style, as well as a champion of me and my music,” says Molly, who met Sonny when he was tending bar at Hollywood’s iconic Musso and Frank. “He would MC my Café Molly shows and introduce the night with a poem about LA. Everyone loves him.”

Over the past few years Molly has flexed her one-of-a-kind musical skill alongside Mark Ronson on the Barbie soundtrack, as well as with Dr Dre, Karen O, actor John C Reilly, Mac De Marco, fashion houses Chanel, Gucci and Hermes, and folk rock royalty Jackson Browne. After a performance with longtime friend Weyes Blood on Burt Bacharach’s "The Look of Love" during a Café Molly evening at LA’s Zebulon, Molly supported the singer on a US tour, introducing her sound to a brand new audience. “I forget sometimes that what I do has that factor of surprise and uniqueness – it is something that most people have never seen before,” says Molly.

She too might never have entered the idiosyncratic world of whistling had she not as a teenager seen the 2005 documentary Pucker Up, which details the International Whistling Competition. Equally amused and bemused by the eccentric event, in 2012 she competed herself. Spending her early twenties in Berlin she then moved to LA to work in film – and returned to the contest in 2015 to take home first prize. One evening Molly did a turn at an open mic at the Kibitz Room, a tiny late-night bar inside historic LA deli Canter’s. Her display led to appearances at performance art happenings across the city, and she soon caught the ear of independent record label Jagjaguwar.

On The Lips was recorded with producer Thomas Brenneck of the Menahan Street Band, Budos Band, Dap-Kings and El Michels Affair, at his newly-built Diamond West Studios in Pasadena. The pair bonded over the work of 1960s soundtrack composers Alessandro Alessandroni and Piero Piccioni, and, with something of an open door policy during the sessions, a stream of acclaimed musicians ended up across the album’s 10 tracks. “We were all sitting around having beers and amazing people would just come by,” says Molly, who fitted out the studio with a vintage tiki bar she picked up at a local flea market. “It was a wonderful place to be social, sometimes almost too social!” Step forward Nick Hakim, who would lend bossa nova piano to ‘Cocosette’, which also features the smooth sounds of Latin Grammy-nominated Brazilian guitarist Rogê. Elsewhere Leland Whitty of Canadian instrumental group Badbadnotgood lends a searing saxophone line to the jazzy ‘Lounge Lizard’, while Sal Samano and Alex Garcia of Chicano soul group Thee Sacred Souls appear on the melancholy ‘Crushed Velvet’. Badbadnotgood’s Chester Hansen also plays bass across the album, while Beck collaborator Roger Joseph Manning Jr. lends organ to the lush ‘Moon Tan’, which pays homage to film score composer Piero Umiliani. Experimental jazz pianist Marco Benevento and El Michels Affair’s Leon Michels both crop up on the perky ‘Silhouette’. There are a couple of covers, too, just like you’ll hear at a Café Molly night. This time it’s Dave Berry’s 1960s pop standard ‘The Crying Game’ and Jeanette’s ‘Porqué Te Vas’, which Molly fell in love with after hearing it on the soundtrack of Carlos Saura’s acclaimed 1976 drama Cría Cuervos. “The original is such a great song – I always wanted to do a few covers and I don't really gravitate towards more upbeat music in my own songwriting, so it was fun to try and think of a more upbeat track to include, to try to kind of change up the movement of the record.”

With her intoxicating compositions, and wry brand of stagecraft (she might not be singing up there, but she can sure tell a joke) Molly Lewis looks set to join her heroes in the storied lore of the Los Angeles lounge scene and beyond. So pull up a chair, order your favorite drink, and prepare to fall for On The Lips.

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