Gypstep six-piece Molotov Jukebox: "Live music is the essence of what we do"

Molotov Jukebox play at Reset Magazine's launch party on Monday. Here they talk to us about world domination, involuntary calypso skanking, and why Spanish villagers cross themselves when Natalia walks by.

Jayne Robinson

Last updated: 23rd Feb 2011.
Originally published: 22nd Feb 2011

Gypsy-punk-folk-dance-otter-disco-party band Molotov Jukebox are hard to pin down; both physically and metaphorically speaking.

In performance they're a dizzying kaleidoscope of colours, aural delights and instruments, their relentless energy combining to create an onstage carnival of sights and sounds. And the music they create is just as irrepressible as the band members themselves; refusing to be packed into any kind of genre definition buy its sheer exuberance and eclectic influences. The band themselves call it 'GypStep'; "a blend of all the musical genres and styles we like, but always sorta grounded in a traditional gypsy sound".

Fronted by the magnetic Natalia Tena, who you might recognise from films such as Harry Potter and About a Boy, the band is a chaotic melting pot of passions, influences and experiences shared by all six members. And it seems that the enthusiasm is infectious, with The Evening Standard already calling them 'The Real Stars of 2011'. 

The six-piece play at London's The Camp on Monday 28th February, as part of Reset Magazine's launch party. We got them to sit still for long enough to talk to us about world domination, involuntary calypso skanking, and why religious Spanish villagers cross themselves when Natalia walks by.

You're known for your energetic live performances. What can fans expect at the Reset party next week?

Tom: A lot of sweat, the occasional rude word, a bottle of rum and Nat playing her accordion like a drunken sea captain.

Sam: A night of mayhem, naughtiness and a big load of dancing and sweating. Like really loads of it. And they'll probably get lucky as well...

Angus: They should expect to dance their arses off and get very sweaty.

Adam: They can expect to find themselves curious about why their drink is suddenly only half full and their shoes are wet. It's because we can make people dance without them even knowing it. They'll look down after minute or so and see their own hips trying to calypso-skank off into the sunset!

What sort of response do you get from people who've never seen your band before?

 Tom: A lot of smiles. I think its because we take the music more seriously than we take ourselves. We've always made sure that people walk away as sweaty and excited about the show as we are.

Sam: Incredibly positive. Most people are very excited to hear something that is new and different but that they can still connect to. There is usually dancing and shouting involved.

Angus: People seem to love it! In the middle of the last gig, one guy said to me that we'd captured the zeitgeist... for the sake of the world, we can only pray that he is wrong.

Adam: Generally people get it pretty quickly. After a while it apparently seems perfectly natural to hear an accordion-led Caribbean groove descend into 8 bars of early 90s computer game music and back. Some first timers are simply impressed by the sheer amount we manage to sweat onstage - except Angus, who somehow walks offstage clean and dry every time, despite having blown a hole in the microphone with his trumpet...

Max: The response I have observed when talking to fans after our shows is very positive. It usually starts off with them just listening to a few songs, regardless if it is their type of music, and by the end, I see them dancing and screaming along with everyone else in the crowd. They leave wanting more…

Natalia, you were raised in Spain, is that correct? How has your Spanish upbringing influenced the kind of music you make?

Natalia: Ah well, I wasn't raised in Spain, but in London by Spanish parents, Mum from south (Extremadura), Dad from North (Pais Basco). I've always spent a lot of time in Spain though, all school holidays as my extended family are all there. Every Summer I'd go to my Mum's village in the South were the women still wear black when their husbands die and religion is still ingrained in their culture (villagers cross themselves when I walk by. Some see me as a she-devil. I kind of take it as a compliment seeing as they think she-devils also comprise of women that own and drive their own car as well as unmarried women that have sex). A Spanish upbringing has affected I'm sure my temperament as well as my relationship with music. Music was always in my house. Any occasion would be accompanied by song and dance lots of clapping and shouting. My Dad, Mum and Aunt would come out with some mean three part harmonies when Mum picked up her guitar. I also have a deep affection for Flamenco, it vibrates with something in me, when I hear it my hairs stand on end. Maybe all that would explain the Latin vibe intermingled with our songs and rhythms.

How does the songwriting process work? Do you all chip in or does one person take main responsibility?

Adam: I think we all have our own particular brand of nonsense to throw into the pot. Influences become more varied and interesting as when we meet generally one person's been  listening to nothing but Louis Prima and show tunes all week and someone else has rediscovered Ethiopian jazz and 80s kids cartoon themes...

Tom: Usually it starts with an accordion or guitar riff and we play around and then imagine where it could go. We don't have writing sessions, someone will come in with something and we all walk away with something completely different.

Sam: Generally it starts with a little line/chord pattern/lyrical phrase that someone has been playing with. At some point after fiddling with it for a while they will bring it to the group whereupon it will get the full treatment from the band. Generally we go through a few versions of a tune before we are happy. Playing one out then judging reactions and reworking things...

Angus: Often a new idea comes from one or two members - usually Adam and/or Nat - but then at rehearsal we all contribute to work it up to being a finished song.

Where did the band's name come from?

Sam: I was in a music store in Russia a few years ago that caught fire and the sound system was going mental. Let's just say it stuck with me.

The genre of your music is hard to pin down, but you've referred to it as 'GypStep' in the past. What is 'GypStep'?

Sam: The only way we have so far been able to easily describe our music, otherwise it becomes a very long list of adjectives.

Tom: It's all taken with a grain of salt. It's a way of describing your band and not using the line "it's kinda like…" It's something that is a lot more free and not tied down to one style. We throw everything into the blender along with some sleepless nights and Gystep is what’s left.

Angus: It's hard to pin down because we don't play just one style - we are supposed to be a jukebox, after all! Ultimately we'll blend whatever styles we need to make a particular song work. But no doubt the presence of the violin, accordion and acoustic guitar means that our sound leans towards a gypsy/folk thing - but of course that's on top of a driving groove from Tom and Max.

Adam: I'd say Gypstep is our particular blend of all the musical genres and styles we like, but always sorta grounded in a traditional gypsy sound. It sort of started with gypsy and dubstep but there's all sorts of stuff going on in there now... kill me

Natalia, you also juggle a very successful acting career with your music career. Does either one hold a bigger place in your heart?

Natalia: A heart is comprised of four chambers and four valves that all work together for us to think, breathe, feel and live. My chambers would be music, storytelling, food/wine and sex/love which all pump the shit out of it.

What would your dream acting role be?

Natalia: I would love to work with a Spanish director in a Spanish movie, see if I could pull it off. Something about Sex and Death, a story with a massive pair of Ovaries. Also I have an obsession with Graphic Novels and would give my left kidney to play the lead in a good adaptation of Transmetropolitan or Preacher, or Promethea or Harlequin in Batman... Then there is theatre where that real juice gets me going. Anything with Knee High. You see one of their shows and it makes you want to take risks in the way you live your life. Also doing comedy. I've done it before and its the most terrifying stuff I've done, you start buckling a bit under the pressure of getting that laugh that needs the timing and delivery. It can make your palms sweat and want shots of whisky but it’s invigorating. Oh and anything that entails needing to learn a new skill, that demands physically, be it learning an accent or martial arts.

Angus: When they make a movie of our rise to fame, I'd like to play Max.

What do you prefer - creating music in the studio or performing it on stage?

Sam: Stage every time. Live music is the essence of what we do and is one of the things that drives me the most. The studio seems a comparatively sterile environment whereas live music is just that - alive.

Natalia: Definitely stage! But the stage, with all that buzz and adrenaline, that feeling of purpose at making people smile and dance in unison, of playing with your band that make you feel alive, it can give you can also can take as much away. When a show goes wrong or the sound has failed, or I can't hear the band or myself and feel vulnerable and naked as my fucking name day, it's fucking horrific. It makes me want to hide away immediately after in shame in some dark corner, drinking wine and chain smoking cigarettes, with more bitterness than a middle aged divorcee that’s been left for a younger model.

Tom: For me, the joy of playing live is that you never know where it can go. You can only rehearse so much. We don't use backing tracks or samples so the music is affected by the vibe of the room, the crowd, how we feel. Recording is more making sense of what you've been touring.

Angus: Tricky... they are so very different things. The payoff in the studio takes longer to achieve, but is longer lasting; you can go back and listen years later and still (hopefully!) feel good about it. On the stage is a much more visceral 'in the moment' kind of thing. If I was Nat, I'd probably stick in some analogy to do with shagging at this point! Once a live show is finished, it's gone. Of course the show may be captured on video or audio, but they never seem to do justice - they can't fully capture the heat and the energy in the room. People should definitely come see us and see what I mean!

What does your recording process look like?

Tom: A lot like the live show! This time we are going into the studio and banging it out. We're looking to get a something out this year. The last 12 months have been pretty intense with touring and writing, I think that now were ready to capture Molotov Jukebox on record.

Adam: Well we've had a few different experiences, which have all been great, but I think our upcoming EP recording will be a step forward for us. We're aiming to do it fast, capturing more of the live feel but with total sonic control, and the ability to give the rhythms the fatness and power to make you want to dance, but also present the delicate dynamics of Nat's vocals and the instrumental melodies. I have a feeling this EP is going to define our studio sound. Can't wait!

Angus: I think it's still evolving. For 'Laid to Rest' we built up the song one track at a time - drums, then bass, then guitar, accordion etc. For the forthcoming EP, we're planning to take a much more 'as live' approach - i.e. recording as much simultaneously as we can. The idea here is that the strength of the band is the live energy, and that happens best when we're all playing together. The other side, I suppose, is the potential for additional chaos! So we'll see what happens...!

Sam and Nat, you were an item, and now you're not. Has that affected the group's dynamics or is it still one big happy family?

Natalia: Picture a Bonobo, creatures that use sex to create social bonds as well as alleviate tension. That’s how me and Sam work.

Sam: The group is as full of love as ever. Let's just say there are certain benefits...

Tom: We have all dated each other at least once. Sam is actually my dad. It can be awkward.

If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

Natalia: Otter with Disco Raccoon rising. Or Spanish stallion combined with London filth pigeons, the kind with stumps.

Tom: Nat is the expert so I'll agree with her... BUT did you know that once the male spider spins his web, he strums the web. The chord the combination of strings make then attracts the female spider.

Angus: Well, I love bananas, so I'd like to be a bonobo.

Sam: A badger. Unquestionably. As many people at festivals will know. Occasionally I am also a penguin but they look quite similar...

Max: I would, and I think I can say with some certainty that I would be a gorilla. As well as having a very gorilla like physique, we did have rehearsals in a studio where the drum kit had a purple backdrop behind me, which inevitably lead the rest of the band to think of the Cadburys advert. This has now stuck and I am the ‘gorilla’ of this mayhem.

What do you have planned for this 2011?

Sam: World Domination...

Natalia: World Domination and a bottle of Cava. Can I get a packet of prawn cocktail with that?

Tom: Touring, writing more, teaching Nat how to use the Internet.

Angus: Record the EP, go to wild and interesting places, play lots of gigs, sweat a lot....

Adam: Learn to hunt, I reckon. Aside from that... Just world domination.

What's one thing that everyone reading this interview should do today?

Tom: Touch the person next to you and tell them Adam told you to do it.

Nat: Ring your Gran, tell her to buy Molotov Jukebox's single. Make a list about what you want to do before you die and take steps to achieving it. Talk to a stranger and above all make sure your nearest and dearest feel the ardor of your love, it's all that really matters.

Adam: Have a laugh with someone - mate, stranger, family member - whoever. Just laugh lots. Or go watch something by David Attenborough and realise that, despite all of our jumped-up bullshit, this world is just lovely... take your pick. 1, 2, 3... Go!

Max: Everyone should download our single, and above all moisturise their feet because after dancing all night, it will help the blisters heal faster in the morning… I suggest E45 or Diprobase.

Angus: They should do whatever they want to do.

Interview by: Jayne Robinson


Molotov Jukebox play live at Reset Magazine's launch party on Monday 28th February, with DJ sets by Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip, Mr Hudson, Ou Est Le Swimming Pool and loads more. Tickets are available exclusively through Skiddle, with all proceeds going to the charity CALM.

Tickets are no longer available for this event