Introducing… Molotov Jukebox

This feature originally appeared in Songlines #101 (July 2014) p23. Download a pdf here.

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Charismatic singer and accordion player Natalie Tena chats to Alexandra Petropoulos about her band’s musical inspirations

You might recognise her as a wilding from Game of Thrones or Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter, but actress Natalia Tena has another persona that you may not have stumbled across – the fiery lead singer and accordionist for the London-based band Molotov Jukebox

Through their explosive festival appearances, two EPs and a quickly growing fan base, the six-piece have finally arrived at their debut album, Carnival Flower, five years after Tena began cultivating this side project with co-founder Sam Apley. The success of their steamy, racy fusion can be attributed to each member’s own influences, a vibrant cocktail of all the feel-good genres – Latin, Gypsy punk, swing, calypso and dubstep.

“Each of us brought something,” Tena says. “Sam brought the Balkan side of it and I come from a Latin vibe.” Born in London to Spanish immigrants Tena was constantly surrounded by music as a child. “In my house everyone always played guitar and sang. It was part of my life. They didn’t do it professionally, they’d just sing and play like most Spanish people.” She eventually started learning the piano but found that classical training just wasn’t going to cut it. “The reason I started was to play rock’n’roll, but I ended up having to learn all this classical stuff. And after I did the grades, I was like, that’s it. Then I did loads of theatre, which involved a lot of music. One of them made all the actors go into this mad attic and pick an instrument. There was this battered, tiny accordion, and it was love at first sight.”

Blending with the seductive horns, Tena’s sultry voice and a city vibe that only London can produce, the accordion has become just one of the USPs of Molotov Jukebox. But it is their sexy, summery mix of sounds, which Tena describes as “tropical urban Gypsy,” that makes Carnival Flower so irresistibly danceable. The album is peppered with Gypsy swing, scandalous urban beats and even some of the album’s namesake carnival flavour. But there are a few deeper notes hidden among the feel-good vibe. Opener ‘Tread Softly’ is about altruistic suicide, based on the story of Antarctic explorer Lawrence Oates; while ‘Neon Lights’ is their ode to London, or as Tena puts it ‘Mistress London, who is a massive bitch but our best friend.

“We always wanted to do something about London, and I wanted to put in something about how London is built on the work and sacrifice of immigrants, like my parents, and that’s what makes London amazing.”

Carnival Flower captures the vibrancy of their live shows, showcasing their penchant for experimenting with various styles while at the same time retaining a sense of cohesiveness and a consistent sound that can only be described as Molotov Jukebox’s own brand of ‘tropical urban Gypsy.’  



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