Interview with Natalia Tena

[Huriyah Quadri, Print Editor | Eleanor Pilcher, Contributing Writer]

You might know her as Tonks from Harry Potter or Osha from Game of Thrones, or you might have amazing taste in music and know her as Natalia Tena from Molotov Jukebox; an epic band that released their debut album, Carnival Flower in March 2014 and drew fans in with their unique “gyp-step” (Balkan and Gypsy) sound.

Carnival Flower was made using Pledge Music, which allowed fans to “pledge” to the band in return for goodies ranging from signed albums, personalised video messages, as well as evenings out with the band. Molotov Jukebox have now hit their Pledge Music target for their second album, Tropical Gypsy, which is every bit as awesome as expected and available to pre-order here.

Having heard and enjoyed Molotov Jukebox’s new single “Hi-Life Crisis”, Trident Media caught up with Natalia to speak about Tropical Gypsy, the band, tours, and other music-type-stuff.

TM: Your first album, Carnival Flower, was created with the involvement of fans through Pledge Music and the band has used the same platform for Tropical Gypsy. What is your incentive for using this platform?

NT: The incentive is that as broke musicians, fans can be part of helping you make the album that they want to hear and you can give back to them. I’m humbled that for both Carnival Flower and now Tropical Gypsy, fans have allowed us to reach our target and we can keep making music for them.

TM: Was there anything in particular that led to writing “Hi-Life Crisis”?

NT: I got sent a tune by the rhythm section and immediately loved it. They had emailed it with the subject “Hi Life”, as in the style of music, and it made sense to use that in the chorus somehow. I was dancing around how to put lyrics to it. I got frustrated, bought a bottle of incredible of wine and smashed it out in two hours. Parts of it are about self-sabotage when life is too kind to you.

TM: Describe the new album in three words.

NT: Tropical Gypsy Party.

TM: What is your favourite song on this album?

NT: At the moment, “I cry”. It’s such a naughty gypsy tune and we’ve never done such a sparse intro, which I know will terrify me live but it needs it. Eventually what happens is you start to hate every song and that’s when you can actually play it properly. It’s strange though, because you then get through the “I fucking hate this song, why AGAIN?” but learn to love it again. It’s always a surprise.

TM: Your venue choices for tours are quite intimate, how does the intimacy with fans affect you as a band?

NT: Depends on the night, what time we are playing and what type of audience we get that day. It can be exposing or it can make you feel utterly connected to them and each other.

TM: Some of your fans compare you to Amy Winehouse, who would you say your influences are?

NT: Fuck! Well that’s amazing! She is a hero of mine. Gogol Bordello influenced us when we started but it changes with what we listen to. I recently discovered Uproot Andy and I’m sure that affects things when we write.

TM: Do you ever get writers’ block? If so, how do you get over it?

NT: Yes yes yes yes a thousand times yes. What helps is looking through my notes of lyric ideas and building on that. At one point I was losing my mind when nothing came out for this upcoming album, I went for a 5 mile walk for frozen yogurt and when I came back, I had the seeds of “Pineapple Girl” from just emoting my mind. The best exercise is to keep just doing it every day even if you feel empty and useless.

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TM: Your music videos look like a lot of fun, what is the thought process behind them?

NT: An old friend and great director, Marco Sandeman, has done most of our videos. He gets the music, and, for example, with “Tick Tock”, which is basically about trying to enjoy the rhythm of our ever diminishing time on earth, day of the dead themes popped up naturally and we worked from there. Our last video was different in that respect. Our strength so far has been our live show and we’d never filmed that. So armed with the incredibly talented Chris Lighting, we shot our return gig from Mexico at the Brixton Electric.

TM: How has your sound developed in Tropical Gypsy compared to Carnival Flower?

NT: The last album was a bit like a Mary Poppins hand bag, every song and style we wanted to put in it, we did, because it needed it and we thought it might be aurally useful. “Sure let’s throw in that coat rack of a song next to spoon.” That has its merits, weaknesses and obviously, we wanted to learn from our mistakes. This one is a more considered, focused album where the song style clue is in the title Tropical Gypsy. The songs had to fit into one of those categories, and in some cases, entirely crossover or otherwise we binned it.

TM: If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, which song would it be?

NT: Fuck. That is a hard one. Fuck! Maybe Smoky Robinson’s “Tracks of my Tears”.

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TM: What is your favourite thing about performing with the band?

NT: If we are doing our job right, seeing fans smiling and dancing. I especially love it when people are kissing to us; it makes me happy thinking we are helping people get laid and allowing them to leave their troubles at the door to party for an hour. Also the telepathy you have with your band. You are this mad musical adrenaline fuelled team on stage and that’s what helps you get through nail biting nerves and do your job.

TM: You’re the lead vocalist and you play the accordion, why is this your instrument of choice?

NT: By the time I finished my grade 8 piano, I hated the instrument. I’d started because I wanted to play Rock and Roll and improvise, but the format l was taught didn’t encourage that. I vowed never to touch it again and then years later, working with the just bloody epic company Knee High, I was introduced to an accordion for the first time. Emma Rice (the director) pulled down a bunch of instruments from their barn attic in Cornwall where we rehearsed and it was love at first sight. I had the skills for the right hand and because it was something new, I had a freedom to improvise. Learning how to play the left hand however resulted in a lot of neighbourly hate over the years.

TM: Would you identify yourself as an actress who sings or a singer who acts?

NT: Neither and both!

TM: Is there a particular reason why the band will be donating five per cent of every pledge to Womankind Worldwide?

NT: Because it’s unacceptable and disgusting that in the 21st century, just because you are born with a vagina, you are stripped of your voice, opportunities and freedom, subjected to violence and fear, in the majority of the world and usually under the guise of “tradition”, which is, in fact, just patriarchal oppression. The world would on every conceivable level be a better place if women had equal rights, in all respects, as men.

TM: If you could spread a message to the masses what would it be?

NT: Life is short, be nice, we’re all different but equal (insert poignant, intellectual truth here). Also, apparently they asked older people what they would say to their younger selves, and it’s always not to worry so much. Oh and obviously come to our next gig please; with bags of dancing woof and cowbells on.

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Interview with Natalia Tena