Culture Trips

Molly Lewis: the professional whistler on everyone’s lips in Hollywood | Music

Sitting by the deathbed of the Hollywood veteran Harry Dean Stanton, professional whistler Molly Lewis delivered her most poignant performance to date. The Australia-born musician whistled otherwordly versions of Danny Boy and Just a Closer Walk from Thee, the gospel ballad Stanton croons in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. “He kissed my hand – it was such a beautiful moment,” remembers Lewis of her intimate 2017 performance. “I’d never really met Harry Dean properly but we had all these friends in common, and so many beautiful, cosmic things happened because of him.”

It was not her first brush with greatness. In 2016, Lewis received an Instagram message from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who asked Lewis to perform with her at a show celebrating the music and life of the Paris, Texas actor, where she would share a stage with the likes of Father John Misty and Stanton himself. That same evening, Lewis met actor John C Reilly, who professed his love for Lewis’s lyrical whistling and invited her to join his weekly roller skating club. When Lewis was making the fantastical video for her debut single Oceanic Feeling earlier this year, she knew Reilly would be the perfect guest star. “I asked him if he’d be interested in playing the sax solo and he was very down,” says Lewis of Reilly’s brilliantly camp cameo. “He even brought his own handmade king costume.”

With a childhood split between LA and rural Australia, Lewis was introduced to the wonderful world of whistling by the 2005 documentary Pucker Up, which takes a deep dive into the extremely niche Louisburg international whistling competition. In 2012, she would attend the event herself, whistling in front of a crowd for the very first time. But it wasn’t until the death of foremost spaghetti western whistler Alessandro Alessandroni that Lewis properly launched her career, hosting a tribute night where she performed the work of Ennio Morricone’s favourite collaborator.

After that, Lewis would perform classic whistling material at her regular Cafe Molly nights across LA, but during last year’s lockdown she decided it was time to write some original songs. It is this collection that forms the intoxicatingly retro The Forgotten Edge EP, coming out on the indie label Jagjaguwar in July. Named after the noir-ish, mysterious neighbourhood of LA where Lewis lives, its six tracks bring to mind the South Pacific lounge style of late-1950s exotica music: tiki bars, cigarette smoke and the vague suggestion of swinging. “I wanted it to feel like each song is the soundtrack to a scene in a different film,” explains Lewis. “Romantic beach moments, then there’s driving downtown past city lights in a convertible …” We’re sure Harry Dean would approve.

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