Whistling Through New York

Molly Lewis is a master of musical whistling and a champion of the use of whistling as an art form. An audience member at her last show described her as, “A bird singing about a falling leaf.” She sometimes likens her sound to that of a human theremin. Roxy Cinema Director, Illyse Singer, recently sat down with Molly to discuss her career and love of cinema soundtracks in anticipation of her upcoming Q&A and the screening of Laura on 35MM.


How did you become interested in music and how did your career evolve? 

Well, I always loved music, especially movie soundtracks as a kid, but I never thought I was a musician. I grew up playing piano and was good at whistling but that didn’t seem like a viable career.  I saw a documentary called “Pucker Up” about a whistling competition that used to be held in North Carolina. I realized then there were other whistlers out there and I was as good as these whistling champions. It was then I knew I had a talent. I moved to LA and many years later my friends knew this was something I did and I just started slowly getting gigs as a whistler. I really credit LA with this because it’s such a creative atmosphere there that whistlers are actually needed . Sometimes I’ll get an email that says urgent whistling needed. I’ve done things for Star Trek, and movies, and video game soundtracks and all kinds of whistling endeavors and it’s kind of snowballed in a strange way and it’s been really fun. 

You grew up in Australia?

 I was born in Australia and moved to LA as a baby. I lived in LA until I was 12 then moved back to Australia. At 23, I returned to Los Angeles. 

When did you start whistling?

I was whistling as a kid in high school. I kind of forgot I used to do this, but when I went to my school reunion a few years ago, people said “oh yeah you were always whistling in the hallway.” It was just something I would do subconsciously, just for fun. I would do it every day. It was a pleasant way for me to create. I’m not a great singer, but I can carry tunes while whistling, it was my way to connect to music.

That’s so cool! I’m always interested in that. What happened for you in the stage where you realized “wait I’m actually good at this and I want to pursue this.” Do you remember how old you were and what that feeling was like?

Yeah it’s funny because it’s been such a long process. It was definitely seeing that documentary and then I got a CD of this famous whistler Steve” The Whistler” Herbst. My parents got it for me and they’ve always been very supportive. I remember listening to it and knowing I could whistle like him. And then I was like “oh he has a CD maybe I could have a CD one day. I think I could do this.” It’s such a niche and it was never really something I thought was a possible career.  There was a lot of self-doubt. It’s taken a really long time of playing gigs and getting jobs. I think it took at least 5 years to realize this was my job and this was my instrument. It’s easy to be self-deprecating or to make fun of it. Because I also find it funny in the way that anything this niche is kind of funny and unusual.

That is what is so inspiring. If you believe in something and follow your passion as niche as it is you can make it work and you’re probably happy doing that? Following your bliss and not having to work a job that you hate.

Absolutely! I pinch myself. I’ve worked so many different jobs. I’ve worked in offices and restaurants and have had horrible bosses and to be able to be my own boss and take my very strange passion to the next level, I feel very lucky. It’s fun!

You just got a chance to record on the Barbie soundtrack, what was that like?

This felt really wonderful because I was whistling a melody over an orchestral backing, probably a 40 piece orchestra. This beautiful orchestral score. To whistle to something like that, It reminded me of a 1940s Disney film or something. It was really emotional and beautiful, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was like “wow this is my dream to do scores.”
It felt wonderful and hopefully I can do more scores in the future. It was a nice full circle moment. Little Molly would be really happy!

It’s the best when your inner child approves! I know that you’re normally in LA but you’ll be living in NYC this month so I want to know what are you excited about and what do you want to get done while you’re here?

I’m the annoying out of town tourist! I keep being like “New York! The energy! The vibrance! It’s all I can talk about it. And everyone is like “yeah we get it, that’s why we’re here.” I can’t stop smiling. I really love it. I don’t want to leave.  There is so much I want to do. I just love walking around. I love the museums, the ferry, the food and the people. I don’t know I’m just excited to explore and see great movies and concerts. I have a concert of my own coming up. The musicians here are incredible and I’m just excited to be in a new city and really open to meeting people and doing things. I feel very inspired and excited at the moment. But it’s like Day 4. Talk to me in a few weeks I’ll be chain smoking in Times Square.

That’s where you end up in this story. Times Square of 1949, not current Times Square.

Yeah not the M&M Store. We’ll see there are many future possibilities.

You will be screening Otto Preminger’s “Laura” in 35MM at The Roxy Cinema. One of the greatest Film Noirs. Do you want to talk about why you chose that film?

I love Laura so much. When I was kid my mom and I would rent a movie every week at the local video rental store. She got me into Film Noir. We watched all of the famous noirs and Laura was my favorite. I think a lot of it has to do with the soundtrack, David Raskin. The famous theme tune Laura, which is a standard now. My mom is a wonderful pianist and she used to play it on the piano. I played it on the piano too. I just love the tune. The music, the style. I love all of the noir tropes, the hard-boiled detective and there is something about the premise and falling in love with a portrait that I’ve always found so romantic and eerie. It’s just stylish and beautiful and it’s a New York Noir. Very fitting!

You have a concert at the Sultan Room on Wednesday the 12th and you’re also doing The Tell on July 11th.


Any final New York thoughts?

I really love what the Mayor of New York has to say about the crystals under Manhattan causing the energy and now whenever I’m here I’m like it’s the crystals!!!

All of New York State actually.

I feel the energy full throttle here. I’ve been waking up at 8 AM and staying out late, how do I have the energy? There is a lot to explore. I love the lushness of summer here. I love the afternoon thunderstorms and getting soaked.

Don’t miss Molly Lewis at the Roxy Cinema Saturday, July 15th presenting Laura on 35MM along with a short performance and Q&A. Buy Tickets HERE>>.

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