Jazz is too serious. That's the real raison d'etre for the Molestics. Gut the endless solos and up-yer-butt solipsism of the jazz you're used to. Let the animal free. Take over the asylum. Molest the music! For two years, the Vancouver band has done just that. The Molestics have begged, borrowed and bastardized the best and worst jazz standards of the 1920's and retuned them with a decidedly 1990's twist. It's old and new at the same time. It's as irreverent as the Sex Pistols, but much more fun.
The Molestics began as a West Coast summer busking project for former Montreal thespian-turned-trumpeter Mike Soret (imagine Ray Davies and Johnny Rotten gene-spliced with equal parts Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong) and St. Boniface bassist Gilles Roy. Drummer Roy Wilkinson soon came a-calling, and guitarist Sam Petite had all but given up his punk roots and had just discovered the joys of Wes Montgomery when he got the nod to join. Meanwhile, accordionist Nettie Boulanger is fast becoming a regular to the Molestics' stage.
It's just coincidence that the Molestics gained an audience just as the Vancouver lounge scene took off. Their music is too rough and raw around the edges to be "lounge," but, for a time, they were embraced by that fickle, fashionable crowd. It was a start. "We never thought anything would come of it," chuckles Soret. "But fools as the world is, they gave us gigs. We were bad, crazy and weird. People liked that. They appreciated we were over the top."
No kidding. Imagine the dance band from the Titanic resurfacing in Vancouver decades later, still blowing seaweed and saltwater out of their horns, with a creepy repertoire of jazz standards that has been strangely transformed. "The Sheik of Araby" is now "The Geek of Araby." "Sweet Lorraine" has become "Sweat Lodge." Would Edith Piaf have sung her signature tune as "La Vie En Fou"? An old lyric like "Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody" is retooled as "Horrify Your Baby with an Icky Melody." The possibilities are endless... and that's the point.
"Eighty-five percent of the bands out there are pop, punk or grunge," laments Soret. "So many bands drink from the same well; even if there's only one drop of water left in that well, they're gonna fight over that last drop. Yet with us, there's a whole ocean of other music to dive into." Petite blames rock and roll: "It really seems to have cut off people's awareness of musical history at 1955; almost nobody knows anything about anything that happened before that."
So the Molestics feel they have a mission: to bring their research project to life on any stage that will have them. "All this old stuff may seem cuddly and old-fashioned now, but it was really revolutionary and caused a lot of problems back then..." says Petite.
Soret continues: "From the accounts, it was just wild. Like the black and white recordings. One example that we've got a version of is 'Darktown Strutter's Ball.' That was the version for the white audience. For the black audience it was 'Cocksucker's Ball.' This kind of stuff was happening. It was lively and crazy. For us, it would be disrespectful to be too respectful."
And where do the Molestics find all these dusty old gems? They ask Pops, aka Clive Jackson, Soret's roommate and the unofficial sixth member of the Molestics. "He's got a good record collection. We liked this music, but we didn't have a lot of it, but Pops kept saying, 'Hey, why don't you do this song...' We've found a lot from Pop's stuff. Some of our own. Some from the library."
All of this history is filtered through Soret's alcohol-addled brain and embroidered by the nimble fingers of the guys (and girl) in the band. Occasionally, the back-to-the-future philosophy works the other way, too: the Molestics' reworked Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" as "Up Down Skunk," although it only remained in their 125-song repertoire for one gig.
The Molestics are loathe to describe what they play as jazz, preferring instead the term "hokum." Traditionally, it meant a theatrical plot designed to appeal to the uncritical, you know, something "hokey;" but, in jazz parlance, it means "bunk" or "bullshit." That's why the band has titled its recent CD Tropic of Hokum -- to remind themselves and their listeners not to take anything too seriously, especially music. The term has seen the band riffing on a variety of possible titles in what they hope will be a series: Hokum Pokum, Smokin' Hokum, Hokum If Ya Got 'Em, Home Sweet Hokum, Mo' Better Hokum and, the band's favourite of the moment, If You Can't Beat 'Em, Hokum. May the Hokum be with them... always.
You can catch the Molestics live at the Railway Club on Tuesday, March 11, as well as at DV8 (Davie @ Seymour) every Sunday night.
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