Natalia Tena

The opportunity to talk to half-blood character Nymphadora Tonks and Osha from Game of Thrones was too much for us to ignore so we called Natalia Tena, the actress behind both characters but who also fronts a band called Molotov Jukebox who are coming our way very soon.

A musician, an actress, a busker – where do I start? Well, we can’t not mention Harry Potter and Game of Thrones can we?

What would you like to know?

Given that they are such big things to be part of do they hang ’round your neck like a millstone?

No, absolutely not. They are incredible, I mean these are things that I cannot believe that I am lucky to be part of. I love the books, I’m a big reader anyway and I love those kind of fantasy stories and it is kind of surreal that I am part of them. I don’t really think about it until someone asks or mentions it, it’s not in my consciousness, it’s like oh yeah, I have done that – what?! It is bizarre and magical.

You also starred in 10,000 kilometres, which is a bit more real world, isn’t it?

Yes, a much more domestic, small Spanish film. My first Spanish film, I was very scared of doing it. In its favour is that we were all terrified – I was terrified because it was my first Spanish film and the director was terrified because it was his first feature and the other actor, David Verdaguer, who is incredible… he is a stand-up comedian and it was his first film as well, so we were all in this kind of boat of first timers. We all had faith in each other and that helped us – I thought they were both great and that pushed me, it was an incredible working relationship. I mean, I’ve got a framed picture of the producer’s dog on my boat! That’s how close we got, and we still are, and we are going to work together on another film soon – hopefully this year?

But lets talk about your musical background – do you come from a musical family or did you just pick up the accordion one day and say “Hey I can play this”!?

What happened is… my family were all very musical, they all sang and my Mum played guitar and everyone was incredible at harmonies, everyone would sing three part harmonies every Christmas and whenever in Spain. We lived there during a dictatorship so the idea of being an artist in that time was not really feasible. Then my parents escaped than and came here. I just loved singing, I was obsessed with the piano. When I was four I begged my Mum for a year to play the piano and when she saw that I really did want to do it I started doing lessons. But I really wanted to play rock’n’roll but obviously they teach you classical music so I did all the grades and by the time I was seventeen I was like – I am never touching a piano, ever again! And I didn’t.

But then I started to work a lot with musical theatre and stuff – theatre that uses music not musicals, if that makes sense. This company I was with, Kneehigh, this company encouraged us to pick up stuff and they had an old crap accordion lying around and I basically fell in love at first sight. I used the techniques I had learned as a kid on the piano and taught myself to play.

But it can’t be the easiest instrument to play – you are not the most static person on a stage!

Its odd, yes, when I had a lighter accordion I definitely used to dance more on stage. But I think, Sam, the violinist dances most on stage and maybe the brass section. When we’ve got a bit more money for a gig we always bring our brass section who are incredible, to add to Angus our trumpet player. They have little choreographed moves and stuff, they are brilliant.

The music and the videos are fun, but there is a dark side lurking in some – I’m thinking about Neon Lights which you have recorded with Oona…

That was a really tricky video to shoot because basically… Neon Lights, we’d always wanted to write a song about London but every time we started it became a cliche or a bit…. I don’t know it just didn’t come out right. At the time I was reading Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” which is a great, great fantasy series. It is kind of like Terry Prachett / Harry Potter in a detective story with British Police. He makes characters out of things like The Thames and he inspired this idea, for me, of London being a woman and then it became easy to write about. The of course Oona kind of encapsulates many different facets of amazing womanhood for me, so obviously being one of my best friends in the world, I said please be in this video. The director Jon Drever who was the director of Superbob, that I worked on, a really funny documentary that you should watch on Netflix, he wanted to propose this idea that she is every woman but she is violent but only because she has to fight back sometimes and she is also tender because she is a mother. It was him that came up with that idea and I really liked it.

But of course Neon Lights isn’t on the new album, the new album is called Tropical Gypsy, and its been a little while coming hasn’t it?

Yeah – it was a little time coming because we were still finishing the other one and I had work commitments and it is hard to sit down and write an album. To really focus it and get the money together and everything and that is where, with the help of PLEDGE MUSIC – the fact that they helped us make the first album is incredibly humbling we didn’t think we were going to reach the target and so we though, lets try again this time. And again all our fans have helped us and supported us to make this album, which would be impossible without them – completely impossible. And also we got to know some of the fans, I went to go and make lasagna for two of them, that was they wanted to do that pledge. It is a really great way to have a symbiotic relationship with fans – if that makes sense?

Am I right in thinking that a percentage of every pledge goes to Womankind?

Yes, it is a charity that I found out about that I think is really really really important in the world. It is very unfair that some people because they are born with a vagina are treated abominably around the world. Not even second class citizens or third, fourth you know – way below livestock! It just doesn’t make sense to me, it doesn’t really equate and this charity help women have a voice through all their work and work with community leaders and trying to change laws. I just though it would be really great with our voices, our musical voices we could help this charity help these women around the world to have a voice, an opinion and a vote and a chance.

How then would you describe the sound that is Molotov Jukebox?

Well… this is where the title of the album came in. Carnival Flower, the last one, we put together loads of songs then argued for ages about the title and we cam up with Carnival Flower. This time we were sat with a great guy that helped us out who works for a big record company. He said first you guys need to find what your genre is and then build from there. So we were like OK, out genre is Tropical Gypsy, and someone clever in the band said lets use that as the title of our next album. It makes perfect sense, you’ve got the genre, what its about and anytime we were creating and we were deviating we had that as a marker to go “No” Its not Tropical or Gypsy or either – stop writing it!” So it was very helpful.

On the album there are elements of Blues, of Jazz, of Gypsy and a hint of Reggae in there…

Yeah – the Reggae works in the framework of tropical. If you go to tropical Caribbean islands there is a lot of Reggae so we thought that did fit into it.

Now – I’m not sure how you might react to this but… I was listening to the album in the car this morning and in places I’m hearing Amy Winehouse…

Oh really??! That is obviously a great compliment, I love her work, she was incredible. I think she did massive amounts to forward the female voice in the world of music – so that’s great!

You are playing Norwich, at the Waterfront Studio on 20th April but you are also playing at The Secret Garden Party in July.

Oh yes – Secret Garden Party is a festival very close to our hearts because that is where we were given our first chance really. Me and Sam, our violinist, were busking at like 9am on a Monday when everyone was gone and we were the only music. The woman that ran the tent came over – it was my first festival, I went very late I was 23! This woman says “Who are you guys?” – it was just me and Sam, and I was still learning the accordion. I don’t know why she thought we were good, she must have seen some potential and Sam came out with “We are Molotov Jukebox” and I was like WHAT? OK, that stuck, and she said I am going to remember you and tell Si, who runs Secret Garden Party, about you guys – send us some stuff in January or February and come back with the band next year and we try and put you on – and they did! That was our first foot in the door of festivals – Secret Garden was kind of where it started in a way.

What was the best thing about making the album?

The best thing about making the album… was, basically the creative process is a very agonising one because there are moments of pure elation and moments of utter crippling self doubt and crying. My favorite bit was when we had all the demos, the studio booked and going in to Rollover Studios on Beethoven Street and suddenly to sing and feeling it. The when you know you have the vocal track for that one and Anthony will go – now, sing one just for fun.

Now, in one sentence how would you encourage someone to come and see Molotov Jukebox?

Right… basically, coming to see us is like taking a tropical holiday in life, sweating it all out, leaving all your problems at the door for an hour and a half. Feeling sexy and feeling happy, I think that is what I would say!

I’m there!

Brilliant – tell everyone, tell everyone that!

Its been a pleasure talking to you Nat, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to GrapevineLIVE

Molotov Jukebox play:

  • 19/04 – Nottingham, The Bodega
  • 20/04 – Norwich, Waterfront Studios
  • 21/04 – Exeter, The Cavern
  • 22/04 – Bristol, Thekla
  • 23/04 – Southampton, Talking Heads
  • 24/04 – Cardiff, The Globe
  • 26/04 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
  • 27/04 – Newcastle, The Cluny
  • 28/04 – Glasgow, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
  • 29/04 – Edinburgh, Electric Circus
  • 30/04 – Manchester, Gorilla
  • 05/05 – London, Village Underground

Molotov JukeboxNatalia TenaNymphadora TonksOshaTropical Gypsy