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Molly Lewis Takes Whistling To New Levels In Her Debut EP

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

There's a musical talent that some of us have and some of us do not. Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Any whistlers out there?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT")

LAUREN BACALL: (As Marie) You know how to whistle, don't you Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYONE CAN WHISTLE")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Anyone can whistle. That's what they say. Easy.

KEITH: Fact check. I'm not sure that's true. (Whistling). But our next guest not only can whistle, but she takes it to another level of beauty and magic. This is champion whistler Molly Lewis.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FORGOTTEN EDGE")

MOLLY LEWIS: (Whistling).

KEITH: That's the title track from her debut EP, "The Forgotten Edge," and Molly Lewis joins us now from Los Angeles. Welcome.

LEWIS: Hello.

KEITH: So it has been said that voice is the original instrument, but whistling must be a close second. How did you discover that you had this gift for whistling?

LEWIS: You know, it's been something I've done all my life. I remember distinctly - I think I must have been 4 when I first made a sound. But, you know, it took me many years to kind of discover that it was something I was very good at. And I think it started when I got a CD of a professional whistler for my birthday from my parents. And I was listening to his Broadway medleys, and I kind of realized that I could do what he could do. And that was a big moment for me.

KEITH: So when you were growing up, were you surprised to learn that there were these things that were whistling competitions?

LEWIS: Yes. So my parents, once again, their influence - they showed me a documentary called "Pucker Up," and it's about the old international whistling competition that used to be held in North Carolina. So, yeah, when I saw that, I couldn't believe, you know, this small niche world of whistlers was out there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCEANIC FEELING")

LEWIS: (Whistling).

KEITH: So despite your parents' questions, nagging - whatever you want to call it - when did you realize, and how did you figure out that you could piece this together and make it a career?

LEWIS: You know, I mean, my parents are very supportive. They're creative people, and they love what I've been doing. But, you know, this is something that - it's taken many years of playing around with and doing on the side. It's only in the last couple of years where I've been like, OK, I guess I'm a whistler. This is what I'm doing. You know, I did it for fun, or I did it on the side. It wasn't something I had really thought I could make a career out of until recently.

KEITH: So I read that you recently whistled on a Dr. Dre production. And I'm just wondering, what are some of the more surprising gigs you've gotten as a whistler?

LEWIS: Yes. Whistling with Dr. Dre was definitely a highlight of my session musician career. But, you know, I've had the chance to whistle with quite a lot of incredible musicians. Jackson Browne - we did a show together once - Karen O - I've had some performance opportunities that have been really great. I just recently went to the Riviera for a performance at the Cannes Film Festival. So that - you know, there have been a lot of kind of strange and wonderful opportunities that have cropped up because of this thing I do.

LEWIS: Well, let's listen to a bit of your new album. This one's called Wind's Lament.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WIND'S LAMENT")

LEWIS: (Whistling).

KEITH: This music is so dreamlike, like the hazy, soft focus of a dream state. Where were you trying to take your audience with this piece?

LEWIS: Thank you. I mean, that's - I love that description. You know, I was working on these songs with the producer, Tom Brannick (ph), and this was all during last year in the kind of depths of the pandemic. It was an escape. It was a chance to kind of get away from, you know - this was also just before the election, as well. So, you know, it was a very tense, kind of stressful time. And, yeah, it was a bit of a dreamy escape. But, you know, I also always think about soundtracks. And so this song - you know, it also kind of feels a bit like a - some kind of Western smoky saloon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WIND'S LAMENT")

LEWIS: (Whistling).

KEITH: Some of your other songs have a real spaghetti western quality to them. Is that something that you were thinking about, that you were going for? Or is it just because we all think of the Morricone soundtracks when we hear whistling?

LEWIS: Well, you know, it's definitely one of my biggest influences and inspirations. I love Morricone. And I love Alessandro Alessandroni, who - he was a contemporary of Morricone, and he was also childhood friends with him. And they - he was an incredible whistler. And he did the whistling for Morricone's soundtracks. And for me, this was kind of the first music I heard where I loved the way whistling had been used as a beautiful instrument and not just as, like, a little jingly sound or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND SPELL")

LEWIS: (Whistling).

KEITH: Have you been able to resume performances? Or is the pandemic still a drag?

LEWIS: I mean, the pandemic is definitely still a drag as much as I think we all wish it to be over. But, you know, actually, I did a show back in LA. It was at the Greek, opening for Caroline Polachek.

KEITH: Wow. You played the Greek. That's amazing.

LEWIS: I know. I know. I was like, wow, this is pretty good for a first show back. Not too shabby.

KEITH: (Laughter) Well, Molly Lewis - her debut EP is called "The Forgotten Edge." Thank you so much for joining us.

LEWIS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ISLAND SPELL")

LEWIS: (Whistling). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.