By Lindsay Utz
Photo courtesy of the Molehill Orchestra
The Molehill Orkestrah a Tucson band known for their truly unique sound and a mix of such instruments as mandolin, tuba, cello, violin, saxophone, upright bass, percussion and guitar.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday October 10, 2002
It's a bit Middle Eastern, a pinch Slavic, a tad gypsy with some Latin here and there. Splash some Asian, and voila÷ you've got the Molehill Orkestrah. But it's not that simple.
The Molehill Orkestrah involves a curious gathering of the mandolin, baritone tuba, cello, violin, soprano saxophone, electric upright bass, percussion and guitar.
An eclectic encounter, indeed. Yet unlike other big bands who bond together to create one giant fusion of sound, each instrument in this little orchestra at the hands (and mouths) of their masters is its own entity ÷ each member, his own person. It is a collaboration of individuality.
When and Where:
This Friday, the Molehill Orkestrah will open for Gogol Bordello, a band of Ukrainian immigrants, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., at 9 p.m.
"With so many people in the group, everybody has a mass load of influence individually, so it just comes together cool, in an odd little way," said Chris Kallini, the percussionist.
"In the early days of Molehill there was a stronger, direct, almost standard, gypsy influence, but we've evolved way out of that and I think we've got our own sound now."
This rare sound that is the Molehill Orkestrah is built upon the distinct backgrounds brought into the group. It would be limiting and almost futile to place them in any one genre. After all, this isn't a band, it's an orchestra. Some of the members were trained classically while others have roots in jazz, mariachi, folk, bluegrass and even punk rock.
"We're just drawing on any influence that's inspiring from whatever region of the world," said violinist Risha Druckman.
Yet, despite their wide range of tastes and experiences, it appears unanimous that what they've made, what they've created, is uniquely theirs and very much grounded in the here and now.
"The main influence is just our surroundings, the desert," said Kallini.
This desert molehill was formed four years ago on Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that is celebrated each year here in Tucson.
Artists, musicians and performance groups gather to raise the dead through the celebration of life.
The Molehill Orkestrah was playing funeral dirge music for the processions that day.
Over the next year, the band experienced steady metamorphosis until finally they became the solid eight-person configuration that they are today.
Although they were more jam-oriented and casual in the past, the group agrees they are more dedicated than ever, with regular practicing and regular touring.
Imagining where they will be five years from now is not difficult to do. They are determined and passionate and know exactly what they want.
For one, they are unanimous in the desire to travel the world playing music. And they would also like to do some soundtrack work for independent films if the chance were to arise.
As of now, every member has a job on the side, but this is something they all hope to "transcend" someday.
"Some of us like our jobs, but some of us like this job better," said Druckman. "If you don't have to be at a job for eight hours, that's eight more hours you can play your instrument."
This summer, a big blue bus carried the troupe of eight around the western United States. They recorded the whole tour and are in the process of releasing a live album. When asked who their audience was, they all grinned and even laughed about that secret little ingredient that makes them so successful. "Everyone," the group disclosed, almost in unison. A look at the wide range of their audience and gigs verifies this.
On Oct. 26, they will be playing at the Waldorf School here in Tucson and then at Che's Lounge, 346 N. 4th Ave., later that night.
"We're going to play for three-year olds and then we're going to play for twenty three-year olds," Druckman said.
Clearly, there is no one audience. They've played cafes, punk rock clubs, pre-schools, festivals, theaters and underground parties.
"The variety of our venues is very broad, so many different kinds of places, so many different kinds of audiences and everyone seems to be incredibly receptive so it's really Ě "
"Ě Gratifying," Michael Dalzell the mandolin player chimed in. A nod of heads and it's clear they all agree.
Speaking of random gigs, the group played at a Klezmer brunch for elderly Jewish ladies in Los Angeles.
"It was sort of funny because we don't play Klezmer music," laughed Druckman.
"That's what makes the tours so fun. We're not focused on just one scene, so it's not predictable," said Mona Chambers, the cello player.
Take a look around at one of their shows and you will see "street kids standing next to old guys, punks next to hippies," said Kallini.
They do admit that the tour was not always easy. Everyone has their own tantrum mode. Yet after one month on tour, there was only one meltdown. For traveling with eight people and their dirty socks, that's pretty good.
What is it about this band that makes it work so well? It is hard for eight people in any situation to find a balance, let alone a musical group searching for a creative balance.
"Good communication," said Druckman.
"It takes a lot of diplomacy and a lot of tact and a lot of patience. Actually patience is the main thing," Dalzell admits. "For eight people to get together and have a creative life in common that doesn't involve some sort of dictatorship is really a remarkable thing in today's world and I kind of view it as a social experiment."
"A huge factor is that there isn't a leader, a conductor, everybody has an equal say, an equal part," said Chambers.
Cliff Kuhn, the guitarist, added, "If you look at the roots, we grew out of community."
He's right. Don't be mistaken by the word "¸ you can take off your shoes and dance to their music. There really is something down-home and comforting about this group of musicians. Theirs is a kind of 'sixties ideology, an understanding that the music is not only about the song, but also about bringing people together.
As Kallini likes to think of it, "The eight points of chaos and order."