Molly Lewis whistled for Dr. Dre and 'Barbie.' Now she's puckered up for stardom

August Brown, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — A few years ago, Molly Lewis walked into Dr. Dre's recording studio and accidentally roasted him.

Lewis, an L.A.-raised musician and composer, is renowned for her otherworldly whistling. She'd cultivated it for years among L.A.'s avant-garde, and one of Dre's collaborators found her and brought her in to cut a track.

She recalled Dre whistling a part himself to guide her, and Lewis gently ribbed him — "I told him 'I think you should stick to producing,' and everyone in the room started absolutely dying laughing, including Dre," she recalled. "I didn't think it was that good of a joke, but once he left the room, they said 'You do realize that's a line from Ice Cube's diss track about Dre?"

"They were all shell-shocked I'd referenced that, but it was totally unintentional!" Lewis insisted, very Larry David-ishly. "It was an unintentional diss!"

Lewis' extraordinary talent in a very niche field has taken her to unlikely places, from Dr. Dre's studio to covering Billie Eilish on the "Barbie" soundtrack. It's all culminated in "On the Lips," her February debut LP.

"Lips" is a sly wink at midcentury jazz and exotica, mood music that's more moving than you might expect. It will probably put her in front of much bigger audiences that don't know what her ubiquitous yet unexpected instrument is capable of.


"When people ask me what I do, I say I'm a musician, and then I brace myself because we have to get into an hourlong conversation about whistling," Lewis said. "Most people don't even think of it as an instrument. But I'm just so used to this being my career I've forgotten that a lot of people have never heard of this before."

In late February, Lewis met up for martinis at the Westin Bonaventure's revolving rooftop bar in downtown L.A., famous for 360-degree views and swanky concrete brutalism.

Lewis loves preserved-in-amber places in L.A. She grew up here (her dad, Mark Lewis, is an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker), and fell in love with spots like the Dresden Room and Musso & Frank, where she became close pals with bartender Sonny Donato (he inspired a song, "Sonny," on her new LP.)

"The bartenders there could smell the fear of a newbie," Lewis laughed. "But I love L.A. history like that. Compared to Europe, 100 years old is not that old, but Musso's just about the oldest thing L.A.'s got. Every time you go there, some waiter will tell you, 'Oh, that's Lauren Bacall's favorite seat' or 'That was Charlie Chaplin's booth.'"


swipe to next page

©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


blog comments powered by Disqus