Natalia Tena is the singer, accordion player and charming heart of Molotov Jukebox. She also currently stars in Game of Thrones, currently in its second season, played Tonks in the Harry Potter films and is Rachel in an adaptation of Bel Ami released this year. Molotov Jukebox are celebrating the release of their second EP, Bang Bang, and this interview took place as Natalia journeyed through London on a bus. It was kinda funny.
Was music something you’d always wanted to be involved in and your acting gave you a launchpad into?
I’ve always been obsessed with music, when I was four I begged my mum for a year for piano lessons – she was only ganna give me lessons if I was committed enough. Cause’ my first love was kind of – Well my first love was Elvis Presley, then I wanted to grow up to be Chuck Berry. I listened to rock’n’roll and was like “I wanna do this”, then I started piano. At eight I fancied this boy called Tom who played the violin. I only picked violin because I fancied this fucking bloke, and even after years of practise I’d sound like a dying cat. Then I picked up my accordion and there it was. There was my love again.
It’s so rare to see female accordion players, especially actresses as well (Christina Hendricks is the only other who comes to mind), would you mind talking about how and when you started playing?
Does she? Wicked. I picked up the accordion because of a job, and it was a bit like falling in love with someone, and it’s like, “Where the fuck have you been all my life?” I look at the accordion , and it’s “there you are baby!” So then I fell in love with this guy and was like “lets make a band”, so I picked up the accordion again after three years of playing very minimally. So then I went to my first festival, didn’t sleep for eight days, did some very naughty things to my body and basically just sat in a field playing it over and over again until I was good. Well, not even good, but passable. But there was never any doubt about the accordion, as soon as I saw it it was fucking love.
Do you think it’s different writing songs for accordion than any other instrument?
It’s a bit like guitar, it’s an accompaniment instrument, but it’s also a solo instrument – it can be whatever you want really. I mean, when I’m writing music you can tell it’s me coming up with the initial idea, because of the beat of it, I’ve got this kind of – (hums a rolling beat) – when I play accordion on the bass notes. Then if Adam makes a song on guitar you can – or I can – we all can – tell the difference between Adam having the initial idea and me having the initial idea.
Sorry to ask, but are you from Surrey?
Oh no, I’m from London but my parents are Spanish. Can you hear Surrey in my accent?
A little bit
(Laughs) Awesome! (note: for whatever reason, she was ecstatic)
Your parents are both Spanish, do you think that affected your musical taste at all?
Fuckin’ everything you grow up with effects you in some way. Everything has a cause and effect. In a Spanish household, there’s a load of music, know what I mean? If it’s Christmas and there’s family around, inevitably there’ll be clapping and singing. Also, in Spain and Brazil they’ve still got songs where if someone plays it, everyone knows it. Any bar, anywhere. Almost like folk songs that are traditional to them, these are the songs I grew up with.
Like these special esoteric, traditional songs?
Yeah! Yeah yeah – the closest England has is maybe the Beatles.
You guys are celebrating the release of Bang, your new EP. Can you talk about the video for the opening track, “Tick Tock”? It’s like the weird, New Orleans reverse-funeral.
Oh, that’s so good! That was our fucking mission. Marco [Sandeman] the film director, is amazing. We always want him to do our videos, he did “Laid to Rest”, and we immediately knew he had to be involved in this one, and he heard it and he – we’re all a lot about death anyway, and sex – and he really liked the idea of the Day of the Dead.
You mean like de la de los muertos?
Yeah, and I was like “mine mine mine mine mine”. I’m born on the first of November, which is day of the dead, and I dream, hopefully this year might happen, of playing on the first of November, my birthday, in Mexico. And I love all the artwork, all of it. I’ve been obsessed with it for years. We found this woman in Spain, and it’s very rare in the South, because there’s no fucking money in Spain as I’m sure you know, so all the people who are hair and make-up ladies, all the fancy ones, go to Madrid, so all the ones left are like… bridal, or shit like that. We found someone, her name was Keka, she was great. She saved our film.
You already mentioned Elvis, but I was wondering if you had any specific singing idols? Your voice is interesting because it’s this traditional jazz voice but with this noticeable London aspect to it
Oh! Well I grew up on like… all the fifties shit. I was obsessed with Aretha Frankin, Nina Simone, all those ladies for years. Years and years and years. Etta James – yes, Carla Thomas as well. I love these women. I mean I’ve got an all right voice but compared to these women! Their range is just like… I just want to buy you Toblerones and tell you I love you, you know? I also fucking love Amy Winehouse. She was and continues to be a national treasure.
It’s so rare to see big band style music treated with this short, pop-music style writing. I was wondering if you had a mantra or anything when writing music?
Huh, that’s a good question. Basically, I have an obsession with people like Charles Bukowski, he’s an amazing writer. Robert Frost, Tom Waits. These people who… When you’re writing lyrics, you can’t overcomplicate it. You’ve got to have a powerful line with lyrics that people can relate to. And you can’t be wanky. Bukowski and Frost can evoke any feeling in just the simplest way. That, I think, is the fucking mission of a song.
You have a film out this year. You play Rachel in an adaptation of Bel Ami-
Yes! I do. I haven’t seen it. Is it good?
I don’t know! It might be.
(Laughs) I mean, I have no idea. I have no idea. I don’t know how big my part in it is. There were a few disagreements about how the film was ganna look in the end, and how things were ganna be cut, as usual.
Well, I can at least say that on IMDB you have second billing.
Yeah. I mean with Bel Ami depending on the way the film is cut, Rachel is like, a major, major component. Can you talk about getting into that role?
Well I wasn’t familiar with the novel, I was going to read it, but they said it was so totally different there was really no point. I try not to – well obviously with Game of Thrones I got addicted and read all of them, but most of the time it’s best to read them after. If you do read the book, you get very caught in how it “should” be, and how they cut the script, and you get excited about scenes and characters that don’t exist, and worse you argue with the Director about things. /when you add things it’s worse, because dude, you’ve got this fountain, and you’re just trying to… draught it, and add bollocks. But then, what do I know about what’s watchable? God this bus is hot. It’s ganna be a hot gig, after its ganna feel like you’ve lost three stone (laughs).
Well you know, hot gigs are the best. When you’re in a tightly packed room with a bunch of strangers sweating on each other you form a sort of brotherhood.
(Laughs) Feel the love! That moves me man.
So that show you’re on.
A television program. Some people may have heard of. It’s like an indie show, it’s on its second season right now.
I am talking of course about Game of Thrones.
Oh yeah (laughs). It’s wicked, isn’t it? It’s Lord of the Rings with loads of banging and sex. Banging and death, even.
When you signed on, did you know what kind of role Osha was going to be?
No. I had no idea about anything. If I’d known what I was going in to – I didn’t really understand HBO, what a big thing that was. I thought it was going to be some minor nothing, I went into the audition not knowing anything. I went dressed up as the character because like, why not?
Did you make your own costume?
No no, I just got one of my dresses because it was brown, and I got loads of ivy in my hair and loads of other bits and bobs of what I thought she’d look like… Which isn’t at all what she looks like! (Laughs) Yeah, I went in not knowing anything, which I think was the best way to do it. Knowing too much you can freak out – I’m not saying don’t research the character, but knowing how big it is you can freak out.
Your decision to play Tonks (in the Harry Potter films) sounded kind of sudden or spur-of-the moment, was it similar with Osha on Game of Thrones?
Well, I wouldn’t say Tonks was spur-of-the-moment, I just didn’t know anything about Harry Potter, I got the audition through my agent. It’s most like I feel I’ve blagged most of my life (Laughs)
You said you’ve since read the books for Game of Thrones?
Yeah, all of them. We went on tour with the band, and Adam had this huge brick of a book about Stalingrad in the forties. That was his beach read. Mine was all the Game of Thrones books, I mean I was surrounded by this paradise around me and I was focused on this book about incest.
So you know where your character goes now?
Well, no, they kind of changed it. I’m not really in the second book, and they very generously – thank you HBO I love your faces – have given me a part in it. So yeah, it’s definitely different than the books.
It might be down to how well you interact with the young actor, Isaac Hempstead. You’re kind of like his character’s weird guardian angel almost.
Oh yeah, Isaac is amazing, such a little dude. Actually he’s not even that little anymore! But yeah, even though she’s such a sheg, a violent sheg. She turns around, doesn’t she?
Yeah, and your performance is what makes the character. It’s the kind of thing where you just easily gain everyone’s attention every time you’re on screen.
Really? No! It should be the boy, man! I’m just some grumbling weirdo.
Well, you grumble weirdly very believably. You commit to grumbly.
(Laughs) Oh, thank you Will. Thank you.
So, now you have Tonks, Osha, Rachel from Bel Ami and Desdemona on stage – that was the Royal Shakespeare Company, wasn’t it?
I did! I did that. And last year, You Instead came out. It really brought film and music together, it was a proper merger. I was trying to get the boys on it as well, like… Can my band be my band? (Laughs) It didn’t work. It was interesting to write for a band that wasn’t mine though. I came up with the name though.
You wrote music for that film?
Yeah! It had to be femme rock. It was actually really liberating. For me when I write songs it’s like a pregnancy. And I’ll nit-pick things. Like in a pub I’ll hear a phrase… It can take a while though, like six months. A melody for me is always much easier, well, riffs are harder. But to actually get the lyrics, man. It takes me about six months, but this I had to do in two weeks… And the thing is there was no pressure because it wasn’t my band, there was no pressure writing for them.
So, you have these characters, these very recognisable iconic characters, that have a lot of… Well, let’s say “nerd cred”.
Thank you! I don’t really know… It’s brilliant man, fucking why not. Nerds rule the fucking world. Fuck everyone else.
Do you have any Comic-con experience?
I’ve done a few signings actually… The Game of Thrones ones are different – I love the Harry Potter ones where the kids are young, but the thing is there’s lot of really scary people. Like, people who are… really scary. Like, aren’t you getting laid? Why don’t you have any friends? You know what I mean. People turning forty and are really mental, it’s kind of sad.
There are people mad into Harry Potter.
Yeah! But you can be a crazy Harry Potter fan any age, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s just a stalkery vibe that some of them have. It’s like, “Mate, you’re forty! What are you doing?” I should not be relevant in your life. I shouldn’t be that relevant at all. None of this should be. Whereas with Game of Thrones it’s definitely different, there’s definitely a different group of people enjoying it.
What would you say is the main difference in the fandoms?
They’re obviously a bit more adult in what they find cool about it and how they see it.
When you began acting, did you expect to be playing roles like these, or getting this much “nerd cred”?
No, no you never know anything. And you should never really expect it. I mean, right now I’ve got a job, but next year I could fucking fuck up my entire life and I’d be out of work in a few months, you know what I mean? Or like, more, and I might just have to be “right I have to be a midwife”, which is my fallback option. Music and being a midwife.
Well you know, those are two similar careers.
(Laughs) Yeah, why not?
Are you guys working on a full album?
Yeah, well, hopefully. There’s talk of hopefully going to America in the summer and doing a few big gigs there, which would give us the finance to do this album. I really I really want to go to America. I want to go back to South America too, since I left Brazil it’s all I’ve been thinking about… I don’t know what I’m ganna put on this album! I’ll have to write a lot of new songs very quickly. He thing is, there are still some recordings of the first [EP] Double Dare and this one I’m not entirely happy with that I would do differently. You only realise what you want when you haven’t had it. You have to go through the process of getting all the money, getting all excited, listening to it and saying “Yeah… Can we have more of that?” and the producer going “No… That’s a totally different sound you want”. The album will be us collaborating and getting what all of us want, if that can happen without all of us shouting at each other. Hopefully it’ll be a gem! Hopefully. Fingers crossed. Ovaries crossed. Everything crossed.