The saying goes that, when you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s an apt adage for the Trenton-Philadelphia-based band Molly Rhythm. Having fun and delighting audiences is its job, and defying genres is its sideline.
On its Facebook page, Molly Rhythm describes itself as “rockish,” and perhaps Gogol Bordello would be compatible with their wide-ranging tastes, sound, and stage hijinks. But, according to Trenton resident and Molly Rhythm bassist Lori Johansson, “We don’t pigeonhole ourselves to any one genre, it’s more like active creativity. We stand by the music wholeheartedly, but we’re also really creative with our performances.”
“We have a lot of energy and really enjoy what we’re doing, which helps a lot when you’re performing,” she adds. “It’s important to have fun, but we also want the people watching us to have fun.”
Fresh from an appearance at the Wilmington (Delaware) Punk Rock Flea Market, and still stoked from May gigs at the Pouzzafest in Montreal — one of the biggest punk festivals in the world — Molly Rhythm will be at the Championship Sports Bar and Grill in Trenton, Friday, June 12. The band will be reunited with the colorful Peelander-Z, a Japanese punk band based in New York, whose members define themselves as a “Japanese Action Comic Punk band hailing from the Z area of Planet Peelander.”
In addition to Johansson on bass, Molly Rhythm has two charismatic female vocalists — Nikki Nailbomb and Elissa Janelle Velveteen. Not too long ago, the band had nine members including a trumpet and trombone player, but Johansson says Molly Rhythm has a tendency to “morph.” The band’s current lineup is now rounded out by Jon Rossi on guitar, Jeff Sward on saxophone, and drummer Collin (no last name, please). But even this roster can be flexible.
In fact, when Collin couldn’t make it to Montreal, Johansson tap-danced the drum parts, and the audience loved it.
“Yes, I tap dance,” she says. “I’m always really hyper, so I’m tapping around anyway. The tap dancing might stay — I might make it more of our routine.”
“It was amazing in Montreal, it’s a beautiful city, and it’s a super-organized festival,” she says. “There were more than 75 groups there, performing all throughout town, at any given time all around the city, from early in the evening until late at night.”
Speaking of music that lasts until the wee hours, the 24-hour festival Art All Night Trenton 2015 has announced its music lineup for Saturday and Sunday, June 20 and 21. Molly Rhythm will be there, along with Honah Lee, Paul Plumeri, Chalk and the Beige Americans, Black Collar Biz, A Love Like Pi, Dave Orban and the Mojo Gypsies, the Downright Down, Teeel, and numerous others. Performances will take place at the Reid Sound Main Stage, at the Historic Roebling Wire Works, at 675 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton. The music will begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 20, and continue for 24 hours, until 3 p.m. Sunday, June 21.
The history of Molly Rhythm isn’t as succinct as, say, how the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came together. Johansson muses that they all knew each other from the Trenton and Philadelphia punk/indie music scenes. About five years ago, the two lead singers — Nailbomb and Velveteen — invited her to play with them, then encouraged Sward to dust off his sax and join in, and the others fell in after. Molly Rhythm really materialized in 2011, and since then has played in some notable places, especially in Philadelphia.
“We really jumped into (performing),” Johansson says. “As far as Philly gigs, we’ve played the Trocadero Balcony, the TLA (Theater of the Living Arts), and the Legendary Dobbs on South Street, as well as the Voltage Lounge. We’ve also played the North Star Bar a lot — that’s where we played before with Peelander-Z. We loved the TLA — the stage is big, so we could really run around and not bump into each other.”
Earlier this year Molly Rhythm went on a mini-tour to Detroit and Lansing, Michigan, Chicago, Cincinnati, and other stops in the Midwest.
Johansson says being in Molly Rhythm is like having a full-time job. They practice often, and they’ve also been busy writing and recording. In November, 2014, the band released “The Devil Never Comes,” a collection of 13 original tracks, including a Christmas song, “Christmas Shopping While North Korea Has the Largest Death Camp in the World.”
The members have day jobs as well. Nailbomb is the Championship Bar’s manager, and is also involved in putting on events there. Championship owner Heather Ransome says Nailbomb is becoming “the face of the scene,” representing the next generation of the bar’s creative crowd, which includes visual artists as well as musicians. (See the January 14, 2015, issue of U.S. 1, “Backstage Story: Making Music and a Trenton Arts Scene.”)
“Nikki has thrown a lot of the events at the bar, such as block parties, hip hop shows, and in my opinion, she is one of the biggest parts of what makes Championship Bar what it is today, along with the general manager Drew Glenn,” Johansson says. “They both have worked hard on making the bar a safe location as well as being proactive with cleaning outside the bar and parts of the neighborhood to have a positive effect on the Trenton community, and supporting the music and art scene that is established in the area.”
Johansson’s other passion in life is visual art, and, as a multi-media artist, she does wood burning, painting, jewelry making, and sculptural work. She might get her talent from her Danish-born mother, a painter. Her father is a technology engineer.
Growing up in Lawrence, she heard all kinds of music, thanks to her parents’ vinyl collection, “Benny Goodman to Blondie to the Sex Pistols to the Beatles,” Johansson says. “They also had Mozart and some other classical music. Plus, I have an older sister who introduced me to the Smashing Pumpkins and other elements of 1990s grunge.”
It’s no accident that she can tap dance, as Johansson took tap, jazz, and ballet in her middle school years. A 2004 graduate of Lawrence High School, Johansson was involved in musical theater and choral activities there. In 2008 she graduated from Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, with a bachelor’s degree in studio art.
“I was involved in chorus and madrigal (singers) in high school, but playing an instrument is kind of a new thing for me,” Johansson says. “I got a bass and an amp when I was 18, and I would play every once in a while, pick it up here and there. But when Nikki and Elissa asked me to play, I got serious and fell in love with it.”
She hesitates to name any one musical influence, and doesn’t want to speak of the other band members’ influences, as they are vast and varied.
“For me, there are so many influences, I like so much music, and my style draws from so many different elements,” Johansson says. “The rest of the band is the same way as far as influences — it’s anything and everything.”
Connecting with other aspects of the creative scene in Trenton is important to Molly Rhythm — which, by the way, is a play on the musical term, “polyrhythm.”
Johansson shares her love of visual art by presenting “Art Chill Night” every Monday at the Championship, from 8 to midnight.
“I put out a bunch of paper, pencils, and crayons, and we invite everyone to come and draw,” she says. “I try to come up with a theme every week. It’s really fun because (visual) artists from the city come out and sometimes they bring their paintings. We see other people who don’t know how to draw, but instead of being on their cell phones, they’re playing with drawing.”
“The people who don’t think they’re artists sometimes come up with amazing things,” Johansson says. “It’s fun to try and figure out how to integrate art and music. One night when we did an art show, a friend came out and played acoustic music. It’s really relaxed, just come in and hang out, do your own thing.”
The relationship between the visual art and musical communities in Trenton came together in one of Johansson’s favorite performances. In May, 2013, Molly Rhythm played to accompany an art opening for graffiti/street artist Leon Rainbow at Gallery 219 on East Hanover Street in Trenton.
“We played right out on the sidewalk, and it was definitely one of the most interesting and fun shows we’ve ever done,” Johansson says. “We didn’t know that many people, but (folks) came out from their houses to listen, and it was nice to meet all these people who had never heard of us. It was such a welcoming experience, all about art, music and community — that’s what really drives us.”
Molly Rhythm, Championship Sports Bar and Grill, 931 Chambers Street, Trenton. Peelander-Z also performs at this all-ages show. Friday, June 12. Doors open at 6 p.m. $12. 609-394-5502. www.backstageatchamps.com. Molly Rhythm on the Web: www.mollyrhythm.com.
Art All Night Trenton 2015, Historic Roebling Wire Works, 675 South Clinton Avenue, Trenton. Saturday, June 20, 3 p.m., through Sunday, June 21, 3 p.m. Free. www.artallnighttrenton.org.