BY LAURENCE VITTES
When Molly Lewis offered to tell us what’s in her case, I had no idea the high-flying American uker would be so thorough and methodical. She provided a checklist of things every ukulele player should carry, selected with the kind of care that allows aficionados to choose which gear will work best for them, not necessarily what Lewis uses herself.
I spoke with Lewis post-performing at the 7th Czech Ukulele Festival, which takes place in a town just outside Prague. She was flying to Nashville en route to Atlanta for the annual Dragon Con pop culture convention over Labor Day weekend, where she will be playing a concert “with a band!” she adds enthusiastically. She will also participate in a live recording with comedian Joseph Scrimshaw, which she wrote the theme song for, as well as speak on panels.
Lewis practiced the ukulele through high school after trying guitar, mandolin and banjo, and then went viral as a senior. Earlier this year she was featured in a podcast titled Ukulele Is The New Black. She has “a new single of an old song” coming out perhaps in October. Her “next very big thing” will be the 2020: the JoCo Cruise out of Fort Lauderdale next March.
Tell me about the Czech Festival.
The Czech Festival was unbelievable fun. My ukulele horizons were broadened and I made a lot of new friends. I also taught a workshop where we played “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” with tiny rubber hands; I feel like I learned a lot about the tiny hand technique, hopefully the workshop attendees felt the same!
Have you played many European festivals?
The Czech Fest was the first ukulele festival I’ve ever done—and also my first trip to Europe. I gigged through the geek/convention scene for about a decade, so I’ve actually not met a lot of ukulele players until recently. If you know of any festivals stateside that are looking, send them my way.
Anything new in the works?
Recently I’ve been experimenting with spherical video. My favorite example right now is the cover of Something that we recorded in the round, after which I did some blandishment in Final Cut to make it into a ukulele tutorial.
When I pull such random non-musical items out of my ukulele case it makes me feel like Mary Poppins.
What uke is in your case?
These days my go-to road uke is a Blackbird Clara, which looks like a tweed gourd with a mail slot in it. I love it! It’s made of a proprietary linen composite that Blackbird developed to be acoustically similar to wood but less volatile or delicate. The guy I bought it from told me that I could leave it in a hot car and it would likely stay in tune, and while I haven’t run into that specific scenario it has held up to Tennessee humidity and California heat, so I can attest to its hardiness.
What else is in your case?
The Clara itself doesn’t have a lot of hard corners and comes in a soft case, so I’ve taken some liberties with what and how I store things in my case. The uke is my overhead bag when I fly, so it pays to use all the available space.
In the front pocket is the charging cable for the Mi-Si pickup, which is just an AC wall wart leading to an instrument jack. It spooks literally every guitar player I meet—my friend Seth called it “a cursed object.” My opinion: Everyone should at least have at least one cursed object in their instrument case to keep the fairies away. And of course, clip-on tuners.
I also always have a tin full of Snarling Dog picks. I used to switch between the green (.53mm) and the red (.73mm), depending on if I needed to strum or flatpick. Then I came to find out that there’s a purple variety at .60mm, which is right in that sweet spot. So now they’re all in there like so much confetti.
In that same tin there’s also a tiny chunk of meteorite that Phil Plait—also known as the Bad Astronomer—gave me at a show. It’s about the size of a wad of gum and kind of looks the part except that it’s gunmetal gray. This is perhaps the second cursed object in my instrument case.
You mentioned your “tiny hands technique” before.
Although the purple/red picks are still my go-to for flatpicking, these days I also keep a few Archie McPhee finger hands at the ready, because I find they’re much more pleasant to strum the ukulele with than my bare fingernails. This is not a joke or a paid endorsement.
I keep a Cooperstand Pro-Mini instrument stand all folded up behind the neck of my uke; I do enjoy the irony of my synth-wood uke being held up by a stand that is 95 percent solid wood—I think about adding some protection for my uke neck.
In the summer months I like to stay cool by stashing a bamboo fan in the hollow around my uke neck. When I pull such random non-musical items out of my ukulele case it makes me feel like Mary Poppins.