New York City is generally not kind to purveyors of musical nostalgia. While from Wicker Park to East Hollywood, one might readily find a rockabilly scene that’s been going on at the same place for 20 years, Gotham just doesn’t have the patience.
This makes the rise of NYC’s utterly fabulous nouveau swing stylists The Hot Sardines all the more spectacular. Tapping into the singular puissance and pizzazz of the ’20s and ’30s, they’ve consistently played to packed houses, secured a major label deal and even been invited to guest with The Boston Pops.
Now they’ve scored perhaps their ultimate coup: getting acting legend and Cabaret star Alan Cumming to sing a song with them. The resulting track, “When I Get Low, I Get High,” is a veritable modern classic, which we’re thrilled to debut on BlackBook.
And with a US and European tour kicking off this Saturday, we caught up with the glamorous Hot Sardines frontwoman Elizabeth Bougerol, to chat about their devoted followers, upcoming album (French Fries & Champagne, out June 17 on Universal Music Classics), and the chance to work with an icon like Cumming.
At a time when the musical landscape seems to be narrower than ever, whom do you find makes up the Hot Sardines audience?
We’re still trying to figure that out. We show up on peoples’ playlists next to everyone from Lake Street Dive to Chet Baker to Billie Holiday to Ray Charles to Amy Winehouse to Edith Piaf. The audience is all over the place. We sold out most of the dates on our first national tour on basically zero national press, so that told us we probably weren’t the only ones craving new classic sounds.
How did you come to connect with Alan Cumming? Was he already a fan?
It was such a long shot. Evan (Palazzo, who started the band with me) and I are fans of pretty much everything he does—he’s so talented at so many things at once, and he’s using all of his powers for good. So our producer Eli Wolf (Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, The Roots) just cold called him to ask if he’d be interested in singing on the record. He wrote back “I love the Hot Sardines!” in the sweetest email. We were on tour and had to excuse ourselves to go do a happy dance.
Tell us a bit about working with him.
In a word, just lovely. He’s just so fully, authentically himself, in that way you don’t see too often. It’s mesmerizing to watch him call on his instincts as a performer. We swapped stories of taking our rescue dogs to the ER, regrettable tattoos and which animals we follow on Instagram; he turned me on to Esther the Wonder Pig.
What can we expect from the new album, French Fries & Champagne?
We hatched a plan to make about half the record just us Sardines doing our lowdown thing (the fries), and then lush out the other half with strings (the Champagne). As for what to expect: a gospel-tinged tune from Some Like It Hot, “People Will Say We’re in Love” from Oklahoma! as a tango, some sweet boy-girl harmonies, some Grappelli-style French fiddle, and a couple of originals, including the title track—which is about throwing a party when the world is going to hell in a handbasket. And we did a sort of boogie-woogie thing with “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer, because it doesn’t matter when a tune was written—a classic is a classic.