by Samuel Hernandez
Leftover Cuties are a Venice band embarking on their largest loop of the United States yet. They’re a personable band – after shows it’s easy to approach any member and have a conversation. The jokes that filter through the set pour over into their infectious personalities, the band is charming, and time spent with them is the spent time falling in love with a unique sound that’s a blend of several decades.
Samuel Hernandez: There aren’t a lot of bands that will just play free shows the day before or the day of their concert. How has your experience busking been compared to playing clubs?
Shirli McAllen: It’s weird, sometimes I don’t know where our day is going to take us. Yesterday we were busking in the park just here [Washington Square Park.] People just crowded us and they stayed for the entire time. It was like a concert outside.
It helps to support the tour. Sometimes we talk about that. Austin last night was saying I don’t even know why we bother with clubs. We were supposed to busk a lot on this tour, but our schedule has been insane, and my voice has been suffering. I still love playing clubs though, getting a proper sound.
SH: The name can be a bit startling. At first it reads as twee pop, it is a cutesy name. Do you feel that it fits comfortably with the sound of the band?
SM: The name came about when I was working at a restaurant. A lot of our coworkers that we really liked had just quit their jobs. My friend came over to me and my friend and he said “You guys are like the Leftover Cuties.”
At that time Austin and I had started writing songs. The first song we wrote, recorded, and forgot about for two years. It felt like a leftover song. It was really kind of cute simple and pure. It just clicked in my head and I said this is the name.
There were moments later on that maybe I regretted it. Because as our sound matured and you listen to the album there is some cute stuff but there is also a lot of deep and rich sound.
* * *
Aside from the crinkled faces in response to trying to suggest the band to new listeners, the band is adored. Rockwood Music Hall fills up quickly and the crowd is eagerly engaging with the stage banter. When Shirli mentions that she briefly considered moving to New York City, the audience brightens, anxious to refute any excuses and encourage the move, “but I don’t think my band would move with me.”
The band chimes in one at a time “I’m in.” At this point the audience is wrapped in the hard to describe aura, the sound, the energy coming from the band, there is a style inherent in the soprano ukulele, Shirli commandingly picking out melodies, Austin grinning tremendously with his upright bass, the pianist pulling triple duty on the trumpet and accordion, drummer providing all the odds and ends, the constant wit.
* * *
SH: Austin was originally the ukulele player. How did you transition to playing the instrument and how do you feel it connects you to the band?
SM: It was a huge transition. Before then I’d only played ukulele on a couple of songs, it was mostly shakers and singing. Then, eventually, I had to take the role of playing ukulele full time, and Austin was primarily a bass player so it was easier for him. After a few months it just became second nature. I became really comfortable and was having a blast. I feel more connected to the music in that way, and I feel more a part of it. When you’re just standing there singing, you can feel some disconnection.
SH: Do you feel the band is particularly suited to a certain stage? When I listen to the new album The Spark & Fire it feels like a romance from a distance, what was the theme you were going for?
SM: I don’t like that word “lounge”. I never set out to be a lounge band and I think that even though we can fit in that scene, if you see a show at a club there’s nothing lounge-y about it. It’s high energy. We have our sound. With my vocals and the particular instruments we are using, we sound like the Leftover Cuties. Almost nothing we do is intentional in the sense that we don’t try to force anything, we don’t try to limit. Basically the songs come. It would be great if we could set a theme for a record and the songs would just come, but I can’t do that. It has to be something that either I’m personally going through or something in my life.