Pink Rangers & Politics: A SXSW Interview with Lesibu Grand's Tyler-Simon Molton
Lesibu Grand crashed out of Atlanta's punk scene with the sound and fury of a Super Megazord. Lead singer and co-writer, Tyler-Simone Molton, has an effervescence that pervades every aspect of her artistry. From decrying the crumbling humanity of our country's politics to speaking to the desire to retreat to cherished moments of simpler times, Lesibu Grand's music always speaks to a part of the listener that yearns for some positivity. Even if that positivity is in the form of turning a certain badly tanned former president into a literal Cheeto.
Oddly enough the conversation begins not about music, but about hair. Black women's hair in particular. There's a kindredness in the topic. A shared lived experience that allows Molton to lean into the conversation with the same ebullience that she creates her music with her band.
It's an easy connection from the perils of working with natural hair to the intricate (and expensive) art of cosplay. Something Molton is very familiar with, even if she admits to not being a professional.
"I'm a super nerd when it comes to cosplay," she says with a smile. "When I was a kid, actually, I dressed up as a Pink Power Ranger for Halloween. I was kind of always obsessed with the Pink Power Ranger as a child. So that was the one that I gravitated towards. Plus, my favorite color is pink."
Her affinity for the Pink Ranger adds weight to her portrayal of the popular teen action hero when coupled with the band's proclivity toward making bold statements about the state of the world. As in the music video for the track that for many, including myself, served as the introduction to the band: "Hot Glue Gun."
"I enjoyed that video a lot," she says. "It's definitely what was needed. It was very ironic that we wrote that song. We wrote it, obviously, before we made the music videos, and the song had already been played a lot of times live and everything. Then once we started shooting the video, it was during election season. So it kind of just like fell into our laps, and we were just like, 'We have to do this.'"
Oddly enough, Lesibu Grand didn't begin as a collective of artists wanting to express their weariness of politics. In fact, Molton and band co-founder John Renaud began their artistic connection on more of a whim than anything else. "John actually worked with my mom at Turner Broadcasting, now Warner media. They worked together for several years. My mom would bring me into work sometimes like, take your kid to work day or something like that. And I met him in passing. But obviously, we didn't actually have a relationship with each other until years later.
"We both were involved in other projects," she continues. "I saw that he was in a jazz band called Cadillac Jones, and I was playing in a band called Dylan Michael and the Family. Then coincidentally, we literally ran into each other at another show in Atlanta and just started talking about music because we knew we were both musicians. The conversation kind of evolved to like, 'Oh, what if we did a project together?' Like, you know when you meet musicians, you say you want to jam out with them. We said it, and then we actually did it." The memory brings a smile to her face. Reconnecting with someone, particularly someone who shares the same passions as you, is a happy bit of fortune indeed. The thought of this meeting of musical minds certainly ignites Molton's already ebullient personality.
"The rest is kind of history," she says. "Once we started meeting up, he brought in Lee [Wiggins] and Brian [Turner], and then it evolved. It's a new group than it was when we started in 2018. But it's now kind of like, the solid pieces are together."
Since their inception, the band has added two guitarists, a drummer and a keyboardist. What eventually happened was this delicious amalgamation of '80s post-punk and electro-pop. Think Blondie meets Devo meets the Ramones. It's loud, bright, colorful and hits like a sledgehammer to the gut. But the band really started as an amorphous experiment in sound. "I feel like the music gravitated towards us in that way," she says thoughtfully. "We didn't go in intending to sound like how we sound. Actually, when John and I met like at that show, we started talking about sounding like M.I.A. and Santigold kind of style. Then once we started playing together, I think with both of our influences being so different, it kind of gelled together to make what you hear. It turns out it does sound kind of New Wave, kind of punk. That's exactly what people compare us to. But it kind of sprung up on us. Of course, I have listened to New Wave artists like Talking Heads and Blondie, as well as punk artists too. But my background is very broad. So I think I kind of pulled from a lot of different areas."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that much of what their earlier work entailed was covers of music from popular '80s bands. "Once you start playing covers, you do kind of start playing like those people. We tried to kind of model ourselves off of the things we liked. Blondie is really good about like sounding subtle but still hard hitting. You can tell she's really strong vocalist. Chrissie Hynde is the lead singer of the Pretenders. Yeah, we do Pretenders covers too.
"I have a few [favorite covers]. 'Bad Romance' is one of my all-time favorite Lady Gaga. And then we do one that we haven't done in a while by Camera Obscura called 'Hey, Lloyd.'"
This diversity of influences means the music Lesibu Grand creates can leap from hard-hitting post-punk to emotive and immersive balladry, as in standout track "Mi Sueño." A poignant look at the past drenched in Spanish guitar and simple percussive syncopation. It's a track Molton speaks of fondly and is surprised still gets any attention.
"That one was definitely a whole band group session," she says. "We were at band practice one night, and we had a bottle of wine called Mi Sueño. We were like, 'Let's make a song about this bottle of wine.' Then we just started playing what we thought a wine song would sound like. I just said vocal lines over what they were playing, and then 'Mi Sueño' happened.
Of course, what's thrust the band into the public consciousness errs more on the bombastic than the subtlety of lost memories and love notes to ancestors who've had to find joy in great pain. Tracks like "We Fuckin' Suck" and "Hot Glue Gun" have catapulted Lesibu Grand to cult status beyond their home audience in ATL. Much of that has to do with the way they tackle controversial subject matter. Molton and Renaud kick convention in the balls and aren't afraid to strip back the costuming and stage makeup of a country still incapable of dealing with its bloodstained history. With snark-tinged rage.
Many artists of their ilk would only aim to expose the atrocities and hold those in charge of the nation's collective fate accountable for their intentional and dangerous negligence (as they should). However, Lesibu Grand always adds a layer of hope to their brand of raging against the machine. "I think in my life personally, I like to come up with solutions when I have a problem," Molton says. "I don't like to just complain about what's wrong with the world and be like, 'We're just doomed.' Because I'm an optimist, I guess, and I want to make people feel optimistic as well. So I think putting that in the music is important. Calling out the problem, definitely important. But equally as important is finding solutions or giving people the opportunity to feel they can find the solution."
And that's the beauty and elegance of Lesibu Grand. To add levity to a situation that oftentimes requires a great deal of severity isn't easy to pull off. It's serious music with a visual that contradicts the heaviness yet doesn't bleed over into satire or silly distraction away from the truth. Let's face it. Much of what we see transpire in the world doesn't seem real. It's a long-running nightmare that's so spectacular in its craziness it forces people to live in a constant state of suspension of disbelief. We must believe it because it's happening right in front of us (for many, happening to them).
Their latest single, "Exercise," adds to the band's ability to be lighthearted in the midst of times that leave most hearts heavy. "So exercise was also 'Mi Sueño' in that it turned from a jam to a song out of nowhere," she reveals. "We wrote that maybe a year and a half ago and never played it. Literally it was sitting in our back pocket somewhere, and we just started talking about what the music video could look like. Then we were just like, 'We have do this. Let's just do it.' Then we got our friends at Acid Panda Productions to do the music video for that. I liked the video a lot. It's fun.
"We're kind of drawing from the '80s. Barely doing anything that is considered exercise, aka me in that video." The laugh kind of bounces around our cluster of tables in the Austin Convention Center. "Also it was kind of getting inspiration from Kanye's 'Workout Plan' as well. So it was definitely supposed to be a purposely cheesy infomercial.
"Our latest release is 'Friends with My Friends,' which is another song that's really fun about friendship and just meeting other people's friends and integrating friend groups. Just living in harmony despite differences amongst each other and basically bringing people together."
As most things do, this conversation comes to an end. Much like their music, it ends on hope. "We do plan to release an EP or full-length album this year," Molton reveals. "We're going to be playing more shows when we get back to Atlanta, so that's always nice. Being in Austin is amazing. We'd love to go further west, Northeast where it's cold. We'll bring a jacket and sings some songs for you guys. We're just gonna keep playing and hopefully a tour 2023 would be on the horizon."
Lesibu Grand is a force of nature, sweeping through the South and making its mark on the nation. When this band of superheroes assemble, what happens is truly something powerful. Music that has the ability to kick the evils of the world in the ass. Send toxicity crying to its mom. Keep your eyes on Lesibu Grand. They might just be the superheroes in pink spandex we're looking for to save the world from the forces of evil.
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