Thunderpussy's Molly Sides Talks Danger Diva

Interviews, Local Music
Dusty Henry
photo by Matthew B. Thompson

When Molly Sides takes the stage fronting her band Thunderpussy, it'd be easy to mistake her for a cybernetically enhanced superhuman. How else could anyone prowl the stage and howl so ferociously? Amazingly, Sides is human like the rest of us. However, in director/writer Robert McGinley's new film, Danger Diva, Sides plays a hard rock vocalist who, after a sting in jail, is bailed out and implement with experimental tech to become an "electronically enhanced new-music diva."  She gets fame, glory, and the power to shatter glass at will. As you might've guessed, there's a catch. As the trailer below reveals, there appears to be a larger conspiracy afoot with menacing corporate henchman attempting to use her power for their own sinister deeds.

This is Sides' first ever feature film, but acting was one of her earliest passions. Growing up in Idaho, she attended theater camp and had dreams of becoming an actress. Eventually she would move to Seattle to study dance at Cornish College of the Arts, but theater was still a major presence in her life. She began volunteering at local performing arts organization On The Boards and would later perform in some of their productions after graduation. As we chatted with Sides, it became clear that all of these experiences would have a direct line to landing her role in Danger Diva - and not just her, but also the other members of Thunderpussy as well playing her band in the film. We talked with Molly Sides in anticipation of the premiere of Danger Diva, tomorrow, April 13, at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian, followed by a live performance by Thunderpussy.How did you get involved in the movie and what made you want to be a part of it?

Robert McGinley had been writing the script for like 15 years and he reached out to On The Boards, which is actually a theater that he co-founded in, I believe, 1978. He reached out to his friends and family back at OTB, and he's like, "You know, I want to film this movie in Seattle and I'm looking for the femme fatale of this world or scene." They brought up my name and they were like, "You know, she also sings in a band called Thunderpussy." And he was looking for a band, as well as an actress. Basically he just took a big leap of faith with me, as I did with him and Brian Faker as well, who produced the film. OTB reached out to me like, "Hey, do you mind if we send this writer/director your info?" I was like, "You know, I miss doing theater. I miss acting. I miss that world, it's been so long. I'd love to talk with him." We ended up being on the phone for two hours. He got me at pretty cool point in my life too where things were stirring. I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm a constantly lit flame — I'm always flickering and I need something more.

[McGinley] overnighted the script. I read it and I thought, "This is pretty cool. This could be fun. This could be a really fun adventure. And he wants to work with my band, how cool!" It just snowballed from there. He needed a little bit more musical drive or steering in the music force, and [Thunderpussy was] able to be a part of that whole world. He needed a little extra directorship in the music, the soundtrack part of it. Whitney [Petty], who plays guitar in Thunderpussy and my partner, she jumped right in as well. Then it felt like our roles became a lot bigger. It's a great little melting pot of all these awesome Seattle forces in.

What sort of prep did you do for the role? 

I did a lot of prep, actually. I was reaching out to a lot of friends who are in the acting world and even just other cast members on the film — reaching out to them beforehand and learning lines. And also just the character development, just writing it out and reading more about mythology and the great divine goddess Devi. And also, just really long conversations with Robert. He was pretty clear about the development of this character. I reached out to a lot of people around [Seattle]. Seattle's pretty incredible that way. There are so many active artists and people who are more than exciting to lend or help with information or exercises. There are certain scenes in the movie where I really have to vocalize and scream and that's where Robert and [Producer] Brian Faker, he's fully immersed in the theater world here. [There were] certain [vocal] exercises, like, "How am I really gonna project that long and for that many takes? If takes 20 takes or if it takes two, how do I develop that kind of vocal range in speaking and screaming?"

What differences and similarities do you think there are between yourself and Devi?

Similarity wise, Devi is a person trying to figure out herself, as we all are. You have moments and days and months and even years of chaos or turmoil. Inner conflict or conflict with people, your relationships, whether their personal or creative or work. There are moments where it's like: Okay, this makes sense to me. Or feeling like you're on the outer limits of something you can't quite break into [inaudible]. 13:01

You feel like you're continually being pushed out of something. Or something is held secretive from you, but how do you get the right information? I think the thing with Devi is she's pretty aggressive. She's always pretty aggressive. That's why she ends up in jail. She's kind of a fighter. She's intense. She's got a lot of intensity and velocity in her.

For me, I have a lot of that on stage but in my personal life I feel like I'm actually a little bit more timid. Maybe not shy, I'm pretty outgoing but I'm not as aggressive as she is. That was probably one of the coolest things about that project, I was like, 'Oh I could be a little bit more like her! Maybe I could do that! I wanna take lessons of that set and use it in real life!'

Was there anything from your experience playing Devi that you wanted to put into Thunderpussy?

I feel like Devi on stage is a lot like me on stage, in a lot of ways. She's a little bit more in your face, whereas I think for me it's more about the collective and about the atmosphere and the inclusivity. People are in it, they're all in it together and it's an experience. For Devi, I feel like it was for her to get her aggression out because she fucking hated the world and she's living in a shit storm and trying to figure out how to make some money quick or break out of that role. I really appreciated that part of her. She's definitely a dreamer. She wants to do more; she's persistent, but maybe just a little bit too aggressive and gives up at the wrong moments. Or gives in at the wrong moments. Whereas, I tend to overthink things or think things through too much.

It is a bizarre film. Take it for what it is. It's awesome and it's campy. It's a sci-fi, cyberpunk thriller. It's what Robert wanted it to be. I'm so proud to be a part of... It's his little baby. I don't know if you have certain projects or adventures or journeys in life where you're like, 'that's my baby.' For me, Thunderpussy is my creative child. It's nice when other people can get on board with you and they're a part of it.

There's a scene in the movie where [Devi] walks into a situation and it really takes her by surprise. It's heart-wrenching because she's just left a really difficult situation where she threw herself into everything trying to give back to her band and being really upset. She's put in a situation where she can't get out of until someone releases her. She is coming home to the only family she knows, which is her band. That moment where she comes in and she's really caught off guard and it really shakes things up. There are human interactions where you're surprised or something doesn't happen the way you hope it does or something just really shakes your snow globe and stuff settles in a different way than they did before. I don't want to give it away, but that moment in the scene, it was heart-wrenching because I was I had through something similar. Not specifically in that context, but something that was so jarring and it takes you through a whirl and you don't know how to ground yourself again and you decide to go down a different path. It may not be the right one, but it's the one you chose. Or maybe its chosen you. That was a pretty intense moment for me and actually it was the first scene that we shot!

The movie was all shot within 20 days. That sounds pretty intense. What was that like?

You know what? If I could live my life like that, I would love it, to be honest. I love intense schedules like that. Even with us, if I could have Thunderpussy making movies that'd be really great. Choreographing for music videos or something. This kind of lifestyle works well for me because you're constantly on the go and that's just part of my personality. It was great. It was long. We were working 12 to 16 hour days. Sometimes you think you're ending and you don't or you might have to cut a scene from before... Sometimes that's hard, but you're there to do it. You want to do it well even if it might not ever be seen. You've got to put it all into it.

In moments like that or in projects like that, it really is about the crew — the cast and the crew. I had an incredible time  because of those people. In a lot of ways, this was a passion project. It's not like a feature film that has a million dollar budget. This was [Robert's] passion project. He had a full cast and crew, I don't know how many people but there were a ton! And then you have extras on top of that, feeding people. People are exhausted but they keep going. It's so cool to see how energies shift and how other people will jump on board to keep the energy going.

You mentioned Thunderpussy contributes some music to the film. Were these new songs or were they from your catalog? 

We wrote new songs for the film. We wrote two full songs that are used in the movie and then little seeds that kind of happen throughout the movie. I think there's about three that were written for the film and one that was an instrumental version of an older song. The two songs that we recorded fully were with Jack Endino and that was pretty cool. We were going to the studio with the godfather of grunge! It was awesome to work with him. We learned a lot; things that we like that fit our sound or fit his sound or fit the movie's sound. You have to be flexible. No matter what, you have to be flexible. That's just the key to life: staying flexible.

How do you go about composing music for a fictional band in contrast to your real band? Are you writing in character?

Yeah, I mean, both. Because it's you writing the music or you writing that part. It's like what I said before, we have to have a little bit of the quality that's within us and then accentuate it in the character that's given or the sound that's needed. We were Thunderpussy, but I guess a little bit of a different Thunderpussy.

Do you have anything special planned for the premiere performance?

We may have some things. I'm not gonna talk much about the performance party of it. We're going to play, we'll have our full band — the real band of Thunderpussy. We'll bring in some elements of the movie.

Danger Diva premieres April 13 at the SIFF Cinema Egyptian, followed by a performance by Thunderpussy. Tickets are available now.

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