As we enter the home stretch of the Parlour to Parlour journey, the artists preceding some of these final episodes became important to me not just for musical enjoyment, but also for their suggestions and recommendations, whether intended or not. In the case of the Cobra Lilies, it was Angela Correa who first planted the idea in my head (unintentionally) that they would be a sight to behold, burning an image in my mind of a saxophone-wielding Mary Chartkoff marching into a crowd in clogs.
Eli and Mary Chartkoff started the Cobra Lilies as an acoustic side project apart from their rock n’ roll band the Monolators. I had met the Monolators earlier in the year when they were touring with the Parson Red Heads, so I already had some sense of the fun vibe they brought to their music. After they drafted Alrene Lily (or Arlene Siordia, rather, from L.A.’s Smells Like Flan), Cobra Lilies gradually ballooned in size, to the point where it was impossible to keep it purely acoustic just due to the fact that there were so many competing sounds at work.
Eli, or “Excelsior Lily,” invited me to check out a live “in the studio” Cobra Lilies performance at Loyola Marymount University’s KXLU Radio in L.A. on September 18, where about nine Cobra Lilies (they can sometimes number as much as a dozen!) crammed into the station’s live performance studio. The station’s Demolisten program featured the band not just over the radio waves, but in a live video webcast that was archived for posterity. The station staff graciously made a sliver of room for me in the studio, and what you see in the footage for this episode is actually from my camera.
It was a wonder I was able to fit at all, when you consider what was going on in there – it wasn’t just a typical band setup with drums, bass, and all your other instruments competing for space (in this case, banjo, sax, autoharp, glockenspiel, accordion, violin, kazoos, etc.) – they also made a space for tap dancing! And as Eli and Mary explain in our interview, dance lessons are actually a regular part of Cobra Lilies band practices.
Which explains a lot with regard to the party-like atmosphere that surrounds this bunch. Standing in that cramped corner of the KXLU studio, I felt like I was documenting a literal party, hosted by a bunch of happy-go-luck folk musicians. Some weeks later, it hit me that Cobra Lilies may have invented a whole new genre: party folk.
But back to the actual weekend at hand… Trudging on with a full night’s schedule, Eli and Mary were set to perform with the Monolators across town shortly after the Cobra Lilies ended their set (more on that show next week), and their seemingly endless weekend of music was off to a frantic start, what with two other shows scheduled for that weekend. So sitting down for an interview the next day was a considerably more relaxed affair, though they definitely seemed pooped.
Also on the lower-key side of affairs was the performance we taped, of Eli on banjo and Mary on autoharp performing the Cobra Lilies tune “She Won’t Come Back.” As it turns out though, Eli and Mary will be back in this space next week for a look at the Monolators, and the work they do to help out fellow musicians in the community.
Cobra Lilies – “She Won’t Come Back”