Leftover Cuties' Retro Ukelele Sound Makes You Smile
Koury Angelo Leftover Cuties
With a name like Leftover Cuties and a penchant for unabashed use of ukelele, how could the Los Angeles-based quartet of Shirli McAllen, Austin Nicholsen, Stuart Johnson, and Mike Bolger be anything other than adorable?
The group's folksy sound evokes images of happy couples strolling down a boardwalk decades ago. Between covers of songs like "You Are My Sunshine" and Etta James' "At Last," and cheerful original material, Leftover Cuties strikes a warm, fuzzy chord with its listeners.
We recently caught up with singer Shirli McAllen to discuss the band's unlikely formation, her move from Israel to the United States, and why some songs should not be covered.
Up on the Sun: Leftover Cuties has a very specific sound. What inspired it?
Shirli McAllen: It happened very organically. Austin [Nicholsen], the bass player in the band, was a really good friend of mine and he showed up at my house one night with a ukelele. I had written some lyrics that night at the bar that I was working at, so I started singing over whatever he was playing on the uke. We wrote a song in about five minutes and recorded a little demo the next day, and completely forgot about it for two years.
Two years later, I was going through music on my computer and I ran into that song and I realized how different and how stylized it was. I played it for some friends and they really liked it. It ignited the whole 'let's get together and write songs like that' kind of thing. It happened as a fluke, really. When we realized what we actually did that night, we decided to keep doing the same thing.
You've covered a good variety of artists. How do you decide what songs to cover?
Most of the songs are artists that I like or songs that I think I can do something a lot different or interesting with. There are certain songs that are sacred and I would never touch them. Even though I surprise myself, because I did a cover of [Bob] Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright." Bob Dylan is my all time favorite artist. His songs are definitely up there in the sacred songs, but I really love the song and I'm super proud of what we did with it. I think it came out very original and I really liked how it turned out, somehow. There's a lot of songs that I love that I just love them the way they are, I wouldn't want to change a thing about them. And some songs, I think that there's more space to play around with them, they could use maybe another version.
I read that you're originally from Israel. Did you perform music while you were living there?
Yeah, definitely. I've been in bands since I was 17 and I started writing music when I was 14. I was writing songs in Hebrew, and when I turned 22, I moved to the states because I met my husband here. I basically had to start from scratch and start writing songs in English. It was very difficult at first, but eventually I got to a place where I felt very comfortable with writing and I had a lot of support from intelligent people in my life. I'm grateful for that process, even though for awhile I remember feeling very disadvantaged.