British retro darlings The Puppini Sisters are on the rise with new album

Marcella Puppini, Stephanie O’Brien and Kate Mullins formed The Puppini Sisters in September 2004. Dressed with 1940s glamour, The Puppini Sisters presented tongue-in-cheek versions of classics such as “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” The Smiths’ “Panic,” and Kate Bush's “Wuthering Heights,” which led to a cult following in the coolest clubs and subsequently to a major record deal with Universal Classics & Jazz in the UK and Verve Records in the United States.

Accomplished musicians who met at London’s Trinity College of Music, with everything from piano to saxophone to harp on their combined resumes, The Puppini Sisters set about recording their debut album Betcha Bottom Dollar. With Benoit Charest (The Triplets of Belleville) as producer and arranging the music themselves, the Sisters created contemporary reinterpretations of old-time favorites, including “Mr. Sandman” and “Jeepers Creepers” and translated more modern songs such as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and Blondie’s “Heart Of Glass” into tight three-part harmonies of such splendor that the Andrews Sisters would have quivered with joy.

The resulting album was one of the most accomplished, eccentric and original albums of the year. Their unique interpretations and performances of the songs led them to break records in July 2006 when Betcha Bottom Dollar became the fastest selling jazz debut in Britain as the album soared into the top 20. Celebrity fans ranging from Prince Charles and Camilla to Robert De Niro and Ozzy Osbourne hopped on the Puppini bandwagon as the media heaped glowing praises on the trio

The Puppini Sisters led the British retro wave in 2006 with their 1940s-influenced blend of pop with swing, a gorgeous sense of glamour, and fun. "To Puppini" became a lifestyle and fashion statement as the name became synonymous with fashion, style, and allure. Audiences embraced the girls' highly entertaining and original musical performances as well as their ethos of dressing to impress. Their debut record, Betcha Bottom Dollar, was the fastest selling jazz debut in Britain on its release, also debuting at number two on the US jazz charts and in the Top 10 of Billboard's Heatseekers chart.

With the release of their first album they captured people's imagination. But this time they deliberately moved on from a purely swing sound and allowed many more of their influences to come through. This has created a sound that is entirely their own, rather than a good re-interpretation of music from the past.

In that vein, The Rise & Fall Of Ruby Woo is a collection of highly original songs written by the trio, including "I Can't Believe I'm Not A Millionaire" and "Jilted," as well as extraordinary covers of tunes by artists ranging from Barry Manilow to Beyoncé. The Puppinis' trademark watertight harmonies are still present, as is their love of and respect for music from a bygone era.

The album kicks off with the 1960s pop hit "Spooky" (Classics IV/Dusty Springfield) reinvented as a high-energy, live drum-and-bass song. That's followed by a version of The Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian" (complete with Middle Eastern yodeling) that displays the style, talent, and humor that The Puppini Sisters are known for.  Another gem viewed through the Puppini looking glass is an unforgettable rendition of Beyoncé's "Crazy In Love." There's also a frenzied take on "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

The wonky hip-hop of "It's Not Over (Death Or The Toy Piano)," the filmic, Fellini-inspired epic "And She Sang," and the 1940s-style Latin dance anthem "Soho Nights" are another three of the original songs written by The Puppini Sisters for The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo, which also includes a number of slower-paced tunes, such as "Old Cape Cod" and a dark, brooding interpretation of Barry Manilow's "Could It Be Magic."

Recently, Marcella Puppini spoke with O&AN from her home in London about the new album.

O&AN: How does it feel to have become such an overnight sensation?
Marcella Puppini: It always looks like it’s an overnight sensation because no one sees all of the hard work behind the scenes but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless. It is truly fabulous and we love it. It is truly amazing to see all of the differences in the various countries we travel through. Every country we visit has a totally different approach to how they view music and especially in how they listen to music. For example, in Germany and America the crowds participate. They are very warm and even like to heckle from time-to-time.

O&AN: You all are gearing up to return to the States this spring. What is the biggest difference between your fans in Europe and your fans here in the US?
MP: I really think that we have to work a little harder at home to capture fans than we do in the States. Americans are very enthusiastic about music. If they go out to see a band perform it’s because they like it and they want to love it. In Chicago, we have a whole group of World War II re-enactors who came to the show in uniform and it was amazing. In San Francisco there were a lot of swing dancing couples who came. Every city seems to have different groups who like us but no matter where it is if people are laughing and having a good time that makes us have a good time. In England we always seem to have a lot of people approach us with a sort of suspicious attitude like they couldn’t decide if they could be bothered to decide to like us or not.

O&AN: How did you decide you wanted to form a harmony vocal group?
MP: I was a graduate from a music college and I wanted to put together a harmony group of some sort but I didn’t know quite what. Suddenly, the movie “The Triplets of Belleville” came out and I saw it and it was like a light went off. I knew instantly what kind of group I wanted to form. It was so much like a dream come true watching it all happen. Of course, when we started out we were a bit cocky but the way that it all came about is kind of like those old Hollywood movies where the girls come from the country to make it big and all of their dreams come true.

O&AN: The new album is a fresh departure from your first album. The Rise and Fall of Ruby Woo even seems to have some thematic darkness lurking in it. Why did you decide on this departure from the earlier clean swing sounds?
MP: It’s a kind of natural progression actually. We really didn’t discuss it before hand so much as it just sort of evolved that way. When we started the first album none of the songs were our own. It just happened that the arrangements took the form that they did which was reflective of 1940s style harmony. As we started writing new music for the next album a whole lot of other influences came into play because we were all writing music from our own influences and the music tended to become very reflective of our individual personalities as well. It has a sort of darkness about it that I feel like really reflects well from us. We didn’t envision the second album as a concept album at all. We started talking after it was completed and all of the pieces just seemed to fit that way naturally.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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