Thrash and flash: This wild N.J. band stands out in crowded scene

TRENTON — The crew in Molly Rhythm were on the verge of tears, laughing as they explained how one of their vocalists, Elissa Sapp, scaled the side of the historic Roebling Wire Works building in Trenton — for no reason at all — “like some kind of squirrel or something.”

“She was hanging over the edge and you could see the looks of horror on the volunteers’ faces,” saxophonist Jeff Sward said, referencing the staff at Art All Night in June 2014, an annual festival that features 24 hours of live music. “She was scolded and told not to do that again.”

Good luck keeping that spontaneity in check. Molly Rhythm has been defined by a certain freewheeling inventiveness, and through five years of thrashing histrionics, the six-piece has molded itself into one of the banner groups defining Trenton’s eclectic local scene.

“We’re not a cult, but we’d like to be,” vocalist Nikki Nalbone laughed.

Before Molly Rhythm, Nalbone and Sward met at Championship, a bar in Trenton where Nalbone still works and the band regularly performs.

“She found out I played saxophone and she demanded I start playing again,” Sward said. “I didn’t have a choice in the matter. So here I am.”

Half the group lives in Trenton (the others hail from Philadelphia), where a music and arts scene survives under the city’s crime-ridden reputation.

“It’s crazy how many different groups of people are already playing music here, and they don’t even know each other,” Nalbone said.

In a scene that also includes local punk powerhouses Honah Lee and rap chameleon Black Collar Biz, Molly Rhythm stands out with its mix of towering screams, haunting harmonies and a wildly energetic playing style that rivals that of Diablo Swing Orchestra.

“We’re a weird genre, so they’ll stick us on with different kinds of bands,” bassist Lori Johansson said. “We’ll play a metal show or a ska show and sometimes, our music is the missing link between the genres.”

Johansson said the group’s songs tend to “morph” as each musician joins in on the writing process.

“We don’t have a single person writing the songs, which makes them really interesting,” Johansson said. “Elissa and Nikki write the lyrics. I write bass line — whatever instrument you play is what you write.”

The group is taking some time off to write music ahead of its “mini Canada tour” in October, after playing HollyStock, a music festival in Mt. Holly, on August 14.

But soon enough, the group will be back rocking in Trenton, making time for music between busy personal schedules.

“We’re all super super busy all the time, but somehow we squeeze in Molly Rhythm,” Nalbone said. “I don’t know how we do this, but somehow we fit it in.”

Members never expected Molly Rhythm to have such a strong impact on their lives.

“When I started out coming here, I would listen to music that most everybody knew,” drummer Collin Russert said. “But after living here and being here for three years, I listen almost exclusively to local people and our friends’ music.”

But the band’s influence has gone far beyond musical tastes.

“I’ve been in a lot of bands, and many times, the people I played with pushed me to do things that weren’t good for me,” he said. “But I think this band has made me grow a lot as a person.”

This story originally appeared on

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