Vocalist and guitar virtuoso Molly Tuttle sits down with KGNU's Indra Raj for a brief yet insightful chat, during this edition of the Morning Sound Alternative. Original Air Date: September 9th, 2020.
Molly Tuttle has garnered worldwide applause for her impressive flat picking guitar technique and confessional songwriting. Since moving to Nashville in 2015, the native Californian has been welcomed into folk music, bluegrass, Americana and traditional country communities, even as her own music pushes against the limits of those genres. A series of awards and accolades followed, including two consecutive International Bluegrass Music Awards as Guitar Player of the Year, the first female artist to receive that historic honor. Molly Tuttle released an album of cover songs called “...But I’d Rather Be With You,” out on Compass Records on August 28, 2020.
Indra: Welcome to KGNU, Molly, it’s a pleasure to speak with you.
Molly: Thanks for having me, it’s good to be here.
Indra: Before we get started, how are you doing six months into this pandemic, as a musician? I know it’s been challenging for many artists out there.
Molly: Yeah, I mean there are definitely ups and downs. It was really hard. The first few months were really hard just kinda navigating the new normal and trying to figure out how to spend my time and I’ve never been home for this long in my adult life and of course I've been worried about friends and just about the music industry. As a whole it's scary times for sure but having this record project to work on at my home and record on my own is just learning how to do something new that I hadn’t done before. I’d never recorded myself or any of my albums before. That kinda gave me a sense of direction and going back to all these songs that I love really lifted my spirits, which was nice.
Indra: This latest record is a collection of cover songs. Was this something that you had been thinking about before the pandemic hit?
Molly: it kinda materialized after quarantine started. I had been talking with Tony Berg, who produced the album, but we hadn’t specifically talked about this project. I was actually staying in his house talking about making a record together, in the studio, in a more conventional way. I was staying at his house in LA, and I remember getting the call that my next tour. I was supposed to fly out and go on tour right after those days at his place, and I got the call that my gigs were cancelled, and everything seemed to be hitting the fan. So, I was just like, “I wanna fly back home as soon as possible and get on the next flight back to Nashville.” So, I did. And then we didn’t talk for a couple of weeks and then we had the idea to record these covers. I was having a hard time writing my own songs and just knowing what to say and how to put what i was feeling into words. So, it was really soothing to go back to these songs that have helped me through hard times or brought me lots of joy in my life and yeah, I recorded all the parts in my house and sent them to Tony, and he had other people record onto them and I think we both found it to be a really rewarding project.
Indra: As you’re saying, this is a new thing that you’ve learned for yourself: learning how to record yourself, and then basically putting the album together via email or dropbox.
Molly: Yeah, a lot of dropbox.
Indra: What surprised you about that process?
Molly: Ooh, that’s a good question! I think like one thing I learned was how valuable it is for me to be able to do things alone and have my own space and get to experiment without having other people hear me. I realized that in the past when I’ve made my records there’s such a pressure of booking studio dates ang going in for a week knowing you have to get everything done and having a whole group of people listening in the control room and taking notes on all of your takes. And you only get so many takes before you have to go and I think this was really cool to just do it on my own schedule at home. I still recorded everything pretty quickly, like within a couple weeks. But I always knew, like, I could do more takes and really work at any hour of the day. A lot of my vocal parts I recorded at night, which was nice because I felt like my voice was more warmed up and I was more relaxed. It gave me a new perspective on the value of doing things my own way and on my own timeline.
Indra: Did you kind of tell Tony what you wanted or did he sort of take it and run with it?
Molly: He kinda took it and ran with it. We talked about it a little bit, and of course he sent me, like, the musicians who played on it. I thought they were all amazing, but he really kinda did everything. The one thing I did was have my friend from Old Crow Medicine Show singing on one song. We would sing that song together before and I was like, “Hey, we should get him to sing on this.” But pretty much everything else, Tony brought to the table, and it was a little scary in a way except that I trusted him so much ‘cause I know his work and I know that every record he works on is amazing. So yeah, he was just putting stuff on it. I heard the takes once they had drums. Chamberlain played drums on everything and I heard those and I gave some notes and then I didn’t hear anything for a while and he sent back the rough mixes with everything. And it was just like WOAH here’s the full on tracks! It took me a second to get used to it because I had only really heard most of them with just my guitar and singing and all of a sudden it was like full band. It was kinda exciting but a little scary.
Indra: This is a cover songs album, and it’s quite an eclectic mix of music from The National, from FKA Twigs, to the punk rock groups, and boy bands. Was it intentional to kinda get all over the map? I’m assuming that these songs are reflective of music that you love and your personal interests.
Molly: I think it wasn’t completely intentional. The one thing I wanted was to have an array of like older music, newer music, and I think it just kinda worked out that these songs were ones that I felt like I could really bring something new to with my style. There were artists who I loved, who have more similar styles to what I’ve done in the past, but it was harder to cover them and really bring something new to the table. So these were all songs that I felt like I could put a new spin on, and maybe add some meaning to, or just like play in a different style that people wouldn’t naturally expect. I wanted to kinda’ surprise people with these songs.
Indra: Another thing that I read is that you are maybe still working on another solo album that would be out later this year. Is that still in the works? Have things been put on hold?
Molly: Yeah, it's a little up in the air. I think we were planning to not put it out this year but record it this year. I’m still kind of in the process of figuring out how that would look and mainly right now just writing a lot of songs. So I kinda took a break from writing to record this cover album. But now I’m diving back into it. So yeah, we’ll see I think, like with how everything’s going, it’s hard to know how things will look in the winter; and we’re still kind of playing it by ear, but I definitely wanna get back into the studio.
Indra: How does your life as a musician look these days, especially in Nashville, which you know is known for having so much live music?
Molly: It does feel different and places in Nashville are opening up again, but that’s a new thing to navigate. I really would never want to put anyone at risk by playing music. I would never want to play a show and have someone get sick. But there are people playing shows and I think everyone’s just kind of navigating what they feel comfortable with personally. So yeah, my days these days are like... I do a lot of videos and live streams, and kind of remote things. I’ve done a couple things with small crews of camera people, but that’s pretty much the most I’ve done. But yeah, that’s kind of kept me busy; and working on writing new music. Yeah, it’s definitely a lot different. I’ve never, like, filmed myself on my phone so much before.
Indra: You have made such a splash in the bluegrass scene, rightly so. And as I mentioned in the intro, you are the first female artist to receive the guitar player of the year from the IBMA. Bluegrass is a very male dominated scene. I wonder how navigating that world has been for you as a woman throughout the years.
Molly: I think it’s been interesting. I definitely noticed. It’s hard to ignore that it’s such a male dominated music, and I think I accidentally chose probably the most male dominated lead instrument within the genre. Guitar is such a male culture, so yeah, those two worlds colliding, I just find myself the only woman in the room a lot, and I get, like, so many weird comments. They don’t even really stick out to me anymore. There are definitely hurdles that women in the music industry as a whole have to navigate that men don’t. And I think that can intimidate a lot of people. Especially, like just thinking about guitar, and like, so many women complain that when they go into a guitar store to buy a guitar or get gear, no matter if they’re a beginner or a really experienced guitar player, they just get treated so differently than men. I’ll go into a guitar store, if it’s one that I’ve maybe never been in before or it’s not somewhere like Nashville where they know that there are lots of women guitar players around, I just get treated like a complete novice and it’s really frustrating! So I think maybe now with a lot more things being online and a lot less of those barriers in place to learning the instrument, I’ve seen a lot more women guitar players, and women lead guitar players especially. So, hopefully those barriers are coming down, but we definitely have a long way to go before women are represented equally and celebrated the same way as male musicians.
Indra: Definitely, it's a tough world out there.
Molly: It does make it more rewarding in a way; gaining some new territory in certain ways.
Learn more about Molly Tuttle at mollytuttlemusic.com.