by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for Folk Alley
Ask pretty much anyone over, say, 35 to name the best pickers in roots music and their list would likely include the standards: Bryan Sutton, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, et al. But, if you asked someone in the younger set, that list might very well include Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, and Molly Tuttle. With her new EP, Rise, Tuttle aims to secure her place on the list, while also showcasing her talents as a singer and a songwriter.
Kelly McCartney: You made some big geographic moves over the past few years. How did the different landscapes and communities inform your creative expression on this record?
Molly Tuttle: Growing up in California, I was very immersed in the bluegrass scene out there. My dad teaches music and, through him, I met a lot of local Bay Area musicians and started going to shows and festivals in the area. It was a wonderful community to grow up in because everyone was very supportive. I fell in love with jamming and performing with friends who played bluegrass and that is how I started down the path of wanting to pursue music as a career.
When I moved to Boston to study music at Berklee, I became interested in music theory for the first time and was also exposed to many different styles of music that I previously hadn’t listened to or studied. A lot of my guitar teachers came from jazz and blues backgrounds so I was exposed to different ways of thinking about music and different ways of approaching improvisation which was really great. Now, living in Nashville, I am completely inspired by the incredible musicianship and creativity that thrives here. It has been a huge learning experience to try co-writing with more experienced writers around town.
From Hazel Dickens to Bob Dylan, how do you hear your different influences coming through your work?
Hazel was one of the first people I listened to who inspired me to try and find a unique voice and try writing my own songs from my own life experiences. In her writing and singing, you can tell that everything comes straight from her heart and that really spoke to me. She has her own way of singing and writing that doesn’t really fit in any box — it is totally her own.
When I listened to Bob Dylan for the first time, I immediately was blown away by his lyrics and how he seemed to break conventional songwriting “rules.” He really inspired me, as a writer, to be a little more free with song form and lyrical content. Joni Mitchell was another big hero of mine who I got into in college. I feel influenced by her creative guitar voicings — she is one of my favorite guitarists. Dave Rawlings is another big guitar hero of mine who taught me that is okay to break “rules” with what notes and intervals you play.
Even though you’re very clear about expanding your musical horizons, are you expecting or have you experienced any pushback from the “that ain’t bluegrass” crowd? If so, how do you handle that tactfully?
I have experienced a little push back, but not as much as I might have thought I would when I first started writing my own songs and breaking away from the traditional bluegrass sound. I think the shift for me has happened gradually, and I am lucky to have amazing and loyal fans who support the direction that I am heading in.
You’ve been making music for more than half your life now, sometimes alongside legends. How do you balance confidence, nervousness, and humility in those situations?
Over time, my confidence in myself and as an artist has grown. I used to be very self-conscious when playing and performing, especially around musicians that I admired. Experience and time has taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes and that I have something valuable to offer with my music. It has taken me a while to find a balance between being confident in my abilities in any situation, and also recognizing how much I have to learn from others.
In a perfect world, what would you want people to take away from your music?
I think that music can make people feel a sense of connection, hope, and joy. I hope that my music can bring comfort and happiness to others!