An Interview with Molly Parden

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These days, there isn’t a whole lot that’s genuine in this world. People lie. They steal. They cheat. It really can drag you down. And then sometimes, you hear something special and at least for a moment, everything changes. For me, Molly Parden is that kind of artist. Her music is nothing but honest and she is extremely talented and humble to boot. When I listen to Molly’s music, or watch her perform via YouTube (as if there was any other avenue at the moment), I can’t help but feel that she is a true throwback. Her music is in league with that of Nick Drake, Emmylou Harris and early Feist. Yes, she’s that good. Digging deeper into her lyrics, and you will find an extremely earnest songwriter who thrives on gentle melodies that give way to little earworms that dig and bury her intensely personal lyrics, leaving them to stay with you for days.

What more can I say? If you aren’t familiar with Molly’s work, all I can do is strongly encourage you to become closely acquainted with it. It’s music for all occasions. It will keep you company on cold, dark winter nights and also sit by your side on lazy, warm summer days. It pairs well with hot coco or cold lemonade. You get the idea. Anyway, if you’re interested in learning more about Molly Parden and her music, you can head over to her website here. Also, on November 13th, Molly has a new EP coming out called Rosemary. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my “sit down” with Molly. Getting to know her was a treat and I think you will agree.

Andrew:
Molly, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us! Tell us about your back story. How did you start playing music? What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Molly:
Well thanks so much for having me, really cool to do this. Ah let’s see, the back story. I’m from a family of 9 kids and 2 parents, none of us being particularly interested in music aside from stealing the show at Vacation Bible School every summer. I started playing violin when I was 9 or 10, then continued playing until I graduated high school. When I was 15, I learned to play guitar in an attempt to be cool. I played and played, picking up chords from friends who already knew the instrument well. It wasn’t until age 19 that I penned my first song; honestly if it wasn’t for my friend Joel encouraging me to try to write a song, I may have never felt the need to do so. “There are already enough songs out there”— I remember saying those words verbatim. My first song did well among a few friends, so I wrote a few more. By the time 2007 rolled around, I had 4 songs good enough to record, so I took them to the only producer I knew at the time and he recorded them. Four years later, I had 9 more songs and I put those on an album recorded in Atlanta, where I lived for 3 years. 

Andrew:
You were born in Jonesboro, Georgia and my understanding is that you had little exposure to music growing up. Is that true? It must have been hard not having music around. Was the will to create music something that was inherently inside of you all along?

Molly:
The line “little exposure to music” is in my bio, and that is meant to convey the very narrow inch on the spectrum of music to which I was exposed. On the buffet of consumable music in my family’s household and on permissible radio stations, each dish was overflowing with Contemporary Christian music. Eventually, a church friend showed me Coldplay, my first love showed me Radiohead, Dignan and Bjork, and a high school friend made for me different mix CDs that included Sufjan Stevens, Feist and Margot & the Nuclear So-and-So’s. So I eventually figured out that “secular” music was actually amazing.

As far as the will to create music being something inherently inside of me all along, I think yes. There’s almost no other explanation for it — no formal training, no family tradition for which I was carrying the torch. It was there and I got to find it one lovely day.

Andrew:
For some time, you worked with and toured with Faye Webster, Sam Outlaw and David Ramirez. Tell us more about that.

Molly:
Faye is a dear friend from my Atlanta days, we met in 2012 (I think) at one of my shows. We’ve stayed close, I would say, ever since. In the summer of 2017, she asked somewhat jokingly if I had ever played bass, to which I responded no, but I had been wanting to learn. That summer, I learned to play her songs on bass so that I could tour with her later that year opening for Julia Jacklin. I’ve been on 4 tours with Faye as her bassist, 1 of which I acted as bassist and tour manager. I’m really proud of her, she is like no other!

David and I met at Eddie’s Attic in 2011 when he bested me in an open mic shoot-out. He has asked me to sing with him or open his shows since then and in 2017, I asked him if I could open his 54-show We’re Not Going Anywhere album release tour. Long story short, he said yes to the dress and borrowed my harmonies for a few of his songs each night. He recently invited me to cover one of his songs from his 2020 record My Love Is A Hurricane to help him promote. I really love him.

Sam Outlaw is a fella who I met officially I think in 2015 when he was touring through Nashville and I heard his music for the first time. It’s incredible!! A perfect blend of 80s-90s-esque Country, Pop, satire, and sentimentality. At one show, I bought a shirt from him at the merch table and told him that I’d like to sing BGVs for him. To my surprise, he was open to that idea and we made it happen. My “audition show” as I like to call it was his biggest showcase at SXSW 2016 on the Pandora stage. After that show, he invited me on two extensive tours that year across the US and Europe, my first time playing music across the pond. Eventually I met his wife and kids and fell in love with them as a conglomerate entity. Their move to Nashville solidified my place in their family. His friendship means a lot to me.

Andrew:
In 2011, you recorded Time Is Medicine. I became familiar with it through a recommendation from a friend and I found it to be a beautiful album. Tell us more about the recording and inspiration for that record.

Molly:
That’s so cool that someone recommended it to you! Tell that friend that Molly P says thank you, please. Time Is Medicine is my first long player, a collection of songs that I had written over the course of about 3 years. Some love songs, some songs that touch on my family dynamics, some songs of remorse. Raw is the word that I think of when I listen back to those songs. I had no idea about the music industry; no idea that people pursued songwriting and touring as full time jobs and hired companies to pitch their songs to be soundtracked in television shows and cared so much about what other people thought of their efforts. I didn’t even know many musicians, maybe 30. It just seemed like a sensible, viable thing to do– record the songs and put them on a CD in order to sell them at the occasional shows I may or may not get to play. I was lucky to have talented friends who made it possible to make the record cheaply. Like….I paid each musician $50 to play on the whole record, which is slightly insane I think. Everything was tracked over the course of about 3 months in Joel Seibel’s bedroom, his desk and computer faced a window, and each of his roommates were musicians on the record. Their Grant Park house was about a 5-minute drive from my house, “The Cabin” in East Atlanta.

Andrew:
You came to Nashville in 2013. What was the scene like back then? What influenced your decision to come to Nashville?

Molly:
It’s kind of a boring answer, but I was simply at the end of a lease in Atlanta and wanted a change of scenery. In the small amount of touring that I had done, I discovered Nashville. I think I had 5 musician friends who lived there and when I had visited, it seemed charming, a lot like the parts of Atlanta that I enjoyed. Timbre Cierpke told me about a room for rent in her house and honestly that was motivation enough. Close to home, affordable ($275/mo), less traffic.

Andrew:
It’s been nine years since your first album. How come the long wait for a follow up?!

Molly:
Here’s an easy answer: I haven’t had enough songs to follow up with until now!

Andrew:
On November 13th of this year, you’ve got a new EP coming out called Rosemary. I’m looking forward to it. What more can you tell us about this release?

Molly:
Hm, this question stumps me. With each album I get better at making songs, better at singing, better at knowing what I like, better at spending energy. These songs made me cry a lot. I talk about how the songs were indeed work in the liner notes of the EP. I thought at one point that maybe I’d never release these songs and I would just sit on my golden eggs forever, knowing that I had treasures that no one else knew about. They would be my secret. Alas, I decided that it’s more rewarding to share my music than keep it hostage.

Andrew:
You’ve got a sound all your own. It firmly straddles the line between Pop and Folk and your music has this gentle, lo-fi quality about it. Who are your greatest influences? How did you develop your style?

Molly:
I like your description. My top 5 influences are Feist, Radiohead, Chet Baker, the Innocence Mission and Mark Knopfler. I’m realizing lately that my childhood played a huge influence on what I’m drawn to as an adult. I remember peace and quiet in my household, despite the presence of anywhere from 5-9 offspring jostling about. There was minimal fighting or raised voices and usually soft, soothing music was played in the family room. In the 90s, my dad collected Christian music and I remember hearing it from the CD player almost every day. That was the soundtrack of my childhood — beautiful, peaceful, soothing music. Later in life when I found my singing voice, I realized I didn’t like to push for volume, and I kind of couldn’t without formal training. The softness of my voice began to dictate the volume of other instruments. I’m drawn to nuance, sparseness and delicate things, so I try to incorporate that into my musicality.

Andrew:
Here’s an easy one! Where can we get your new album? When does it officially become available?

Molly:
Anywhere that you stream music!
The Nov 13, 2020 release of Rosemary will be strictly digital until further notice. Times is tough on the pea farm…but I hope to eventually press it to CD (lol) and ~VINYL~

Andrew:
As I alluded to before, you sort of straddle the line of a few genres. Is that intentional, or does it come naturally for you? How do you feel about the idea of defined genres in general?

Molly:
As much as I like for things to be clearly defined, I haven’t found a genre within which I feel clearly defined. To quote myself from a Stereogum excerpt:

“People seem to like it — do we call this Pop? There’s an acoustic guitar — do we call this Folk? I’m not signed to a label– is it Indie Music? Am I to call myself Americana — the catchall genre for the shape-shifting in-betweeners? Honestly I don’t care (except, please not Americana).”

So I dunno. This EP and my next album will span a couple of different “styles” but they’re still…me. I gravitate toward music that sounds pleasing to my ears. Because my tastes change gradually, so will the sounds of my songs.

Andrew:
Shifting gears a bit here, what do you feel could be better within the industry for both the fans and artists alike?

Molly:
I have no idea. Truly. Everyone’s doing their best, I believe.

Andrew:
Do you collect vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

Molly:
I do have a collection of vinyl, approximately 70 records that I’ve purchased: 70% from thrift stores, 30% from shows or record stores. I have a working CD player in my 2007 vehicle and–believe it or not–this year I have burned about 10 CDs of iTunes purchases so that I could listen to them as I drive!

Most days I am streaming music from Spotify. A few records that mean a lot to me are these:

Plainspeak by Aaron Roche and Tim Hinck (2010) (now out of print!)

For The Morning by Tyler Ramsey (2020)

The Golden Hits of The Everly Brothers (1962)

Postcard by Nathan Phillips (2009) (first vinyl I purchased)

I like perusing record stores when I’m on tour, but when I’m home I often purchase music on bandcamp.

Andrew:
This has been a tough year. With COVID-19 running rampant, you obviously haven’t been able to tour. Are you getting bored? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Molly;
I have really enjoyed the time at home. I’ve been reading more than I’ve ever read in my life, keeping a routine of exercising, taking lots of walks, visiting the few people who are still in my social circle, and constantly rearranging furniture. Those things kept me occupied until about mid-July when everything seemed mundane. Releasing new music has been a wonderful change of pace from the solitude.

Andrew:
2020 has been a weird year, but there still have been a lot of great music released. What are some of your “must have” releases of the year so far?

Molly:
Ethan Gruska – En Garde

Matthew Wright – Kitchen Songs

Andy Shauf – The Neon Skyline

Louis Prince – Thirteen

Soccer Mommy – Color Theory

Charlie Whitten – I’m Waiting

Frank Ocean – Dear April

The Shadowboxers – The Slow March of Time Flies By

Andrew:
Last question. Is there anything else that you would like us here at Vinyl Writer as well as the general music consuming public to know?

Molly:
It’s very kind of you to give me this platform, thanks for all that you do for music. Every little action counts 🙂

Dig this interview? Check out the full catalog of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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