Award-winning singer-songwriter and instrumentalist Molly Tuttle makes her debut as a solo artist with her upcoming seven-song EP, Rise, available June 2.
Expanding on her bluegrass roots, Molly Tuttle’s new EP Rise is a magical collaboration of instruments and an inspiring showcase of versatile songwriting. Beautifully entwining with her vibrant acoustic guitar and a mirror of other instruments, including a banjo, fiddle, and pump organ, is Tuttle’s voice, an instrument in its own right that can deeply touch the listener.
From the melancholy “You Didn’t Call My Name” to the guitar whip of “Super Moon,” Tuttle’s EP is on the verge of a masterfully dynamic album.
On the occasion of the release of Rise, C&I talked with the 24-year-old Tuttle about her love of acoustic guitar, artists who have inspired her, and what’s next.
Cowboys & Indians: What inspired you on this new EP, Rise?
Molly Tuttle: I wrote the songs on Rise over a long period of time, so there were many things that inspired them: leaving California and moving to Boston, leaving school and becoming a touring musician, living in Nashville, as well as books that I read and personal experiences.
C&I: As a singer-songwriter and instrumentalist, how do you go about composing your songs? Do you start with the melody or the words first?
Tuttle: I start songs many different ways, but a lot of time I will have a melody or a guitar part that I am working on first and the words come from there.
C&I: Congrats on being the cover artist on Acoustic Guitar Magazine. Tell me about getting your first guitar and learning to play. What guitar do you prefer to play today? Do you have a dream guitar that you hope to own one day?
Tuttle: Thank you! My first guitar was a Baby Taylor, which I started on when I was 8 years old. When I was 12 I saved up and bought a Martin guitar. Today I play a Huss and Dalton TD-R custom guitar that I really love. I don't have any one dream guitar, but I love vintage instruments and hope to someday own some old Martins and Gibsons.
C&I: Your whole EP is a powerful example of your impressive talent as a guitar player. In the process of learning to play, what have been the challenges? Revelations? Any teachers or techniques that really opened things up in your playing?
Tuttle: Learning the fingerboard was a challenge for me as well as learning music theory. I had many amazing teachers when I was at Berklee who really opened up the guitar for me and showed me new possibilities with my playing and improvisation. One teacher in particular was David Tronzo. My dad was my first teacher, and I owe so much of my playing style and technique to him as well.
C&I: It takes so much patience to get from level to level. Was there ever a point where you wanted to give it up and do something else? If so, what made you continue on?
Tuttle: Yes there are times when it seems too hard and I feel like giving up. But then there are beautiful moments of inspiration and connection with others through music. Those moments keep me going!
C&I: Rise has a foundation of bluegrass, but it also explores other genres with its diverse instruments. What made you want to diverge from your Americana/bluegrass roots?
Tuttle: I love bluegrass and definitely wanted to show that side of me, but I listen to so much other music and a lot of my songs don't sound like standard bluegrass songs. My producer, Kai, was great about listening to what the song needed and not just placing them in a specific genre or category.
C&I: What songs are you most proud of on Rise? What’s the story behind the songs?
Tuttle: I am really proud of “Lightning in a Jar” and “Walden.” “Lightning” was written with a feeling of nostalgia about growing up and spending time on my grandparents’ farm in the summer. We would watch the lightning bugs and big thunderstorms. “Walden” was written using some words from Henry David Thoreau that inspired me. I think the song has a timely message even though some of the words are very old.
C&I: You mention artists like Hazel Dickens, Laurie Lewis, and Bob Dylan as musical influences. Any other influences you’d like to tell us about, like who you listened to growing up and what you’ve got on repeat right now?
Tuttle: Kathy Kallick was another big influence who I got to see around a lot growing up in the Bay Area. When I got older she would invite me over to have tea and sing songs together. She would offer mentorship and wisdom on everything from songwriting to stage presence to general life advice, and she really inspired me as I started out on this path. Right now I am listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen. Joni Mitchell was another big inspiration for me.
C&I: Performing live versus playing with friends or alone — what do those very different modes bring out in you as an artist?
Tuttle: When I am alone or playing with friends I tend to take more risks and let myself make more mistakes. On stage I am aware of the audience, so I tend to focus some of my attention on projecting feeling and energy outward to the people in the crowd.
C&I: What’s next for you?
Tuttle: I have a busy summer with a lot of festivals! I am also looking ahead to writing and working on a full-length album.
C&I: Big favor: Would you pick a few songs for a short playlist for C&I readers? It might include meaningful songs of your own, influential songs in your own musical career, and songs you just generally dig.
Tuttle: Sure! Here you go:
Joni Mitchell — “Case of You”
Good Ol’ Persons — “Broken Tie”
Bob Dylan — “Simple Twist of Fate”
Gillian Welch — “Wrecking Ball”
For more information on Molly Tuttle and her upcoming tour, visit her website.