Photo by Jacqueline Justice
Molly Parden opens for Parker Millsap at Rumba Cafe on Thursday, September 30. Doors are at 7pm, Molly hits the stage at 8pm. Tickets are still available.
It’s been a whirlwind month for Molly Parden. The Georgia-born, Nashville resident spent the early part of September in Paris contributing background vocals to a new project by The Porter’s Gate. She returned home in time to perform some sets at the Americana Fest in Nashville last week and to do laundry and get her tires rotated so she could hit the road again, this time on a 3-week run opening for Parker Millsap throughout the Midwest and East Coast.
While her career has been less than traditional, Molly is making music whenever, and however, she can. She released a full length early in her career (2011) and has followed it up with a scattering of singles and EPs. She toured as Faye Webster‘s bassist a few years back and took on tour managing responsibilities and has contributed backing vocals to so many songs by other artists that she’s got an entire web page on her website dedicated to listing those appearances. While Molly tells me she hopes to finish up the full length she’s been working on once this current tour ends, she just announced opening dates for Hovvdy in April of next year so she’ll be working under the gun.
What was intended to be a 30-minute conversation turned into a 70-minute chat and I could have talked with Molly all day. I loved that we talked about more than just music and have a whole list of new artists to check out per her recommendations.
When you’re on tour, cities are probably interchangeable but do you remember anything about playing in Columbus in 2019?
I do. I played at Ace of Cups with Carriers. They were my backing band and my opener. It was kind of a co-headliner thing. That was such a strange tour because it was a little bit thrown together and there wasn’t a lot of promotion involved so I felt a little bit high-and-dry when the first show started and I found out I was the headliner and not the co-headliner. Not that it made that much of a difference but I felt very unprepared. I could have done a lot more to help that tour. I think Columbus was our second to last show, it was only like 6 shows, and there were about 3 people there. It was a great sounding club. If it was my show, I’d spend a lot more time letting people know I was coming.
I am satisfied with a cup of black coffee from Tim Horton’s. You’re a coffee connoisseur so, tell me, what am I doing wrong? How can I find a good cup of coffee?
You just told me that you’re completely satisfied with drinking a cup of Tim Horton’s so I don’t think you’re missing anything. The point of enjoying something is enjoying it by your standards, not by somebody else’s standards. I just have fun with it and post a lot about and have slightly revolved my life around it because I enjoy it. It’s not because I think other people should enjoy the way I’m enjoying it. Basically, I just like coffee and almost everyone else likes coffee too. When they don’t do it the way I do it, I think that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Do you have a go-to order or do you try something different depending on where you are?
I do look for something. I look for the same thing everywhere I go, I’m such a creature of habit. When I go to new towns, I look for pieces of my home in other towns – coffee shops and thrift stores. I look for African coffee. I ask where the coffee was grown – generally, the shop that I walk into they will advertise it. I look for the region where the coffee beans were grown, I look for it to be a single origin coffee or a blend that has an African bean in it. If it’s on drip, I’ll order the drip coffee. And if it’s pour over, I’ll order a pour over. I like brewed coffee, I don’t like espresso right now in my life.
September has already been busy for you even before the tour with Parker Millsap kicks off. You were in Paris. You played some shows at the Americana Fest. Is this the busiest you’ve been in a year-and-a-half?
Maybe. I think that’s safe to say. Because I work for myself and I manage myself and I book myself, it just fluctuates every month. I’ve had something to do almost every day this month and a lot of it was music related. I would have weeks like that pre-pandemic but also I would have months of doing nothing, scrounging for work, chilling out at home, hanging out with friends.
Because you’re always on the road, what did you do to fill your time in 2020 and early 2021 while you were waiting to be able to go out and tour?
I created a morning routine. I started reading books that held my attention. Before the pandemic, I wasn’t much of a reader. I sit outside, I go for walks, I hang out with my friends’ kids. I listen to a lot of music and try to do writing exercises. I spent a lot of time outside during the pandemic which was so nice. Like many other people in the world, I did a pretty deep dive into my interiority, as John O’Donohue calls it, into my inner world and just became more in tune with myself, I suppose.
Was there a key discovery, something you didn’t know about yourself or something that surfaced?
There’s a lot, I don’t know if I could give you one that would summarize my experience well. I have been shifting my perspective on humanity, which sounds revolutionary, it kind of was. I’ve been collecting a lot of compassion for my fellow humans and patience. My mantra this year has been “learning into the mystery”.
You’ve played some shows in this post-vaccine-availability world, right?
I’ve played two Nashville shows this summer already and have sang with a friend at a show. I just played a show last night for Americana Fest.
Was the first one nerve wracking? Was it “I’m so happy to be out of my house and playing in front of people”? Was it a little bit of both?
I didn’t hole up as much as some people did. While being as contentious and safe as possible, I went out and tried to live my life as much as I could during the pandemic. So, being around people at this first show did not scare me or freak me out. The weirdest part is that it had not happened in a year and a half because it felt so natural and so fine to have 12 people in a room with me, watching me play music. It just seemed normal. I’m glad I didn’t let myself get freaked out. I had been playing Instagram Live shows here and there and that comes with it’s own special nervousness. The room was not packed for either of the two shows that I played, but it kind of felt like the old days when I didn’t have a lot of fans (laughs). And it was totally fine. You always want to talk in between songs, well, maybe not always, but there’s a special balance of having good stage banter and making people feel comfortable, being interesting, being entertaining and being mysterious. You want to make all of that happen in 45 minutes, between songs. It was kind of funny because I didn’t have anything to talk about. What do you talk about after a year-and-a-half of not really seeing people and just being on the internet with people? That was a bit awkward at times but it happened.
In 2019, you put out a covers EP. I really enjoyed the songs you covered and have to assume that they are songs you grew up with or that were inspirational to you as a teenager and led you to where you are today.
Actually, no. Several of them I had not heard until I met a dear friend of mine four years ago. It’s so funny, only one of them did I really grow up listening to – the Robin Hood song, it’s called “Love”. These days, instead of fulfilling a record contract by making a covers album, people put out covers to keep the Spotify algorithm fed so that they’ll continue to show up on people’s release radars. It’s like, same story, different monster. I’ll admit that that’s probably half the reason why I did this covers album but I am so glad I did it. The things that I was very new to were the Dire Straits cover, “Why Worry?”, “Found Out About You” by Gin Blossoms. I mean, I’ve heard “Losing My Religion” for a long time. That wasn’t new to me but my friend is obsessed with R.E.M. and he was like, “You’ve got to cover an R.E.M. song.” The Crowded House song, that was one that I had just heard in 2017 and it moved me. There’s a song by a Charlottesville artists named Sarah White that I absolutely love, it’s so haunting. I hadn’t heard that until my friend James showed me. Mostly I just did this EP for James (laughs).
From your perspective, does the Nashville community that you’re part of feel special or like something that, in 20 years, somebody will make a documentary about?
I feel like these people that I play music with are my family. I grew up in a big family and no one plays music except me so when I started meeting musicians my age and older, and a little bit younger, I felt so at home. It was a part of my that I couldn’t connect with my blood relatives but I was able to connect with all these strangers. It closed the distance, it closed the strangeness between us. I’m so thankful to music for choosing me. It could have chosen any of other siblings but it chose me and so I get to experience this special kinship with other musicians. I could go on and on about that.
Nashville musicians seem fiercely supportive of each other.
You know, I think so too. I stayed here for 8 years because I feel supported and loved and cherished by the folks that I sing with, by the folks that play in my band sometimes and even people that I don’t collaborate with. I feel like they appreciate me just being, they appreciate what I make. It’s a choice. All of these people could hate me. I could hate everyone or just feel disadvantaged by their advantages but I choose not to because that’s such a waste of energy. I’m so glad I’ve found other people that can celebrate me while I celebrate them.
I’ve interviewed a lot of Nashville artists. Not sure if any of them are in your orbit or part of your friend group but I’m going to name some people and you tell me if you know them, are friends with them or have no idea who I’m talking about. The first one is Lilly Hiatt.
We have so many mutual friends, I know we have met and actually someone, a couple of weeks ago, said I should be friends with her because she’s awesome. We don’t live near each other, we don’t go to the same places, we’ve never been on stage together so, no, I don’t really know her.
What about Ruston Kelly?
Yeah, I just met Rusty a month or so ago at a friend’s birthday party. We’re not close by any means but I would love to be his friend.
It’s funny you say that. Even before I interviewed him, I decided that I wanted to be best friends with him, he just seemed like the kind of guy that would be a great best friend. When I did get to talk to him, he lived up to that and I even said that to him. He played a show in Columbus a few weeks later and he invited me to hang out in his dressing room after the show, just the two of us talking for like 30 minutes and, at least for those 30 minutes, I did feel like we were best friends. Of course, I haven’t talked to him since then!
I love that people can do that, that they can just go there with you.
She was one of my first friends when I moved here.
He was at the show last night, I don’t know him well but I think we’ve met several times.
I’ve never met him but I did an email interview with Andrew Combs once.
Andrew, sweet friend. We’ve never toured together. We don’t see each other often, he has a wife and kid but he’s a sweetheart and I love, love, love his music.
So who is in your circle of friends that I might know or that I should check out?
James Wilson, who encouraged me to make that covers EP, he is the front man of a band called Sons of Bill that was based out of Charlottesville for a long time but now he and his brother live in Nashville. Sons of Bill is an amazing band that’s been around for a while.
Sam Outlaw is one of my best friends now. I started making music with him in 2016 when I came up to him at a show in Nashville and told him I wanted to sing harmony with him. At the time, he was based in L.A.
I love that. I’ve read that you seem to have no fear walking up to somebody and telling them you want to collaborate or open their tours. That’s awesome.
When I am a one woman show, that’s just kind of what you’ve got to do. Survival of the fittest. I just see young Molly quickly eating my dinner before it gets cold so that I can go get seconds before the lasagna tray is empty. That’s kind of the mentality I have sometimes.
Juan Solorzano has been my guitar player and collaborator for about 7 years. He produced my last album and he still plays with me whenever I can get him. He’s going to be on tour with Ruston Kelly soon. Rusty snatched him up. Good for him. I’m so happy when he’s touring and other people get to hear his incredible work on guitar. Juan makes music on his own, under his own name and it is just exquisite.
Bryan Cates is one of my favorite songwriters here in town. I wouldn’t say he’s hitting it hard in terms of promoting himself, he’s just an around-town guy who has a job and also makes the most wonderful music.
Peter Bradley Adams is one of my long-time friends. He has since moved from New York to Nashville. He lets me sing with him, he was the first artist that took me on tour as a harmony singer and paid me as a professional. Before that, I didn’t know that people could make money playing music from touring. It was so outside of my imagination.
Matthew Perryman Jones is another dear friend of mine who I sing with a lot. He’s let me open many shows, sing with him at many shows, and he invites me over for bonfires and we sit around the fire with our friend Jason Goforth and shine our flashlights at the moon and grill burgers for too long.
Kel Taylor has become one of my dearest gal pals. She’s in a band called Sawyer that’s a woman-fronted female duo. They are so good, they’re making really good pop music.
The Brook and the Bluff is a band of four guys that moved up here from Birmingham a couple of years ago. They’re making really great music. They let me be on one of their songs earlier this year and I’ve just become best buds with them.
And my friend Micah Tawlks is a producer here in town who has connected me with lots of artists over the years. He’s let me sing backing vocals on different projects that he’s working on and that’s how I met The Brook and the Bluff. That’s how I met Louis Prince and Alexander Wren. I’m working on my next album with Micah.
You’ve got the tour coming up with Parker Millsap. What’s next after that?
I do have plans. I will be working on music pretty much the rest of the year, here and there. I have about a week and a half of studio time on the books with Micah and I’m going to fly out to L.A. and work on some songs with a producer out there. I’m going to work on some songs with a band in Austin, I hope. I have dreams of making the next record. It has already begun, I’m just going to work on wrapping it up after this tour.
Will it be a full length or an EP? Will you be releasing songs before the album comes out to boost your Spotify presence and work into the algorithm?
Good question. I am going to release a full length. That’s the goal of this, any way. That was the goal of my last record too but it ended up being two EPs, which is fine. This next album, I do want to release as one entity but I will play the game. I will feed the monster and probably put out 5 or 6 singles to precede it.
What keeps me warm at night and helps me sleep is that I was given this gift of music and it’s not just for others to enjoy, it’s for me to enjoy as well. I have to keep these broad notions with me so that I don’t get overwhelmed by the fast pace of music consumption. It seems like if I can remember that I love music, I love to make music and it is a gift and in order to honor the songs that come to me, I want to make something that I enjoy. I want to make something for me, first and foremost. Something that I’m proud of. All that to say, I too like full length albums. I don’t care if one day, a full length album is against the law or against the Spotify law to release, I’m still going to make a body of work that pleases me. I will do that first and then I will find a way to work around restrictions or limitations or challenges, like staying in the algorithm. That’s lower on the totem pole of priorities than the actual artistic creation. All that to say, I will be making a full length.
I would love to do a radio promotion for this next full length. I would love to pretend that I’m in the ’90s or the ’70s and just go all out and do the old school stuff. Make vinyl. Do radio tours, I guess that’s not that old school. Just create something somebody can hold. You can’t hold a digital file. I can’t sign people’s downloads when they come to my show.