Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
Molly Tuttle On 'When You're Ready,' Her Modern Nashville Bluegrass Classic | Newport Folk 2019
Bluegrass master Molly Tuttle continues to accumulate accolades. Last year she was named Guitar Player of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, the first female ever to receive the honor, and just this week she received four nominations for this year's IBMAs, including Female Vocalist, Guitar Player and Song of the Year, all before clearing her first quarter-century. But what's striking about Tuttle, beyond her staggering talents, is her authenticity as an artist and a human being.
Born into a bluegrass family band in Northern California, Tuttle relocated to Nashville not long ago, where she'd write all the songs for her debut LP, When You're Ready. The album blossoms from her deep bluegrass roots and blooms into a sound all her own, with sweet dashes of pop, weeping streaks of Americana and the simple sincererity of country.
Backstage at this year's Newport Folk Festival, we caught up with Tuttle to talk about When You're Ready, working with GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer Ryan Hewitt, what it means to be a strong female role model and much more.
Let's start with Newport Folk Festival. It's your second time here. What do you think makes this festival special?
This festival is so historically incredible. I grew up listening to folk and bluegrass, and so many of my heroes have played on the stages here and have had really historic musical moments. I remember seeing footage of Bob Dylan going electric here for the first time and Pete Seeger, of course, playing here and Joan Baez, and also bluegrass people like Ralph Stanley. So I think the legacy of this festival, it's always been pushing the boundaries and it's always been really inclusive to tons of different styles, which is why I think the audiences here are so incredible, because they get exposed to so many different styles of music. And it just feels like a really welcoming and really special event.
Is there anybody on the bill that you're excited to see?
Today I'm really excited to see Kacey Musgraves. And I just watched part of I'm With Her earlier, they're always incredible. I think Maggie Rogers is playing this weekend; I've never seen her before, so I'm really stoked for her. I haven't downloaded the app yet, I need to do that and really plan out my schedule.
Let's talk about When You're Ready. It's officially your debut album, but as your career and life have been centered around music, and I'm curious how you feel about it now that it's out. Also, what do you think you accomplished with this project?
I think I've just taken my music a step further in the direction of really having it feel genuine to who I am, including all my different influences. I grew up playing bluegrass, but I've always listened to so many different styles of music, and with this record I really just wanted to follow my muse wherever it took me with songwriting and then build the album around the songs. To not try to stay in one particular style of music or keep with one kind of instrumentation, but really just follow what the songs wanted and what I thought would be best. I think I achieved that. I think it's a lot different than all the music I've made in the past, and it's been fun playing the songs on the road with a totally different band, it feels really reenergizing to me.
What was it like working with Ryan Hewitt on the album? He's new to Nashville, and he's done all sorts of rock projects.
It was amazing working with Ryan, we instantly connected. We met at one of my shows in Nashville and talked for only a couple of minutes, and he was telling me about all these bands he'd produced, engineered and mixed. He'd worked with [GRAMMY-winning super-producer] Rick Rubin a lot, with Blink-182 and Red Hot Chili Peppers, also the Avett Brothers. And it felt like he was just naming all these bands that I listened to at different ages of my life, and I was totally fangirling about all of it, like, that's amazing. But beyond that, when we kept talking further, we really just connected about different things we loved about music and about our favorite bands and favorite records. It really flowed well with and we work together really well.
Is there a song on the album, maybe "Million Miles," that you want to talk a bit about how you wrote it?
"Million Miles" is the first track on the record, and that one came about through my friend Steve Poltz, who's a great singer/songwriter and lives in Nashville as well. We were writing together a bunch one summer, the other song we wrote on the album together was "Don't Let Go."
One day we had finished writing a couple of songs, and I had known Steve had written a bunch of incredible songs with Jewel back in the '90s; they wrote "You Were Meant For Me" and a bunch of other really incredible songs that ended up on her records. So we'd finished up the writing session for the day, and he said, "Hey, I just remembered the song that I started writing with Jewel over 20 years ago, and we never finished it." They had a verse and a chorus, and he played that for me, and I recorded it on my phone and he was like, "Maybe you would want to take this and finish it."
So I did. A couple months later I sat down, and the song was kind of haunting me because I instantly really loved the song, and I was a little intimidated to try to write another verse. But I sat down and finished the song and sent it back to him, and he said he really liked it, and I knew I really wanted to record it on the album. I had to get Jewel's permission somehow, but I didn't really know how to get in touch with her, so I asked Steve if he could send my version of the song to her.
He did, and I didn't hear back. She wasn't really responding back to the song. I found out later she had been on a meditation retreat for the whole time we were trying to get in touch with her, so she wasn't checking her phone. Steve actually just decided to tell me it was okay with her, which I found out a year later. He had never heard back, but then months later, she eventually heard it and really liked it. Luckily, it was totally fine with me recording it and we got to play it. The three of us played it at a festival earlier this summer at Telluride Bluegrass Festival. That was really cool and really special.
Talk about a full circle moment.
Yeah, it was cool.
I want to ask you about the IBMAs. First of all, congratulations on the nominations.
And last year you became the first female to win Guitar Player Of The Year. We talk about gender issues a lot within the music industry. I'm curious how it feels for you to have that distinction as the first female guitar player to win that award.
Yeah, it felt really, really important to me. That was probably one of the biggest things that has happened to me in, I guess, my musical life or career. It felt really special to win that award because I've been a part of the bluegrass community and have grown up in that world. So to feel the whole community lifting me up in that way was really special, and it was just really meaningful to me to be a woman playing lead guitar. Sometimes it doesn't really dawn on me that there aren't a lot of other women playing lead guitar. It's always just felt really natural to me to play guitar. It's something that's really important to me to hopefully get more girls playing guitar. I studied guitar in college and I was always the only female in my classes.
I think it's kind of a combo of women who play guitar historically haven't really been recognized in the way that men have, their legacies have kind of been erased in a way. But I also think that there are fewer women playing guitar because we're not encouraging it as much as we encourage boys to pick up a guitar, maybe. I really hope that changes in the coming years and hopefully, if a girl sees me or sees other women playing guitar and being recognized, that'll encourage them to pick up a guitar too.
Thank you so much @intlbluegrass for nominating me for Female Vocalist, Guitar Player, and Song of the Year (Take the Journey), and Collaborative Recording of the Year with Roland White, @hiltnerj, @jonweisberger and @patmcavinue!! see y’all in Raleigh!! pic.twitter.com/EyjURmxsOI
— Molly Tuttle (@molly_tuttle) July 25, 2019
Back to the album; the songs were all written in Nashville, right? What about that city do you think added a specific touch of spice to this record?
Yeah, I think Nashville is just so full of songwriters, and it was fun in the first few years that I lived there. I just would reach out to anyone I knew, really, who I loved their songs or I knew they wrote a bunch of songs, and it was fun getting to meet so many new people through writing songs together. I think I wrote in ways that I wouldn't naturally have written on my own. And it was cool to see how other people worked with songwriting.
Nashville is such a collaborative city. The music community is just so intertwined, and everyone's kind of working with each other and supporting each other, which I felt right away when I moved there, that was really cool. I think this album kind of represents that because I had a lot of friends that I wrote with for it and I brought in a lot of friends living in Nashville to play on it. So yeah, the city definitely influenced the record a lot.
This is an optional question, but I was really touched by your article on No Depression, especially about your history with alopecia.
Oh, thank you. Yeah.
I just really want to point people to that interview, and I would love to know how it felt for you to share that story?
It felt really great. I loved writing about my journey with alopecia and playing at the conference that I went to. It was a conference for all people with alopecia, which is an autoimmune hair loss disease, and it's just something that's been a really big part of my whole life. But I haven't always been open about it with others and with the public and my fans. So it feels really freeing and great to be at a point where I can just share openly with people about it. And it feels like I've let the world see this other part of myself that I used to keep hidden, that I would only share with people I knew really well. But now it feels cool to get to share that with everyone.
That's great. I'm sure it'll inspire a lot of people to be themselves.
Yeah, I hope so.
I want to ask you about a big issue in music and entertainment; mental health. A lot of artists are under a lot of pressure, which can be difficult to cope with. I'm curious what you do to stay grounded and what your processes is for staying mentally healthy.
That's a good question. I think that's something I'm still learning, because it is challenging when you're traveling and you have all the pressure. I felt it a lot with having my first record come out, I was putting all this pressure on myself. But then, as you develop a team of people, you're feeling outside pressure as well. I found that seeing a therapist regularly when I'm off the road is really helpful, and there's a few different groups. There's MusiCares, which helps musicians afford mental health services, and there's other groups that do similar things. I've done meditation, which always helps me stay grounded on the road, if I can make myself get in the routine of doing it, which isn't always easy. Those two things have been big for me.
Do you have any dream co-write collaborators out there? Are there any artists that you'd really like to get in a room with?
I've been working on the crosspicking that he does recently.
I love his playing. That really influenced me as well.
What is next for you? You've got the debut that you're touring on, what else are you looking at down the road?
We have some festivals, we're doing Pilgrimage Festival later this Summer. We're doing a little run in Colorado and we have a couple of festivals and tours in the works for this Fall. Going to IBMA, of course, for the award show, and then I'm playing there [in Raleigh] that weekend. We'll be doing the AmericanaFest, which happens in Nashville every year. it's gonna be a busy Fall full of tours and festivals and different events, but it'll be a lot of fun.