When you look at all that Molly Tuttle — a staple of bluegrass stages and member of the band the Goodbye Girls — has accomplished in her career as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, it might be surprising to learn that she only recently released her first solo project. Tuttle did in fact just make her solo debut in June, though, with Rise, a seven-song collection that sees the Nashville transplant exploring sounds that venture outside the realm of traditional roots music. Produced by Kai Welch, Rise also features a stacked roster of guest musicians, including Darrell Scott, the Milk Carton Kids, Kathy Kallick and Nathaniel Smith.
American Songwriter caught up with Tuttle to discuss writing Rise, moving to Nashville, and the influence of Henry David Thoreau.
You just released your solo debut, Rise. When did you begin writing the project? Was there a particular song that jumpstarted the process for you?
Some of the songs were written before I went to college, some were written when I was studying music in Boston and some were written after I had graduated and moved to Nashville, so it was over quite a long period of time. One of the last songs I wrote was “Friend and a Friend” which I co-wrote with Korby Lenker. That one seemed to really complete the bunch.
Do you have a writing process that you typically follow? If so, what is it like?
I like to mix up my writing process a lot. Sometimes I will start with a small lyrical idea that I’ve saved on my phone or in a notebook. Other times I will find a guitar riff or chordal idea that I like and go from there. It depends on what sparks my interest in the moment when I sit down to start writing.
You worked with producer Kai Welch on this project. What did he bring to the table?
Kai helped me re-work some of my songs that I had been playing for a long time so that I heard them in fresh ways. He can play every instrument and has an amazing musical sense so he was super inspiring to work with and played and sang many of the parts on the album. We became good friends. He was super encouraging and great to work with.
This album pushes beyond musical boundaries in ways that people familiar with your previous work might be surprised by. What influenced these particular songs?
I was really wanting to explore new avenues and sounds with this project. I met so many incredible musicians from all different backgrounds when I moved to Nashville, and spent a lot of time writing and playing with new people so I was ready to incorporate different influences into these songs.
You have a great roster of guest artists on Rise. How did you get them on board?
Kai was great about finding the perfect musicians to compliment the songs. He reached out to Darrell Scott, Jano Rix and a lot of the other guest musicians, while I chose many of the core musicians like John Mailander and Wes Corbett who I had played with a lot before recording the EP. Around the time I was recording, I also went on tour opening for the Milk Carton Kids with a band I’m in called the Goodbye Girls. One night before the show they set up some microphones backstage and recorded the harmony parts on “Lightning in a Jar,” which turned out really beautiful I think.
Where did the title Rise come from?
It came from the song “Walden,” which I based around some passages out of the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau. The line that I took from the book is, “The life in us is like water in a river. It may rise this year, may rise higher than man has ever known.” I love this symbolism and think that Thoreau’s words are so relevant for the time we are in as a society right now. Music has the power to make people rise up and come together.
How has moving around a lot — from California to Boston to Nashville — over the last few years affected you as a songwriter?
Change is hard for me and writing has always been a good way to sort through my feelings and find my bearings in new situations. I have learned more about myself through leaving home and finding myself in new and unfamiliar places. I think this has helped deepen my writing in some ways.
Which of these new songs do you most look forward to playing live in upcoming shows?
“Good Enough” and “Walden” because they both contain messages that are meaningful to me and that I hope others can relate to as well!