By Maxim Mower
It's impossible to have a discussion about modern bluegrass without the name ‘Molly Tuttle’ emerging almost immediately.
This synonymity is a testament to how drastically and rapidly Tuttle has grown the genre in recent years, with the California phenom introducing a generation of new listeners to bluegrass through her widely acclaimed, Grammy-winning 2022 album, Crooked Tree.
Having unquestionably consolidated her position in bluegrass’ upper echelon in 2022, Molly Tuttle and her Golden Highway band were not content with resting on their laurels.
The follow-up 2023 project, the vibrant Alice in Wonderland-inspired City of Gold, has earned Molly Tuttle another deserved Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album, with many tipping her to pick up back-to-back wins in the category.
Given Tuttle's status as the 2023 winner and a 2024 front-runner, while she appreciates the prestige of the nomination, few would blame her for having one eye on a coveted second victory.
Tuttle shares, “It would be really cool, because this record was the first one that I did with my touring band. It was really exciting for me to go last year and with Crooked Tree, I was lucky enough to get a Grammy for that album. But it also felt like I was kind of doing it on my own... Dominic [Leslie], who plays mandolin with me, he played on the whole record so he got a 2023 Grammy as well. But the rest of the band wasn't with me...So it's really fun this year to get to share this with them”.
Even though a win would be cherished among the band, Molly Tuttle is grateful for the consideration regardless, “Just being nominated was something that felt really special. It's so much fun to just get to look forward to going out there and celebrating with everyone”.
When a project is as lauded as Crooked Tree, it can go one of two ways for the subsequent record: either the artist struggles to contend with the weight of expectation, or they use the success of the previous album to fuel their elevation to a whole other level.
City of Gold was unquestionably an example of the latter, and Molly Tuttle explains how Crooked Tree was both a springboard and a touchstone, “I think it added a lot of momentum because I made that record in just under a week, and I wrote all the songs just thinking, ‘I don't know if I'll ever record these, but I want to write some bluegrass songs for fun’...I think that comes through in the album, just that feeling of fun. It feels like a jam session. So for [City of Gold], I knew I wanted to take more time to really work on the arrangements with my band. I think the most pressure I felt was during the songwriting process. I wanted to have a batch of songs that I'm equally if not more proud of than the last record”.
Molly Tuttle also outlines how she was keen to have more songs to introduce into her setlist. With the singer-songwriter set to take the stage with Golden Highway on Friday, December 1st at Florida's Orange Blossom Revue as part of a stellar line-up with The Wood Brothers, Brent Cobb, Kaitlin Butts and more, attendees will be looking forward to hearing a plethora of highlights from the new album.
Molly Tuttle emphasises how much she's looking forward to the Lake Wales extravaganza, “I'm really excited. I love The Wood Brothers, so I'm excited to get to see all of them - maybe collaborate a little bit with some of them on-stage...I'm glad we get to go to Florida as one of our last shows of the year because it's going to be warm there. I'm here in Nashville, and it's like 30 degrees outside! So that'll be really fun. We haven't played much in Florida at all as a band, so I'm excited”.
She teased, “I was hoping to tack on a couple of days to go to Harry Potter World, but I don't think that's going to work with my schedule unfortunately! It's our last festival of the year. It's one of our last shows of the year. So the band feels really dialled in, because we've just had too long tours and we've been working on our setlist”.
The Orange Blossom Revue 2023 line-up serves as a snapshot of the refreshingly eclectic yet interrelated cohort of artists emerging from the intersection between bluegrass, Americana, country, alt-country, Roots and folk.
Country music is dominating the all-genre year-end charts and a joyous melting pot of folk, Americana and bluegrass has driven one of the most anticipated film soundtracks of the year, The Hunger Games: The Ballad Of Songbirds & Snakes.
In many ways, it feels like a watershed moment for this tapestry of interwoven genres, with each strand seemingly exploding in popularity - something that's been apparent to Molly Tuttle during her recent live shows, “Our audience has grown so much in the past year and a half since we started playing as a band...It does feel like everyone is working together to build this music, to build bluegrass and Americana”.
She points to The Hunger Games and a variety of festivals like Orange Blossom Revue as pivotal moments, “I think The Hunger Games soundtrack does show this new crop of people who are helping to make this genre popular again. We did a handful of festivals this summer, where you couldn't really call them mainstream country festivals, and they weren't bluegrass festivals, but they were something in between. There was this whole group of artists who are doing their own thing that's adjacent to country, I guess you could call it Americana, but it's kind of something else. It's becoming really popular...We did the FairWell Festival in Oregon, and it sold out within a couple of days. You had Zach Bryan, Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson, and also people like Sierra Farrell, Caamp and artists like that, who are paving their own path and can't really be put in a box”.
Although it's still unclear exactly where this new generation of artists will steer this fascinatingly entwined cluster of genres and sub-genres, one thing's for certain - Molly Tuttle will be at the forefront of this influential wave for many years to come.
In addition, Molly Tuttle spoke about her next album, her love for Noah Kahan, her 2024 UK tour and more:
“I still have a bunch of songs... [that] don't really fit into the bluegrass mould. So I'm trying to go through the songs that I've written that I really like and think, ‘What's the best way to record these?’ I want to incorporate my band, and then maybe also experiment with adding in some other elements as well that take it in a new direction”.
“We were playing in Vermont, and I had been listening to [Noah Kahan's] album all year. We hadn't really played in Vermont much this year, so when we did, I was like, ‘We have to do this song, guys’, and my band hadn't even heard that song before! I was like, ‘Have you been living under a rock?’ It was really fun...I think people were a little surprised that we were covering it, but I love his music. I think it's so cool, and I just love that there's a resurgence of that folk-rock sound”.
“It was crazy. Dave Cobb called me about a year and a half ago and was like, ‘I want you to play guitar on the new Hunger Games movie’. I was super excited because I read all those books as a kid, and I'm a really big fan of the series...[Dominic and I] went down to Savannah for a couple of weeks and recorded all the songs that you hear throughout the movie...Then this summer, [Dave] called me again and said, ‘Hey, they're doing an album to go with the movie, would you play a song for that?’
I sent him a handful of songs, and they said they wanted [the traditional folk ballad, ‘Bury Me Beneath The Willow’]...We were playing in Portland and Dave found a studio there, and Dom and I went in on the day of the show early in the morning, knocked out ‘Bury Me Beneath The Willow’ and then went and played our show! We've both played that song since we were kids and we just played it how we would naturally play it in a jam session. I think it has that kind of feel to it, which I like”.
“I'll be getting back into the swing of playing on my own, which is different because you can really just mix it up and I like to play whatever I'm feeling and change the setlist.
I have noticed that when I played in the UK before, the audiences are quieter, they're listening more. Sometimes that can kind of take me off guard because I'm like, ‘Do you like the show?’ because audiences [in the US] are a little more rambunctious at times.
I'm going over with Tommy Emmanuel and every artist brings in a different type of crowd, so I will probably feel out what his audiences are like and adjust. When I do play to a more listening crowd...I usually take a slower pace with the setlist, maybe tell more stories”.
“We have this song on the new album, ‘Stranger Things’, and it took us a while to work it up live...It's slow, it's quiet. I was scared that would be the moment when people start chatting or go to the bathroom because I felt insecure about it. But we've been playing it live and it's been so much fun. It brings the show down in a different way and has this whole other element to the rest of the songs we've been doing...People really quieten down and listen to it, which has been a good surprise. So that's one I look forward to....and that's a fun moment in the set for me”.
“Lately, I've been listening to Charley Crockett a lot. We opened with him a few times this summer, and I love that he has so many albums out and so many great songs, so I feel like I can just put on a different album each day. There are some hidden gems that I hadn't heard before in the live show and that I really like.
As I mentioned, Noah Kahan was someone I listened to a lot this year. I like listening to pop music, like Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey. I grew up listening to both of them, and it's fun to see that they're both putting out so much new music, but it's still extremely relevant and cool. I like indie rock, I listened to a lot of the boygenius album this year. That was one of my favourites. I listen to all sorts of things”.
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