Award-winning Bluegrasser On Allyship and Her New Album
By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Writer
Remember that tweet that encouraged everyone to use the pandemic “productively” and write their next King Lear?
Well, Molly Tuttle took the good part of that advice. On her new album …but i’d rather be with you, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA)-award-winning guitarist taught herself Pro Tools and plowed ahead with a new project. This one is hardly strictly bluegrass, as we’ll discuss, but it does merge bluegrass traditions with cover songs you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear.
Tuttle, who played in June’s Porch Pride Festival, identifies as an ally. When asked how other artists can demonstrate their support of the queer community, she advised, “Support queer art, show up however you can. It’s really important to uplift queer musicians and create spaces for them to share their music and feel safe and welcomed. I’ve been involved with Bluegrass Pride for years now and I’ll be there however I can.”
However, she cautions, “I am invited to be there.”
It’s that sensitivity to her presence that permeates Tuttle’s work. She has a humility that can only belong to someone who understands their talent and treats it like the gift that it surely is.
Tuttle began playing guitar when she was eight years old. Her dad, a music teacher, was happy to guide her curiosity into what she called an “obsession.” He accompanied her to bluegrass jams in the Bay Area. Soon Tuttle stood on stage as well as in the crowd.
“As a teenager, I started writing songs and getting more into singing. It just kinda went from there. It became all I really wanted to do. On the weekends I just wanted to play gigs.”
Studying music in college was the obvious choice for Tuttle, who headed north and east to Berklee College of Music. The hard work paid off: in 2017 Tuttle was the first woman nominated for Guitar Player of the Year — and won handily.
It wasn’t her first time at the event. “I’d been to IBMA as a kid, like when I was 11 and 12. I used to go and play this kids bluegrass thing they had every year. It’s how I met Sierra Hull, who I’m still friends with. She was the first woman to win the mandolin player award.”
“I really grew up in that community and to have the support from that community meant so much to me. Cause I remember going and seeing like my guitar heroes winning that award, like Brian Sutton and David Greer. And so then to be in that category, just being nominated was mind-blowing.”
As a veteran in the bluegrass community, Tuttle is seeing a positive trend in racial, gender, and queer diversity among the IBMA.
“They’ve made progress and they have a diversity group that meets every month or so.They have taken concrete steps and I think there’s like obviously a lot of work to do, but there has been definitely a shift with organizations like Bluegrass Pride going to the IBMAs and being very welcome and having their own showcase room.”
As for what it takes to be an award-winning guitar player, Tuttle stresses musicality.
“In bluegrass people play fast and on guitar, and play a lot of eighth notes. If you can play really fast eighth notes, you should use that. It’s really exciting and fun, but it’s only one part of the solo. I like to create an arc where you shred for a while and then contrast that with a more sparse part of the solo. Playing fast is a tool to use. But when it gets to just be playing really fast for the sake of it, that gets old to me after like a few songs.”
Tuttle points to her cover of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” as an example:
“In that solo, I do a shredding part, but then I played kind of a syncopated double stop part. And I feel like that’s one way I was thinking about that contrast. Like, I don’t want to play fast notes the whole time. So how else could I come up with interesting ways to play over this fast song?”
You read that right — Rancid. …but i’d rather be with you contains covers from the pop rock band as well as the Rolling Stones, FKA Twigs, Karen Dalton, and Cat Stevens.
The project came about when Tuttle decided to put together a collection of songs that meant a lot to her, but not songs that most people would expect from her. “I really wanted it to be about creating a totally different energy in the songs than the original versions.”
(Tuttle learned “Olympia, WA” in her middle school rock band. She remembered the song during a recent trip to the town. She relearned the song at her soundcheck and it brought back fond memories.)
Tuttle had planned to make an album this year, but this year had other plans. Her producer, Tony Berg, recommended she make an album of cover songs where everyone would have an easier time recording their songs separately. For the project, Tuttle checked a project off of her to-do list and learned how to use Pro Tools.
Working with covers felt like a lower-stakes project for Tuttle.
“I get a lot more precious with my original songs. Not that these songs aren’t super important to me, and I wanted to do them justice for sure, but it was a freeing experience to record them alone and not have a bunch of people in the room, listening to every note I play.”
Ultimately, Tuttle wants freedom from others’ expectations to be a universal experience.
“I wish there was more openness, of just embracing the full spectrum of who people are. It does mean a lot to me to try to make the community more accepting. I hope that in the future, anyone can be whoever they want.”
…but I’d rather be with you will be released on August 28th on all major platforms and is available now by pre-order from Compass Records.