Molly Tuttle and the Tenuous Path to Immediate Acclaim

“All the years building up to the last EP, I was really dreaming of having a solo project. So when I got to Nashville I made it my goal to make my own music. The EP did much better than I thought it would.”

That’s Molly Tuttle describing a trajectory that took her from playing in her father’s family bluegrass band at age 13, to striking out on her own by making the move to Nashville, and then the subsequent success she scored with her aptly named EP, Rise. She recently took another step forward in what’s already become a career well worth watching by recording her upcoming full length debut. It too bears a title that seems especially appropriate, When You’re Ready. With a sequence  of songs that sound like standards even on initial listen, it’s an album that’s certain to ensure Tuttle’s profile will continued to rise through both awareness and importance. 

“I’m really excited about it,” Tuttle told Bluegrass Today. “Most of the songs I wrote were composed when I got to Nashville. I think I wrote four songs on the album and the others were co-writes with people. I hadn’t really done a lot of writing on my own before that. There are so many amazing writers here, and that’s something that really helped me grow with my writing. We had about 30 songs going into the album and we cut them down to a dozen. My producer Ryan Hewitt helped make them sound fully formed.” 

Then again, even this early on, Tuttle has a lot to live up to. Her EP made her an instant sensation, courtesy of the kudos she’s received since its release. Her song You Didn’t Call My Name was recognized by Folk Alliance International as Song of the Year. She was crowned Instrumentalist of the Year at last year’s Americana Music Awards ceremony, and garnered her second trophy from the International Bluegrass Music Association for Guitar Player of the Year, the first woman in IBMA history to achieve that honor.

“I hadn’t done anything on my own before, so it felt like all these things were coming together quickly,” Tuttle says of that sudden surge of recognition. “We released the EP and it did pretty well at the beginning, but then it kept going and generating acclaim and winning awards. That was quite a big happy surprise.”

Tuttle, a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, grew up in the Bay area of San Francisco, and later lived in Boston for three years after graduation. However it was her decision to relocate to Nashville in 2015 that offered her the impetus to pursue her intents all on her own. Nevertheless, it was a trying experience, one she wasn’t prepared for. 

“I expected the move to Nashville to be a lot easier than it was,” she reflects. “I had to really get out of my comfort zone, and go to lots of jams and reach out to people while trying to meet new friends and new musicians to collaborate with. It was challenging getting to town and wondering, what am I going to do now.”

While the process eventually paid off, Tuttle also admits that as a newcomer, she faced plenty of uncertainty especially as far as her new songs were concerned. 

“It was kind of scary, especially the ones I wrote on my own because they were very personal to me,” she suggests. “It was kind of a hard time moving to Nashville, and then right away, go through a break up with my boyfriend and all this other stuff that was happening to me at the time. A lot of the stuff I wrote was my way of dealing with my feelings, so I found it hard to write immediately after getting to town. However once I started really exploring my feelings, the music really opened up. The songs started coming easier. The new songs are a lot more personal than they were in the past. The first time I played them for people it was a little scary.”

At the same time, Tuttle’s taken time to explore her way forward, moving from the vintage bluegrass style she performed with her father to a grassicana style that’s allowed her to pierce a few parameters. 

“Back when I was playing my dad, we had a certain method we used to follow,” she recalls. A lot of the arrangements followed a more traditional bluegrass format. I learned a lot about that from my dad while learning bluegrass songs. Then, when I was at Berklee, I learned a lot about songwriting form and how to channel emotions into songs, and the arrangements of those songs. So now I think less about what’s expected from the song or the genre I’m playing, and more about what the song calls for, and what the lyrics are saying, and maybe what mood and what instrumentation and what the meaning of the song can be. That’s taken me away from the kind of bluegrass I played in the past because it often calls for different instruments or arrangements.”

Nevertheless, there was some risk involved, especially when it came to possibly alienating old school bluegrass fans. Happily though, her father has been very accepting of the sound that she was poised to pursue. 

“I don’t really get any kind of pressure from my dad,” she insists. “He loves bluegrass and he loves a lot of other types of music. Most of the bluegrass community are very welcoming to other styles. I think the great thing about that community is that they’ll support an artist no matter what they choose to do. Once you’ve gained them as fans, they’re really loyal. Every now and then someone will say, ‘I wish you’d play more bluegrass. This doesn’t sound like bluegrass anymore.’ That’ sort of thing is unavoidable.” 

As for the future, Tuttle has plenty of plans in the works. She’ll be doing Jerry Douglas’ Transatlantic Sessions tour and immediately after that, she’s scheduled to take part in the Americana themed Cayamo Cruise. The new album comes out in April and she’ll follow its release with tours of the U.K., the West Coast, and eventually the East Coast in May. 

“The last year was pretty busy with touring and everything, but this year I get to do things that I’m very excited about,” she reflects. “I’m getting offers for different kinds of opportunities. It’s very exciting.”

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About the Author

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman has been a writer and reviewer for the better part of the past 20 years. He writes for the following publications — No Depression, Goldmine, Country Standard TIme, Paste, Relix, Lincoln Center Spotlight, Fader, and Glide. A lifelong music obsessive and avid collector, he firmly believes that music provides the soundtrack for our lives and his reverence for the artists, performers and creative mind that go into creating their craft spurs his inspiration and motivation for every word hie writes.