Analogue Music | Molly Tuttle

Molly Tuttle

By Matt Conner

Molly Tuttle needed a project like this.

At the start of the nationwide lockdown for the global COVID-19 pandemic, Molly Tuttle said she traded messages and demos of covers with famed producer Tony Berg (Phoebe Bridgers, Josh Radin). Given the downtime, the pair decided to work together on the collection that became ...but i'd rather be with you. In the process, Tuttle says she learned to let go, to be "less precious" about her own work.

Not that anyone wanted Tuttle to change her approach in the slightest. The 27-year-old Nashville resident wowed critics and fans alike with her debut, When You're Ready, and as a guitarist, she's walked home with consecutive wins as the IBMA's Guitarist of the Year (the first female to ever hold the honor). She's a brilliant musician and songwriter still in the earliest stages of her career, and as such, she's learning to refine her process and mindset.

The lessons learned on Tuttle's striking new covers project are ones dealing with the internal pressure to be perfect. The push to excellence is needed, but it can also overwhelm. These days, she's found a healthy tension and she recently told us all about it.

Analogue: Was the new album already in the works pre-quarantine?

Molly Tuttle: No, this is something Tony Berg [producer] and I thought of doing after the lockdown. We'd talked about doing something together, and then once the lockdown started, I sent him some demos and he said, 'Why don't we do this album and try it out quarantine-style?' I probably would have been afraid to do it on my own, but it felt like a fun experiment that I was really happy with how it all turned out.

Analogue: I'd love to hear more about aside about being too afraid to do it on your own. Can you take us into that?

Molly: I guess what I meant was that I'd be afraid to do this new style of recording with my own original songs because I'm so precious with my own songs. I don't know if I want to record them in my bedroom and totally leave it up to this process I've never done before. With these covers, there are songs that mean so much to me, but the process was something totally new. It was totally new for me to do a cover album. It was totally new for me to record them in my bedroom and send them to people. It was a little scary but it also felt really exciting.

I've become a lot more confident in my abilities as a musician and my abilities to learn new skills, like basic Pro Tools stuff. I've also gotten more confident that the music doesn't have to be perfect. I recorded most of my guitar stuff through a 57, which is a standard, super-basic mic that you might use live. But I felt really comfortable and confident in leaving it up to Tony and his engineer to make everything sound awesome and I felt confident in my own ability to give them what they needed to make it sound good.

Analogue: Do you feel less precious on this side of it all?

Molly: I do feel like I've gotten less precious. This was eye-opening in that I did it in a way that I normally wouldn't. I was just engineering it myself and I was not precious about, like, mic placement. I was just figuring it out. I wasn't even that precious about my playing or singing. I usually recorded my singing at night. I'd turn off all the lights and just try to feel the emotion of the song instead of singing in tune or stuff like that.

That's helped me realize that the music I really connect with is music I can feel the emotions of. It doesn't need to be perfect. I definitely have tried to make my music as perfect as I can before, but even with the pandemic, I've been learning to let go of expectations—expectations I had for my career and stuff like that. With this album, then, it's letting go musically, I guess.

Credit: Zach Pigg
Credit: Zach Pigg

Analogue: When you say you've learned to let go, is that about listening back to what you've made and then you say, 'Oh, that really is good enough?' Or was that the mindset going in?

Molly: I guess it was in the back of my mind that I'd always wanted to make music that's not perfect... not that my music is perfect, but this perfectionistic side of me takes over. That's in my mind always that I want to loosen up more about that and leave the music with flaws that I can hear that might bug me down the line. I think this record did let me detach from it a little bit more. I would usually just record a lot of takes and send it off to Tony without really listening to it. Then he'd put things togethre and send it back. It felt like I was able to connect with the songs in a new way because I wasn't worried about singing them perfectly. He would also call me out on that, too. If I sent him a bunch of takes and I was trying to focus on hitting all the right notes and stuff like that, he'd say, 'Hey you need to redo these. I can hear you trying too hard.' [Laughs]

Analogue: How difficult was it to pare down the list of songs to cover?

Molly: Yeah, the hardest process was picking the songs. It was a lot of sending songs to Tony and him sending songs to me. I think our musical tastes are pretty different and the songs we ended up choosing are ones that were really meaningful to me and songs that stood out to me in my life. There are some older songs and some newer songs, some songs I discovered when I was a teenager and some I discovered last year. They were songs I really connected with on a deeper level, but I could also bring a new perspective or voice to them.

There were some songs that were my favorite songs but we listened to them and we both didn't know what I'd add to it. If it was someone who'd really influenced me like Neko Case or Gillian Welch, I love their music so much but I've been really influenced by them so I don't know if I could bring something new to the song, I guess.

Analogue: Was there one that was heartbreaking to leave out?

Molly: Yeah there was a Lana Del Rey song, which I've actually covered before, called "The Greatest". When I sent it to Tony, he said, 'I don't think this fits with the other songs.' I was so set on doing it, but listening back, it was the right call. I'm so happy with the collection we had. In the moment, I was like, 'No this is a song that I love.' But I'm definitely happy he pushed me further to explore more songs and really find the right ones.

"I usually commit too many things, but that's the learning process."

Analogue: I know you've got some long-held influences here like the Grateful Dead, but what about newer songs on the album?

Molly: I had listened to a little bit of Harry Styles and a little bit of FKA Twigs, but with those two albums from last year, I discovered their music in a new way and those songs really stood out to me, so those were definitely the newest ones.

Analogue: You mentioned deciding to do this project with Tony. I'm assuming you could go in any number of directions with what you work on next. It seems like you're the kind of person who has traded a ton of exchanges like, 'We should do something together sometime.' So how do you decide what the next project will be?

Molly: That's definitely been a skill I've had to learn, because I do that all the time. 'We should do this thing together or that thing together.' Over time I've learned that if I say that... I've learned in the moment that I really don't know what I want to do. I try to limit it in person. Even if I'm getting excited, I need to let myself think about it and then I'll get a gut feeling. I'll realize that it will take me away from what I really want to be doing or it will feel right. So usually I'll have a gut feeling a few days after the fact whether or not I want to do it. I usually commit too many things, but that's the learning process. [Laughs]

Analogue: So what's in the works for you now?

Molly: Well, I've been writing a lot. I've been writing on my own and with other people. I'm hoping that I'll have enough songs to record another album. We'll see. Everything is up in the air obviously, but I'd love to have another album ready next year. At this point, I'm in the writing phase right now.

VISIT: Molly Tuttle