Molly Tuttle: “I was like, ‘I’m going to try to write some bluegrass songs’ – and once I started, I couldn’t stop”

Molly Tuttle
(Image credit: TTF Germany)

Molly Tuttle wants every note she plays to have the most impact. That often means using open strings. 

“I like it because the notes really ring out,” Tuttle says. “Sometimes I use open strings as a way to transition from down the neck to up the neck. I might throw in an open string to have time to move my hands to a new position. I really like to cross-pick, and open strings create this really pretty ringing of the notes over each other.”

It’s also natural to bluegrass, the genre – and playing style – Tuttle grew up with. She recently returned to the genre for Crooked Tree, an album she recorded with her supporting band, Golden Highway – which was co-produced by Jerry Douglas and features contributions from Billy Strings, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dan Tyminski, Gillian Welch and more.

While in a creative rut during the pandemic, Tuttle realized bluegrass was the answer. 

“I had been kind of getting frustrated,” she says. “I was writing a lot of songs, but I started feeling creatively stuck. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to try to write some bluegrass songs’ – and once I started, I couldn’t stop.”

Which is convenient for Tuttle, since bluegrass is basically second nature to her. “I don’t have to think about it. I can just kind of switch on my bluegrass brain in a way,” she says. “The last couple of albums I’ve done, I’ve tried to stretch myself musically; they haven’t really been bluegrass albums, and that was a really fun challenge. But for this album, it just felt like returning to what I do the most naturally and what I grew up hearing and playing.”

One of her favorite moments was playing in the clawhammer style for The River Knows. “I tune to this modal G tuning,” she says. “It’s kind of a new take on a murder ballad that me and my friend Melody Walker wrote. It’s a banjo style that’s kind of adapted to guitar.”

Speaking of guitars, on Crooked Tree, Tuttle used a Brazilian rosewood Martin D-28 acoustic guitar that she picked up in 2019. “They’re built to replicate guitars from the ’30s,” she says. “To me, it’s as close as a new guitar comes to sounding like an old guitar, and the Brazilian rosewood makes it ring in a really nice way. It almost has a piano-like tone.”

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Josh is a freelance journalist who has spent the past dozen or so years interviewing musicians for a variety of publications, including Guitar World, GRAMMY.com, SPIN, Chicago Sun-Times, MTV News, Rolling Stone and American Songwriter. He credits his father for getting him into music. He's been interested in discovering new bands ever since his father gave him a list of artists to look into. A favorite story his father told him is when he skipped a high school track meet to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. For his part, seeing one of his favorite guitarists – Mike Campbell – feet away from him during a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert is a special moment he’ll always cherish.