Born in Atlanta and raised in Jonesboro, GA, the now Nashville-based artist Molly Parden’s musical journey started out as a mystery. Raised in the Pentecostal church, Parden had little exposure to music outside of church hymnals, but started to discover a love for music and the simplicity of melodies upon inheriting a violin from her great uncle. In 2010, as a young adult, Parden moved to Atlanta and started her journey into music, releasing her first EP of songs entitled Le Premier with the help of a producer friend. In 2011, she released her first full-length album Time Is Medicine. After honing her songwriting skills in East Atlanta for 3 years, she made the move to Nashville in 2013 and, after making connections with artists such as Chad Wahlbrink and Joseph LeMay, she became an in demand background vocalist, providing harmony vocals on over 50 records over the past few years. She has since toured the world as a bassist, guitarist and singer as a member of the backing bands of Faye Webster, Sam Outlaw and David Ramirez. Parden recently teamed up with friends and producers/multi-instrumentalists Juan Solorzano and Zachary Dyke to record her latest EP Rosemary, due out on November 13th. Originally planned as a full-length album, Parden decided to break the album up into 2 EPs since Covid has cancelled any immediate chances of touring. Parden has plans to hopefully release her next full-length album, which she has already started working on, in the next 12 to 18 months, giving her fans plenty of new music to look forward to. You can connect with Molly Parden via the following links. Photo credit: Mark Cluney.
You have mentioned that you were born into a family with little exposure to music outside of the church, with a career in music being something that happened to you rather than something you set out to achieve. Having inherited your great uncle’s violin at a young age, do you feel that had an influence on you and your journey into music?
Receiving a violin from my great uncle? Yeah, it did. I didn’t know at the time that I was headed into music as a career. I was probably 8 or 9, or somewhere between 8 and 10, when I started taking violin lessons from someone at church. It was just kind of something to do, similar to how playing softball for a couple of years was something to do, just something to occupy the kids with. I don’t really remember feeling any sort of special connection to the violin or to music. Again, it was just something to do and I did it.
You have talked about growing up in a Pentecostal church, but when you moved to Atlanta in 2010, you started going to an Anglican church and said it changed your perspective on how to live life. In what ways did it change your perspective and influence the way you lived your life?
Well, in the Pentecostal churches that I went to growing up…in hindsight now, and I didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight I can see that it all felt very emotionally contrived. I don’t know much about the history of Pentecostal churches, but the two that I went to for the majority of my life were hmmm…the services were exciting. They definitely had an emotional arc to them, but as an adult looking back, I don’t like how the leaders played and preyed on people’s emotions. The things that I remember most about being in the Pentecostal churches are guilt and…maybe that’s what I remember the most about it. It seemed like the human journey was one of constant striving and we were taught this idea that we would never really get to where we were trying to go. That’s what I remember from it. When I started going to an Anglican church, I so enjoyed the order of it all. I’d never been to a high church like that. I just enjoyed the ritual of everything and really appreciated that there was, like I said, an order to the service every week and while each preacher in every Anglican church around the world wasn’t necessarily saying the same script, they were teaching on the same biblical passage every week and I thought that was really cool. I was reintroduced to the notion of God’s grace and forgiveness and that while life’s strivings did not cease, there was hope amid them. That’s what I feel that I have taken from the Anglican church.
In 2010, while you were in Georgia, you released your first EP that was your first compilation of professional recordings. Having since recorded an album and multiple EPs, what were those early years like for you, when you were first starting out. What do you feel that you have learned over the years of making music that has helped you in your career now?
When I think back to that EP, I don’t even have that on the internet anymore. I’ve taken it down because I guess I’m embarrassed by it (laughs), even though I’m so pro “Yeah, it’s just a recording”. If anyone else was like “I want to take down my first record”, I would say “But it’s a recording of where you were at”. I guess I’m being a bit hypocritical. I mean, I am still proud of those songs and am thankful that my friend Trey Roth did me a huge favor by cutting me a great deal financially and letting me record those 4 songs. He engineered and produced and arranged every song and had some friends of his come and play the different instruments on them. Those 4 songs took me about 4 years to write and I just wanted to have a representation of what I sounded like, which, you know, is what a record is for. This was before I was privy to the music industry. Honestly Emily, I had no idea that people could make a living as songwriters and as solo artists or bands. I just didn’t know that many people, or I guess anyone, who was doing that outside of playing at churches. That’s what I was familiar with, so even when I made that EP, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t print them at all. They were just available on Myspace at first (laughs). Then, I think, I got a reverb.com account, back when that was a thing and then eventually uploaded them onto iTunes. From there, I think I was holding onto those songs and had been holding onto them for a little while because at the end of 2010 is when I started recording my first full-length (Time Is Medicine). It took about 2 to 3 years to write those 9 songs. I think I’m getting my timeline mixed up a little bit, but I think back to those two eras of my life and think I was just in a very innocent, raw and naive…not even that naive…I was just writing therapeutically. I was not writing to get any kind of…sure I trying to get attention and trying to sell my CDs at shows, but I wasn’t touring. I didn’t have a string of shows lined up after each release. I just didn’t have a plan. I was just flying by the seat of my pants and doing it for fun because it was something cool to do. I was really starting to understand that songwriting was therapeutic for me in Time Is Medicine and Le Premiere, the name of my very first EP. It was in that time of my life where I promised myself that I would not make music unless it made me happy. I guess it was after I released Time Is Medicine, I started to meet other musicians around and realized that people had pub deals, which meant that they had to write x amount of songs in a year and turn them in. I was like “Oh my gosh! If it took me 2 years to write 9 songs, there’s no way I will survive in the music industry”. It was around that time that I was like “Alright. It looks like you are going to have to have a job so that music can be your side gig and you’re going to have to be cool with that until you learn how to write really good songs really quickly” (laughs). At the time that was just not an option, writing really good songs really quickly. I was just starting out, so I guess that’s why I kind of resolved myself to thinking that I would never not have a job and only play music. But let me tell you, that’s what I’m doing right now!
You moved to Nashville in 2013 after spending 3 years growing as an artist in the songwriting community of East Atlanta. With Nashville being such a music city, especially for songwriters, what comparisons would you draw between the songwriting communities of East Atlanta and Nashville?
I haven’t seen any stark differences. I mean, there were people in Atlanta and now there are people in Nashville (laughs)! It’s just people. There seems to be significantly more people in Nashville then I encountered in Atlanta. Significantly more people who are pursuing songwriting and an artist’s career, but that’s it. People are just writing songs and playing shows and there’s not much of a difference.
You have talked about being stuck in a writing rut when you moved to Nashville. How did you go about making your way out of that rut? Do you feel that being in the midst of the songwriting community there helped to inspire you?
Ummm, kind of. For the first couple of years in Nashville, I only knew a handful of people. When I moved here, I think I knew 5 people. By the end of 2013, I probably knew 35 people. I would just pick my favorite 3 to 5 people and see those people on a regular basis. I don’t like co-writing. I’m not good at co-writing, so I’m not in the co-writing circles and am not now, and wasn’t back then, meeting up with people to write songs every other day or anything. I wasn’t, like, going out to bars and hanging out with friends, because I was very poor. What helped me was flexing my harmony vocal skills and taking a backseat to someone else’s music project. The first time I did that here in Nashville was with Matthew Perryman Jones. He invited me to sing at a house show with him and I did and then he invited me to do another gig with him a month later and I did. I recorded 3 songs almost as soon as I moved here. I arranged to record with a man named Chad Wahlbrink in his home studio, and those three songs turned into the EP With Me In The Summer, that I released three years after recording them. Shortly after I recorded those songs, Chad asked if I would sing harmony on another project he was recording and I consulted with my buddy Trey, who produced my very first EP that I now longer allow people to listen to on the internet (laughs). I was like “Trey. Someone wants me to sing harmony on their album. What should I charge?”. He was like “Well, have you ever done it?” and I was like “No”. I mean I had. I had sung for a couple of people back in Atlanta, but they were all for free and favors that did for friends. This was for a total stranger . Trey was like “Why don’t you ask for $35 per song” and I was like “Oh my gosh. That’s incredible”, so I did it for $30 a song, because I thought $35 was way too much (laughs). That was my first rate, $30 dollars a song, which I think is so cute because now I charge, like, $100 a song (laughs)! I sang and had so much fun. This wasn’t the first time I had sung harmony vocals for someone, but this was the first time I had sung with a stranger and I really enjoyed it. I sang on probably 5 songs on his record. That led to me singing with Joseph LeMay at a couple of live shows in Nashville. Then someone got in touch with me after one of his shows and said “Hey. I saw you sing with Joseph. Would you like to sing with me?” and I was like “Yep!”. Soon enough, I was saying yes to almost every offer I was getting to be a background vocalist and harmony singer. I would say about 85% of them were really fun and led to…they all led to really great friendships. Only about 15% of them were gigs that I regretted, where the music wasn’t that great or it just wasn’t that fun. I mean, 85% is pretty good! That really helped me to stay active in the music community without me having new songs, without me having new material. I really enjoyed it. Sometimes I would go home after work or after a show and be kind of bummed that I didn’t have any new songs, but those were pretty rare days. I’m 31 right now and have learned that I work slowly and am very particular and meticulous about calling a song finished. I’m very interested in wanting to listen to my own music when I call the song finished. I’ve come to a place where I’m very content with the length of time it takes to finish a song.
You will be releasing your new EP Rosemary next month and have talked about how you and your producers brainstormed which albums and artists to emulate during the tracking phase of the album. What can you tell me about the process of recording the album in general and the sound you were going for?
Well, the album is produced, in part, by a longtime friend and guitar player of mine, or someone who has accompanied me at many shows. His name is Juan Solorzano. I knew that I wanted to make my record with him in 2017, when another recording opportunity fell through. Juan, and my other longtime friend Zachary Dyke, were tag teaming a couple of records that year, in 2017, and I told them that I would love to be their third guinea pig, their third project. The music that they are producing is just really cool and they are both so talented individually and it seemed that the joining of the two forces was just magical. It was kind of a no brainer that Juan would be, like, on my next record but the fact that he was steering the ship was even more exciting. He’s very easy to work with and very quietly talented. In a room full of people, his gentleness is almost overwhelming. It’s more enveloping and welcoming than overwhelming. It’s just whelming enough (laughs). He was really, really wonderful to work with. When I came to the guys, I think I had 10 songs…maybe 11. I was planning to re-record a song from my 2016 EP, and when we were getting towards the end of tracking, which was at the end of 2017, Juan said he didn’t really think that re-recording my song “Kentucky, I”, the song I had wanted to re-record, my great prayer to Kentucky, needed to be re-recorded. I was like “Ok” and had thought it was going to be a 10 song album and now it wasn’t. So we nixed that one and there was actually another song from the 10 or 11 song collection that we recorded but it didn’t feel right so I nixed it from the project. Then we were at, like, 8 songs instead of 10, I think. Initially Rosemary was going to be a 10 song album, but I split it up this spring when I realized that Covid was going to prevent touring from happening. I didn’t want to release an album. I wanted to release 2 different EPs, just to have more content, I guess. So at the end of 2017, we were wrapping up tracking and I said “Guys. I have these two kind of new songs that I just want to show you. Tell me if they’re good and if you think they deserve to be on the record”. So I played them the songs and they loved them and we recorded them that day. It was so exciting. They are two of my best songs, I think, so I am ever so grateful for Juan’s leadership in that situation, when he made the executive decision that we didn’t need to re-record “Kentucky, I”. And for whatever reason that other song that we tried out wasn’t feeling right, so it made room for the two new songs. It was a very relaxed and easy recording process and was probably my favorite in studio experience, because I just didn’t feel rushed and didn’t feel like I was spending money that I didn’t have. My dad funded the recording of this body of work, which was so generous, so I was just so relaxed and ready to have fun.
The EP has been described as closing a huge chapter in your life, with the mourning of a lost love. Do you feel that the process of making the album has given you a sense of closure?
Uhhh, no actually (laughs). No, but I’ve found closure outside of making the album. It really only delayed finding closure, because I feel like by singing these songs over and over, that I’m just kind of wallowing in the sadness. I suppose it has inspired me to find closure.
What can you tell me about the music video for your single “Kitchen Table” and the inspiration behind the visual aesthetic for the video? It’s really a cool video!
I love it too! I had nothing to do with it, with the creation or anything really. I just provided the soundtrack. My friend John Paterini is the man behind the moniker Running Through Spiderwebs, and he has developed this character called Alien Bainbridge who is from outer space and lands on earth and is looking for night and signs of life. John explained it to me one day and it was so beautiful but I could not repeat it to you if my life depended on it (laughs). Basically, he developed this concept about Alien Bainbridge and has made several videos of Alien Bainbridge’s adventures on Planet Earth and has been setting the footage to music created by John’s friend John in real life. Last year, John said “Hey. If you ever need a music video, I would love to do it for you”, so I finally got to participate in a visual collaboration, even though I did nothing. I think it worked so well. Actually, we’re going to release another video, an Alien Bainbridge video, for my song “Who Did You Leave For Me”, which was released on an Ep back in the summer. It will be a continuation of the Alien Bainbridge story. It’s very intriguing. I like the mystery around it all.
You have said that visual art has been a challenge for you, but in the absence of touring you have decided to accompany each single with a video. What can you tell me about the ideas for the other videos and how that process has been for you?
It’s been kind of scary. I don’t feel very competent in the visual world of art and it’s always stressed me out thinking that I have to come up with a concept for a music video. I think that’s why I have avoided it for so long and they’re just kind of expensive. The ideas that I’ve had for music videos haven’t panned out yet, so I don’t really have much to report, as far as being part of the process.
There’s always hope for the future!
Yes, exactly! I do have another music video coming out for my single “Who Are We Kiddin'”, which came out last month. I think the music video is coming out later this month. It’s just kind of hard when I’m on a small budget and have to present an idea…I guess it doesn’t always have to be hard. But there’s hope for the future. I do like the idea of my song just being a soundtrack to a video that’s completely void of me, kind of like the “Kitchen Table” video turned out to be. I also would like to a video of me just, like, walking through the rain and lip synching one of my songs. Just a one shot take of me lip synching my lyrics. I try to air on the classy, boring side instead of edgy and abstract (laughs). That’s kind of my rule of thumb.
You have expressed the desire, going forward, to at some point make an R&B and pop record. Is that something you have started thinking about writing and what you want that to sound like?
I have been listening to Frank Ocean and Solange a little bit for the last year. I’m extremely late to the Frank Ocean game but am so happy to be here. What I like about those two artists is that each song of theirs has a melody that is pretty easy to latch onto, therefore I can listen to it enough times to find a harmony and can sing along with them. At the same time, a lot of their songs are very non-linear, if you will, and one thing I’m trying to break away from is how linear my song structures are. And my melodies are just…I mean, I would use the word predictable and easy, I don’t know, Americana. That’s the most linear genre in the world, probably. I am so intrigued by music that captures my attention and is really interesting and different and not just another, I don’t know, Taylor Swift thing or Ed Sheeran song. It’s different and catchy and I like that and want to do that. My next song is not going to comparable to Frank Ocean and Solange by any means, but I am trying to take little steps toward…actually, someone described my music the other day as Adult Contemporary and it made me so happy (laughs)! But I do want to take little steps toward easing my way into it. Whatever genre Solange is in, I like that.
What’s next for you?
Next Thursday, a show that I performed here in Nashville at a really beautiful studio was taped and recorded and is going to air via this website called stabal.com. I have a song coming out digitally next Friday (October 23rd) and then my EP comes out November 13th. I guess after that, I have a birthday coming up in December and will going to the Atlanta area to be with my family during Thanksgiving and then again in December. Musically, I am slowly working on my second full-length, or what I hope to be my second full-length. I have 4 songs recorded and 2 more ready to be recorded and would like it to be 10 songs. I’ve been working with one of the best music makers in the world, Micah Tawlks. He’s been producing songs for me and at this point, it’s not even me making the music. It’s music just, like, flowing through me, which is so cool. It’s so cool and has been really beautiful to see that my music and my voice gets better with time. I love that. So, I have a full-length coming at some point in the next year or 18 months or something like that. In the meantime, I’ll probably pick up some nanny gigs and do some babysitting. I do love kids. And, yeah, I don’t know. Sing on people’s records, safely, I hope.