"I got it, like every day. I would just drive there and spend $4 on drip coffee."
Molly Parden is explaining her former habit of spending way too much money at Nashville shop Crema and submits this strange hypothesis about why she may have done it for so long.
"I grew to love the taste of paper."
The comment elicits a round of laughter from the car she's travelling in with her boyfriend James and Matthew Wright, who plays keys in David Ramirez's band and joins Parden onstage during this tour with Ramirez (which arrives at Crowbar in Ybor City on December 13).
These days, the Nashville-based songwriter drinks her coffee — made daily herself while on tour — out of a mug featuring Robert Smith.
She's also working on a full-length follow-up to last year's With Me In The Summer EP, and Molly spent half an hour talking with CL about songwriting, her guitar, religion and so much more.
Read our full Q&A below, and pick up a new issue of Creative Loafing Tampa to read our feature story on Parden (it's online here).
What's up, Molly. How are you?
Hi, I'm good. How are you doing today?
So, do you actually drive the van, I saw the video of the van call, you running late. Do you drive the whole tour?
Um, I have not driven the van at all.
So you're riding.
I'm a rider, and I actually rendezvoused with my boyfriend, and we rented a car and are driving down. We rented a car yesterday in Portland, so we are sans van.
OK, and this is your boyfriend who hurt his hand a few months ago, right?
Yeah, good memory. How did you know?
Oh, I was Instagram stalking. I saw the coffee gift.
But then I was also looking for a Christmas show in the Nashville area because I'm gonna be up there, so I'm gonna have to check out, what was it, Jefferson or something like that? Jefferson Theatre?
Yeah, that's in Charlottesville.
Oh, damn. OK. Maybe not then.
Yeah, have you heard of Sons of Bill?
Um, I hadn't until I clicked on the tag, but now I have.
Oh sweet. So yeah, you have done your research, my God.
Nah, sorry I cut you off.
I was gonna say, "Yes," we are in a car just plodding right along. It's a very beautiful drive from Redding, it's a very beautiful day. We have the cascades on our right.
I was gonna ask you what part of the drive you were on because it is a really pretty three-hour drive, right?
Yeah, I mean, I hope. I've never done this drive before. Redding, California is just, like three-and-a-half-hours north of San Fran.
And have you been on a tour this long before? This seems like a never-ending tour, in a good way.
Yeah, I have not. The longest I've been is, I guess, five weeks or four-and-a-half weeks, which is almost as long as I've been away. I've been away from home since Thursday, September 21st, so it's one, two, three, four, five, six — I've been away six-and-a-half weeks. It'll be seven a week from Thursday. Geez that is a long time.
That is a long time, do you think they'll still recognize you at Crema when you get back there.
Probably not. And I'll shed a little tear and reintroduce myself.
Nah, they'll recognize me.
I wanted to ask you about coffee, but real quick, I wanted to ask you. Tommy Lee, for real, Tommy Lee? Was that a joke.
No, that was a joke. I mean there is a guy in Nashville named Tommy Lee, from Lightning 100.
I thought I heard an interview you did, you were opening for, I forget, you played a couple songs on Lightning 100?
Tommy Lee is a bass player in Nashville who I met through Matthew Perryman Jones, he played for Matthew several times, so we just became buds because I play with Matthew sometimes. And he texted me yesterday and said, "Hey I just heard your song on Lightning 100," and I was like, "Whaaat??" Lightning 100 is a Nashville, independent radio station, and on Mondays they do a show called "The 615" because that's our area code, and they do local artists at 6:15 for about an hour.
So yeah, I guess I got some local radio play.
Yeah, I think it was the Matthew Perryman Jones interview that I head. You guys had sold-out the City Winery or something.
Alright, you're a Starbucks alum.
But coffee has come a long way since 2007.
Aside from good water, quality fruit and a good roaster, what's the secret to the Molly pour-over? Or is it just kind of a standard thing?
Well, I've been using a Kalita. I've been using it for about a year-and-a-half. I think I got it in May of last year. Been using the Kalita, so easy to travel with, stainless steel. You know, I've gotten drip coffee from Crema, so much, like before I started brewing on my own, I got it, like every day. I would just drive there and spend $4 on drip coffee, and I grew to love the taste of paper.
The taste of what?
The taste of paper. It sounds kind of gross, but I just got used to drinking out of paper cups, so for a long time I didn't like to drink coffee out of the mug.
Because I didn't [boyfriend laughing in the background], I was missing the paper taste. I could — he's laughing at me.
Is that the guy that wakes people up when he laughs?
No, that's Matt. He said, "Is that the guy that wakes people up when he laughs?" This guy does his research, aka just follows me on Twitter.
Yeah, major stalking.
Matt is actually in the car with us. He's riding down, he didn't want to ride in the van today. So you have James and Matt listening to me talk.
Talk about your loving the taste of paper, which sounds almost borderline creepy or something that you have to go to rehab for.
I know. Well, I actually brought one mug on this tour. It's my Cure mug. It says, "THE CURE FOR MORNINGS," and it has a silhouette of Robert Smith on it, and uh, I have a bunch of different mugs from different states at home, so I was like, "Why don't I just continue this tradition?" So I've been picking up mugs from different states. I have an Ohio one, and Pennsylvania one, and that might be it actually. So I have been drinking out of mugs, I will have you know. Maybe I've cured myself. I've healed on my own. But, yeah. I don't think I have any secrets. Um, I post it on Instagram, so it's not a so-secret secret.
Yeah, I like, you know, you have a good method. So yeah, the paper. That threw me off, so then I was like, okay she's pouring cups in the morning before van call, so you probably don't get to drink coffee in these towns that have great coffee shops? Is that a method of saving money or is it just the solitude of making your own cup of coffee in the morning?
You know, I have been visiting some shops. Like in major cities like New York and, um, well in cities where I know there are good coffee roasters or coffee shops, I love to visit them, um, but New York City was pretty disappointing. I went to, like, three different coffee shops, and I think the Intelligentsia was the only good cup that I had. But I went to Huckleberry in Denver, and it was amazing. Like it rivaled Crema, and I love Crema. Um, so I have been able to try out shops, and I've been able to make my own. I'm so glad that I brought my own because in a city like Redding, where we're leaving from this morning, I knew there wasn't going to be a third wave coffee shop there, and I'm just very particular about my coffee, so it's been very nice to be able to make my own. So if it's gross, then I already spent the money to make it, and I only have myself to blame. I don't have a barista to blame, you know.
Right on. Nobody to spell your name wrong, which I guess with Molly people don't spell that wrong too often. I don't mean to ask you about coffee this whole time by the way.
I love it, actually. I'm on a little high right now talking about it.
Yeah, it's fun and it's better than drinking a ton of booze because after drinking a certain amount of booze you can't do anything. Let us know if you're gonna try coffee in Tampa so we can try to steer you in the right direction.
And in might even be cold when you get here.
You're here in the middle of December, so you may get some weather. Do you have plans to go to the beach? Is David a big beach dude? How many people are on this tour, by the way? I'm asking you a ton of questions — you're playing solo.
Yeah, and I'm gonna try and answer them in that order, um. I'll answer them backwards. I played the first several shows, probably the first week, I played solo and then, um, I realized that — maybe, like, the first week I played solo — then I was like, "Hold on a second, there is an amazing pianist on this tour," and he's also my friend and he also told me that he would love to play with me anytime, so I asked Matt if he would play with me, and he said, "Yes," and he plays almost every show with me. I've, um, he got sniffly a couple nights, and I was like, "You know what? I'm gonna give you the night off, brother."
But he is such a delightful addition to my set. Like, there's just something. I love playing solo,but there is something so wonderful and relieving about getting to, just like, share the burden. I don't know. It's magical to hear someone else make your songs sound more beautiful, and he does that, so we play the duo pretty often, and we're gonna play the duo tonight and probably for the next three shows, but other than that I just play by myself — guitar and vocal. There are seven of us in the van; five band members — including David. And then me and our tour manager/front of the house engineer Melanie, um two girls, five boys, and I can't remember what you asked before that.
Yeah, I think I was trying to get the gist of who was gonna show up and play with you and how, kind of, the set worked. Yeah, so you are still playing the Gibson 1965 LG-1, right?
Did you buy that one yourself? Wasn't given to you or an heirloom or anything.
I sure did.
Do you remember where you bought it, I think I saw where you mentioned how you wanted, um, an older guitar like that, and that you do enjoy playing that guitar..
...but is there anything in particular about that guitar that attracted you to it?
Well, I will tell you that I got a Takamine dreadnought for my 16th birthday, and after about five years of playing that I, maybe even six years, I got, I dunno, a tax return or something as was like, "You know what, I really want a vintage guitar." Just an older guitar, had no idea what to really look for, and one of my friends from church, this older gentleman who used to play music a lot when he was younger, he said, "You should look for a Martin or a Gibson," so I just typed in those words in eBay. Haha. Not all three of them — not "Martin or Gibson" — I searched for them one at a time, I knew what the brands were, I just didn't have any experience with either of them. Saw it on eBay, it was in my price range. I had no idea what I was getting except that it was an acoustic guitar, and it was a Gibson, and it was old, so, uh, I'd never really bought anything on eBay. I just saw that it had 24 hours left, and I saw that no one had bid on it. And it was really bad and distorted, and I was like, "Oh my gosh."
Like, "What am I buying."
Yeah, like, I'm about to get scammed. I'm about to lose $700. Yeah, so I paid 700 bucks for it, and shipping was like $60. And I got it like a week or two later from, um, man it was either Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati, Ohio, so I'll just say it's from Ohio. It came in this really cheap case, but it was very well padded, and it was in, like, perfect condition, and I just kind of kept in it my room for about six months. I was like, "Cool I just got a guitar," and I just kept playing my crappy Takamine.
But then I finally got it set up. It didn't need a lot of work. I just put an LR Baggs pickup in it because it came recommended by a couple folks, and started playing it, and its been my little baby — it's been great.
That's freaking awesome.
Isn't that wild?
I almost feel sad that you didn't get to do the creepy Craigslist exchange. So, um, I'm guessing you were writing songs before you had the Gibson, and I know you've mentioned that you were kind of a slow songwriter — and I have theories about why people think they're slow songwriters — but do you feel like there were any songs in that Gibson that came out of it, or do you think that having a different guitar just allowed you to practice that thing you said you wanted to do and write more. I'm trying to figure out when you made that decision, what guitar you had at that point, and how that's going. The desire to write every day.
When I decided to do what, I'm sorry?
Oh, you had mentioned that you were a slow writer of songs and that they didn't necessarily pour out of you, but you mentioned wanted to write every day. I was wondering how that was going.
You know, it's still pretty slow going, but last year I kind of got a good motivation to continue to write songs. Um, I wrote about eight songs last year.
Thanks, maybe it was more like six, but...
It was more than two, which is awesome.
Was that your average?
See, I come up with ideas, but I just can't quite finish them in a timely manner. So I probably came up with 16 ideas in the last year, and six to eight of them made it into full songs.
And, uh, I don't know. I think I would've written the songs no matter what guitar I had. I don't know that I quite believe that there are songs in guitars.
But it's been so nice. I say that, but I am playing this really sweet guitar, so who knows maybe all of these songs were in the guitar, but I'm just pumped to be playing a really wonderful sounding guitar after playing a Takamine for six years. I have come to believe that I can be a disciplined songwriter. I always thought that I needed to wait for inspiration to strike, but I took a couple of these 16 song ideas that I just couldn't finish allegedly, and um, I would just sit down with the for an hour at a time and look at the works, and maybe not an hour, maybe like 10 minutes at a time. I've been doing these 10-minute free writes for the last three or four years, on and off, and lately it's really helped me. Even if a song doesn't come out of it. I don't know. It really is like a muscle. That if you warm it up it will perform better. I'm a believer now in the warming up.
Yeah, I wrote a song after I did a free write last year, and I was like, "Wow. How did I do that?" And then I said, "Molly, that's how you did it — free write."
You mentioned a new motivation. Is that like a record deal or people coming in and out of your life, or events because I take it that your songs are relatively autobiographical, um, maybe less so now that you are doing this exercise, but it seems like...
They are completely autobiographical, actually. It's hard for me to write about something that I haven't experienced.
But yeah, there was talks of me doing a record, and it seemed like a really good idea, and I wanted to do 11 songs, and I needed to have it by January, and when I was talking with this person it was in, like August, and I had like two new songs, so I was like, "Oh crap." So I kicked myself into gear, and I'm glad I did because I started recording, I recorded three songs before I left town for this tour, and I'll record about eight more when I get home.
Sweet. So, are they self-recorded, do you work with someone? I love the way that you've navigated around Nashville. You've done back up for people, and you've got the Kid Swim thing, and you seem kind of like a very, kind of, in demand voice to have blended on a song, so where do you think you'll record that record?
Um, I've already started in Madison at, uh, a home studio just north of Nashville. It's basically Nashville.
So now that I know that you're songs are autobiographical it kind of puts some things in perspective for me. You seem like you may be a little self-critical, but there was a lot of hope in songs like “Lord Have Mercy” and “The Gambler,” and then you have songs like "The Story Of A Man," which is a heartbreaker. Those songs are a little older, but how connected do you remain to the people in those songs, specifically “Lord Have Mercy” and “The Gambler” — what would you tell that version of yourself who wrote those songs. They seem older, so it seems like you would have changed a little bit.
Yeah. I'm not as guilt-driven as I used to be?
Are you Catholic?
I'm not, that's why I'm not as guilt-driven. Haha.
No, but my sweet James comes from a Catholic background, and the guilt-driven language still eeks out of him sometimes, but I, no, I went to a Pentecostal church growing up. And in youth group, our youth group was very, the lessons were very guilt-driven.
Yeah, Christianity in general.
Well, you know, I actually started to go to an Anglican church when I moved to Atlanta in 2010, and I have stuck with the Anglican denomination because it is as not as guilt-driven. It's, like, very hopeful.
[James in the background: "It's boring."]
He's episcopal, so it's the same.
[Someone in the background: "It's hopeful."]
Haha. No, I don't know. It totally changed my perspective on how to live life because. It's funny that you mention those two songs because those are very, like, guilt-driven, guilty songs. It seems like. I didn't have any huge thing to feel guilty about, but I just felt like I should, just for being alive, kind of. But yeah, I would tell the cast of my former myself to go a little easier on yourself, I suppose. I don't know. I'm glad I wrote those songs, though I was a little hard on myself.
They're great songs.
You mentioned kind of feeling like a bad person, but I feel like when you listen to songs like David's like "Communion" or "Good Heart" you can't help but feel like a good person. There’s a lot of open talk about vices in David’s music, but less of that in yours. Would you say that you are a relatively well-behaved person compared to the person David is singing about those songs? Do we attribute that to the church a bit?
Wait, a relatively what kind of person?
A relatively well-behaved person compared to the people that David sings about on his record, which I feel is very dark in a way.
His latest one? We're Not Going Anywhere? Yeah, we grew up in a similar church culture. I think he was raised in, he mentioned, I think Southern baptist chapel, from Apologies, but yeah, I'm just, it's interesting. It definitely shaped me a little bit, and now I'm kind of escaping the shape, the mold. It's good — it gives me a little perspective.
I kind of wanted to go back to you having some keys accompanying you, and the crowd.
I imagine, sometimes, I don't know how David's crowds are — I've never seen him — but sometimes they can get kind of chatty. I know you played a quiet room this last time, but do you sing extra quiet in a chatty crowd, is that a trick you use, or have you had to deal with that much on this tour with David?
Thankfully not very much, but I remember two different times. One was actually the Seattle crowd at Tractor Tavern, we played last Wednesday. They were so loud, well not so loud, but they talked through our whole set, and there were a couple of seconds of quietness, but for the most part they were just there to talk. And that happened, it got really, I got a little flustered on stage. Matt was playing with me that night, and sometimes I just wait to start a song for folks to quiet down, and sometimes I just have to, like, play through. I contemplated saying something into the microphone, but I just didn't know what to say. I just didn't know what to say, you know, so I didn't say anything. I just kept playing. I knew that the sound guy was gonna do his job and make me as loud as I needed to be, and people that were there to listen would find a way to listen. Like when we play at Founders Brewing it was pretty loud, but there was a row of two folks. There were two rows of folks that were definitely listening. Actually for the most part this tour has been amazing. Like his crowd, I can barely hear them breathing.
Like, "Are you alive?"
Yes, I asked the Kansas City crowd because we played, like, this punk club, and I couldn't hear a thing because it was so quiet, so I was like, "Is anybody out there?" And of course people yelled, but the crowds for the most part — like 95-percent of them — have been so respectful to me, and it's, like, one of the most wonderful feelings. So just with the exception of maybe, like three cities. Everyone has been really listening, and it has been really cool.
Cool, I feel like long runs like these are life-changing. Do you feel like this tour has boosted your confidence? I'm guessing having someone play on keys can give you more freedom to be yourself onstage, but do you feel like you've changed on this run?
No, I don't feel like I've totally changed. I've played a few, maybe two, different tours where I've had a guitar playing with me and singing with me, and it is just so nice. I have started to do vocal warm ups, and newsflash it helps. It helps your voice, but I think that was helped me sing better, and when I sing better and can hear better in my monitor that I am singing well that really encourages me to keep going. Because as soon as I hear that my monitor mix is shit or that my voice is not as strong as I want it to be, or something, that's when I start to lose confidence onstage, and I want to just stop in the middle of the song and get offstage. But yeah, I'm learning how to tell the sound person what I need and ask for a little more during soundcheck because when the room fills up the sound changes. So, um, maybe not a life-changing tour, but it's been great.
Great for your career and your habits.
Totally, and I guess it has boosted my confidence. And I'm still learning the ropes — you learn something new every tour. It's been really good for playing fans every night, selling CDs, t-shirts — it's been really good.
And since you are talking about singing and your voice, which is incredible, do you remember which singers inspired you coming up? And do you remember when you, one, knew that singing was something that you wanted to do and, two, something that you could do pretty well?
Um, so I didn't really start singing. Until I started writing songs, which was about 18 or 19.
And I do remember singing harmony a couple years before that. Whenever a song would come on the radio, or I would be at church or something, I would sing harmony and have no idea how I learned to do that, but it's just always come naturally to me. So, Feist was one of my favorites and still is.
I mean, I've always loved Chris Martin's voice, from Coldplay. There's this duo called the Innocence Mission, they're out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the girl's name is Karen Paris, and I adore her voice. It sounds very fragile. It sounds like if Bjork wrote sweet and folky.
Yeah, but, trying to think of others. Things that inspired me to write and sing was this gal name Jaymay, and I think she lives in Brooklyn. I heard a song of hers on a mix CD that someone gave me, and it was really, like, cute. And just sounded very simple and borderline, like dumb, but I loved it.
What was the name of the song?
I think it was either called "Green or Blue" or "Corduroy," I think she has a song called "Corduroy."
But, um. It was so simple, and I was like, "I can do this." She really inspired me to write songs that were better than hers. Don't ever tell her I said that because we might be friends ones day.
Maybe you'll collaborate. Does that play into your comments, I don't know if you made them tongue-in-cheek, but you had said something about writing songs as a reaction to songs you don't like on the radio.
Totally, totally. Well, maybe not totally. Like, partially.
Yeah, it kind of plays into that. There's no point in complaining about songs that you don't like — just make better ones. You can complain about songs you don't like and make fun of them, but it really does nobody any good.
Put that on my tombstone.
Don't think about the tombstone yet — you're still so very young. How old are you?
You know what? I will be 29 by the time I play in Tampa, but I am 28 today.
When's your birthday?
Do you wanna guess? I'll give you one guess.
Uh, let's see. Is your birthday on Thanksgiving? Nah, hold on, that's just a Thursday. December 7.
Very close. December 9. Well, I know you only wanna talk for half an hour, so thanks have a great trip and drive safe.
Cool, talk soon.