6 Questions with Mollie O’Brien

Grammy Award winner Mollie O’Brien became known to the rest of the world as a singer’s singer when, in 1988, she and her brother Tim released the first of three critically-acclaimed albums for Sugar Hill Records. What followed was a rich career, family making and never losing the desire to make timeless, original and inventive music.

Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore present a glorious mix of contemporary folk, powerhouse gospel, funk and everything in between. It’s the personification of Americana – an amalgam of all the kinds of music that have defined the sounds coming from the American trajectory of music that’s blossomed over the last 100 years.

We grabbed a few moments with Mollie en route to Edinburgh – her first ever visit – fresh from the Shetland Folk Festival, to find out what it’s like to work with family, musical influences and discovering tradition solo…

Q1. Tell us about your most recent album.

Rich and I released Love Runner in 2014. We like to say that technically it’s still new – mainly because we’re still paying for it!

Mollie and RichIt was the most fun I’ve ever had recording. We did all the tracks live and the band was insanely symbiotic. It was the perfect example of everyone listening to each other and playing off each other and the result, I believe, sounds like it.

Q2. How long have you been writing music/playing together?

I met Rich, my husband in 1981. We played in a band together for several years, got married, had a few kids, quit playing together, stayed married, got the kids through college and for the last 5 years have been performing steadily as a duo.

If there was an equation for the number years being married like there is for dog years to human, I’m sure we could say we’ve been together for a century.

Q3. What is your writing process like? Does one person typically write the lyrics?

I usually write the lyrics. Rich comes up with guitar “pieces” as he calls them and I swipe them and, hopefully, don’t ruin their beautiful melodies.

Rich been very influenced by guitarists such as Chris Smither, Sonny Landreth, and Dave Van Ronk and each of their styles come across in his playing and writing.

Q4. What inspires you when writing music?

I am inspired by the everyday things that inspire most other people I guess – children, love, loss and feeling insecure.

Q5. What other musicians have influenced you?

I have been influenced by far too many singers to name!

But, growing up I loved everything from Joni Mitchell to Betty Carter to Dinah Washington to Ray Charles.

Q6. What does Tradition mean to you?

Most people, when they hear I’m from West Virginia, assume that I came up singing with my family around the kitchen table. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. So, for me, I kind of had to unearth the old stuff on my own.

Naturally I listened to everything I could hear on the radio, on LPs, and anything anyone else recommended. And my younger brother Tim and I played music together in high school and we dug through everything we could as well. Luckily, our daughters love to sing with me and Rich at parties and at home and I know they play music with their friends at their own parties. 

And someday (hopefully!) their children will hear the songs we’ve all done and will want to sing them with their parents and grandparents. Maybe somehow, that’ll make up for the kitchen table sessions I didn’t have as a kid.

‘Mollie O’Brien possesses an amazing voice in a class companioned by very few others.’ (Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange)

Catch Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore live at Pleasance Cabaret Bar for their Soundhouse TradFest gig on Thursday 7th May, 8pm