Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Blue Ridge’s Molly Murphy. Together we discussed growing up in nature, their songwriting process, being the blue jean Queen, their newest EP “Were You Digging For Some Deeper Meaning?” and so much more!
1. Mustard is grateful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you?
Hello, Mustard! I am well. And even weller now that I’m getting to speak with you.
2. You grew up at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For those who have never been, how would you describe it?
Think The Shire from Lord of the Rings meets Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. It’s got rolling green hills, cows, gravel roads, a little one-stoplight town where everyone knows everyone. No hobbits or town troubadours, though (sad). It’s a great place to get space, quiet, and to grow up.
3. How did nature influence you growing up? Did you have a special spot in the mountains that helped inspire you?
It was kind of all around me, so it was hard not to be influenced by it. I picture playing outside with my older sister when we were kids, and using the roots of old, enormous trees as little villages and pools for fairies. It definitely influenced my early memories to grow up smelling and hearing and feeling the changing seasons very potently, and I draw on a lot of that, especially in my earlier songs. There are a few spots down back roads there that still inspire me and make me feel close to that place and who I am, like parts along Goose Creek, Sky Meadows, or anywhere with a view of the Shenandoah Valley.
4. Artists such as The Avett Brothers and First Aid Kit have inspired you musically. Could you share more about your connection with these artists?
I stumbled upon The Avett Brothers while going through my older sister’s iTunes library and looking for ‘cool music’ to add to my first iPod. I wanted to hear what the older kids were listening to. There are a few songs from the album ‘Emotionalism’ in particular that struck me first; I’d never felt connected to this style of music that wasn’t strictly rock and wasn’t fully country, but had that folk, bluegrass, Americana energy to it. Their style of guitar playing and sense of melody really stuck with me and still influences the way I play. I just saw them live recently for the first time in years, and the simplicity of their lyricism is still so powerful to me.
First Aid Kit was introduced to me by a few friends in high school – once again, older girls who I thought were really really cool. I remember hearing “Ghost Town” for the first time and feeling like I understood what it must feel like to lose someone you really loved and watch them carry on a life with someone else (something I definitely did NOT understand at fifteen). They’re also sisters who harmonize so effortlessly, and my best friend and I would drive around and sing to their songs in the backseat of her sister’s car. A lot of my early music taste was affected by my female friendships, for sure.
5. Do you remember the first song you wrote in the basement of your high school? What was it about?
One of the first songs I can recall writing during that time was a song based off an old self-help book found in another unused room. It was an old building and an old school, and there were certain rooms that had collected pretty miscellaneous objects and books from over the years. So my friends and I wrote a song together based on prompts that our English teacher gave us, and centered it around this self-help book. It was called “The Self-Help Song”. I could still play it now if you asked me to, and I think it’d hold up pretty well!
6. You studied music at University of Virginia. What is one lesson you learned that still sticks with you today?
I felt for a long time like, “Well, the world doesn’t really need another songwriter, another musician, so I’d better find something else to do.” I thought that would mean working in the music industry. One professor, who was also my advisor in the Music department, reframed that pretty simply for me: “Does the music industry really need another marketing manager?” he asked. “Do what you want to do because you want to do it and because you’re good at it.” I did end up working various jobs in the music industry (still do!) and that’s been a total gift as an artist to touch lots of different components of music making and live entertainment, but I hear that professor’s words in my head whenever I question whether it’s ‘worth’ creating music.
7. What is your songwriting process?
The first seed of it is always a tiny detail, a combination of words, or a feeling I want to capture but don’t yet have the words for. Sometimes it’s an image and I’ll try to capture that in a photograph. I have some journals, but most ideas just go in the good ol’ Notes app on my phone, since the best sparks seem to come from being out in the world, especially in New York where there’s so much stimulation. From those initial germs of ideas, I’ll usually revisit and try to form a vocal melody and then fit it to acoustic guitar; that’s the go-to. But I’m trying to change things up by writing more lyrics before I work on melodies and arrangements, or composing using a digital audio workspace to rely less on the acoustic melodies I’m accustomed to. I also love pulling a book off my shelf and utilizing stray lines and words to take my mind somewhere it might not go on its own.
8. You’re the blue Jean queen. What is your favorite brand of jeans?
Whatever I can find in the back of my mom’s closet or at a good thrift/vintage shop! The best pairs I’ve ever owned have come from Depop, like a pair of GAP mom jeans from the 80s. Secondhand all the way!
9. A human gets invited to see Molly Murphy in concert. What kind of show can they expect?
These days, I’ve been playing more with a band, or at least some bass, drums, maybe a lead guitarist for additional accompaniment. I’d like to create an exciting live atmosphere for these songs that still feel on the whole very relaxed. Regardless of whether I’m up there alone or with others, though, I like it to feel pretty intimate, which I think is a result of playing a lot of small shows that are packed with people I know and love!
10. In 2018 you released “Woods.” What was your home of the Blue Ridge Mountains an inspiration behind this song? Could you share more about this single?
I love using the nature I grew up surrounded by as a means of conveying my emotions. “Woods” is about someone who I had a romantic relationship with who always had one foot out the door and couldn’t commit to emotional intimacy. There are sort of no rules when you’re in that kind of in-between space with someone, so I wrote about feeling simultaneously lost and realizing that it was up to me whether I wanted to keep following that path “into the woods”.
11. 2020 saw the release of your EP “Call Me Elsewhere” featuring tracks such as “Pearl Street Creek.” What was the process like putting this EP together? Where were you be preferred to be called?
This EP is a great testament to the difficulties of uprooting yourself and learning to grow somewhere new. The title track, “Elsewhere”, I wrote just before and after moving to New York, and is sort of a letter to my future self to not change too much. I also still wanted to combine elements of nature with the new environment I was in, so “Pearl Street Creek”, for instance, is about the little ‘creeks’ that flow along the sides of the streets here in the city when it rains. When I was leaving Virginia and moving here, it wasn’t so much about preferring to be somewhere else, but rather embracing that call to a new adventure beyond the world you’ve known.
12. Last week you released your newest single “Salt for Witches.” Humans use salt to invoke divine protection. Could you share more about your latest single? Why are some humans afraid of witches?
As you mentioned, I wanted to use the idea of invoking protection through ritual, in this case a circle of salt, to keep out bad vibes and people who aren’t worth your time. Honestly, a protective method anyone who’s ever dated in New York in their twenties could probably use! I think people are afraid of witches because they don’t understand them, which also relates to feeling misunderstood in a relationship.
13. What can fans expect from your upcoming EP?
A fuller sound, with a bit more of an edge on my style. There are still lots of vocal harmonies, some folk instruments like banjo, mandolin, and fiddle – things that feel a part of my typical sonic identity – but there are also more guitars, heavier drums, weird synth sounds. I really wanted this record to feel bigger, more sonically rich, and more intense, in a way, and my producers Sam and Van helped me achieve just that.
14. What’s next for Molly Murphy?
Lots more local shows in NYC, and hopefully some regional shows in the northeast and back in Virginia! I’m planning to dedicate some time to writing and finishing newer songs over the next few months, and finally messing with the guitar pedals I bought this year.
15. Where can readers listen to your music?
Anywhere you stream or buy music! The easiest way to do that and find more of my work is through my bio link, bio.to/mollymurphy.