Molly Pinto Madigan is quite an extraordinary young woman. She’s a veritable whirlwind of creativity. If she’s not performing a show, she’s writing a book. If she’s not writing a book, she’s helping to produce a concert series at the local library or giving a workshop on music to students at her alma mater. Molly clearly has music in her soul; she weaves musical tales of love and love lost with a charming, clear voice that is reminiscent of Sandy Denny.
To learn more about Molly, check out her website.
Here’s a video of Molly singing her song “The Storm.”
Has music always been an important part of your life? What are your earliest recollections of hearing or playing music?
Music has definitely always been a big part of my life. My parents have always been music-lovers, and some of my earliest musical memories were me and my mom dancing around the house to her Beatles CDs. Because of her, I still know the lyrics to just about every Beatles song, and they’re still my favorite band of all time. (That’s why I was so psyched to be a part of the “All You Need is Love” benefit at the me & thee this year!) The Beatles, The Smiths, The Cranberries, Roxy Music, Queen: my mom’s favorite bands became mine, too. I also was enchanted by lullabies — all the traditional ones that are kind of spooky and melancholy and tender and mysterious all at once. I remember being three and four and really thinking hard about specific songs. The first part of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was one. I remember that really clearly, imagining the narrator, feeling his heartache. It was beautiful and sad and my little child-self almost couldn’t handle it. “Molly Malone” was another one in the so-sad-it-hurts-but-I-also-can’t-get-enough-of-it-what-is-this-beautiful-pain kind of way. And “Yesterday” by The Beatles. I still like songs like that.
My first performance was when I sang “Tainted Love” (my favorite song at the time) in front of a crowd with a karaoke mic. Yep, my music career pretty much peaked at age six.
Tell us about your time with Jaded Mandolin. How long did you play together?
Jaded Mandolin was a bluegrass band that came into being when I was probably fourteen or fifteen, but Eric, Michael, Adrian, and I had played together under different band names for a couple of years before that, and we’d been friends for longer still. We were all home-schooled and were in the same home-schooling group. We played music together until I was 17 and people started going to college. Being in Jaded Mandolin really opened me up to traditional music and gave me a taste of the Boston folk scene — we headlined at Club Passim, opened for Claire Lynch, and recorded our first CD together. We grew as musicians together, and I’m the performer I am today because of Jaded Mandolin. (I got the only-wearing-pajamas-onstage thing out of my system.)
Did it take a lot of adjustment when you first started playing solo?
I think you’re forgetting my “Tainted Love” karaoke stint; I was already a pro.
No, in reality, there’s a certain comfort in having a band behind you. At first, it was lonely onstage. If you mess up as a solo artist, it’s all on you. It’s harder to hide, and I liked the support being in a band offered. There’s also a certain energy that a band brings, and you have to adjust to that when you’re on the stage yourself. But I’ve really learned to enjoy performing solo. I love being in control, artistically. I love the freedom being a solo artist brings. I’ve had to learn to be comfortable with myself and my songwriting, but I am.
You won a songwriting competition sponsored by WUMB when you were a teenager. What was the song that you sang that night and do you still perform it?
The song was called “I’m Bound Away.” I dropped the “I’m” so now it’s just “Bound Away,” and it’s on my first solo album, Outshine the Dusk. My first instrument was piano, so that’s what I wrote it for, and when there’s a piano onstage, I’ll play it from time to time. I also play it on guitar occasionally, but it’s not the same. That song was really inspired by traditional balladry, European and American, and the ballads are still a huge influence on my songwriting today. I recently wrote a song called “Pomeroy,” which is a song based on a short story I wrote, which was based on the traditional “Reynardine” (a.k.a. “The Mountains of Pomeroy). I think “Bound Away” really marked the beginning of me finding my voice as a songwriter. It was the first song I wrote that I really liked.
Is it true that you studied both English and Music in college? Did the study of literature help sharpen your songwriting skills?
I graduated from Salem State with a BA in Music and a minor in English, but I’ve always been a big reader. And writer. The study of literature and poetry exposed me to a lot of different voices and styles. That definitely influenced my own songwriting. I took a lot of creative writing classes at Salem State, and I was fortunate enough to have professors in both English and music who really supported me, creatively.
Your style is quite reminiscent of Celtic / British folk from years past. What is it about that kind of music that captures your imagination?
Well, my grandmother was from Belfast, so my dad’s side of the family really identifies with Irish culture. I had a brief stint with Irish Stepdancing around the same time as my “Tainted Love” period, so I suppose that was my first exposure to Irish traditional music. My dad and I always listen to a lot of Celtic music when we’re in the car together. I don’t know, though, it’s always just struck a chord with me (pun fully intended). Especially vocal music. Sean-nos, Gaelic laments — I love the love, the heartbreak, the story each song tells. I’m a weird hybrid of Celtic and American influences. I love the warmth and fullness of Americana, the colors, and I love the mystery, the honesty, the trembling ornamentation of Celtic music. You can hear both currents in my own music.
I understand that plans are starting to take place about a second recording. How will this next project differ from your first solo CD?
I had recorded a CD with Jaded Mandolin, but Outshine the Dusk was my first solo album. Most of the songs were on the old side, because I hadn’t been writing that much music when I recorded it, but since last October, I’ve written 17 new songs. So, this new album is going to be fresh and exciting. I recorded the first one during my last semester at Salem State, so I was stressed out and rushed, and I’m going to be more relaxed about this one. I’m going to take my time and make sure it gets done right. Outshine the Dusk was just me. Voice, guitar, piano: only me. For this album, it’s going to have fuller instrumentation. I’m scheduled to go into the studio in the beginning of November to record at Dirt Floor. I’m a huge fan of the music that’s been coming out of Eric Lichter’s studio, which is basically this amazing log cabin in the wilds of Connecticut. Ian Fitzgerald, Wise Old Moon, Kerri Powers, Hannah Fair, Jonah Tolchin: they’ve all come out with incredible albums from Dirt Floor — vibrant and singing and alive with Eric Lichter’s guidance.
Please tell us about your fiction writing. You’ve written short stories as well as a young adult novel. What drives you to write?
What drives me to write? Good question. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, so I come up with these stories and I write because I feel compelled to get them out. Even when I was little, I’d come up with these stories and screenplays and songs that I’d try to write down. My best friend learned to read before I did, so I’d dictate stories and she’d write them down for me. When she complained that she was tired and it wasn’t fun for her anymore, I’d have my mom pen them. I was a workaholic at age five. Not much has changed. (I finally did learn how to read, though.)
So, my first full-length book (I had a two-part novella about an Egyptologist who just-so-happened to have brown, curly hair and eyes that shifted between green and blue and gray [me]) was a collection of fairy-tale retellings. Short stories and poems. I wrote it during a directed study at Salem State with a magical professor who loved fairy tales as much as I did (she still loves them in chilly Minnesota). Then, the summer before my senior year, I wrote my first novel. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it, but I gave myself three months to do it, and I had it done before classes started in September. It’s 330 pages long, and it’s a retelling of the Scottish ballad “Tam Lin,” set in modern-day Salem during the month of October. I won’t give too much away, but think folksongs, faeries, and a seedy rock club in the heart of downtown Salem. I signed with my agent last November, and I’m almost done writing the third novel in the trilogy. It’s actually considered ‘New Adult,’ because the protagonist is a Salem State student. A Salem State student with brown, curly hair and eyes that shift between green and blue and gray. Some things never change.
What are your long-term goals?
I want to keep writing music and books and growing as an artist. I want to keep feeding my overactive imagination and being creative and finding inspiration in the world around me. A little money would be nice somewhere in the future, but it’s not a deal-breaker. I’d like to get my novels published, I’d like to make some beautiful CDs, and I’d like to be able to play shows to audiences that aren’t entirely comprised of blood relations. That’s not a deal-breaker either, though. And while I’d like to be able to sell out places like Club Passim and the me & thee coffeehouse, I hope my parents and my sister are always there in the audience to cheer me on.