One-Man Band Series, #8: Molly Gene One Whoaman Band
From the depths of the one-man band underground there has emerged an undeniably impressive female singer/songwriter — a one-woman band, rather — whose dirty blues and raw country sound is quickly earning her a place among the more notable artists of that particular movement. Molly Dyer, better known as Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, is a down-home young woman, all cowboy boots and t-shirts and flannels, all soul and grit and fire. Her bottleneck slide technique is reminiscent of the old blues greats, though with a rock ‘n’ roll edge. Her raspy whiskey and cigarettes vocals, which do not come across as androgynous but remain entirely feminine, join together with her big plugged-in guitar sound to form songs that are as wicked as a desert rattlesnake, as sharp a straight razor, as fiery as a sip of backwoods moonshine, as sultry as summer nights in the Deep South, and nearly as sexy as Molly herself.
Based out of a small town in Missouri called Warrensburg, Molly Gene is one of the more talented of the handful of one-person bands located in the United States. That is to say, not only is the one-person band scene dominated by males, it is also much more prevalent in Europe than anywhere else in the world. But as a one-woman band from the States, Molly does remarkably well. In fact, she does better than that, since she can hold her own beside artists like Bob Log III and Ben Prestage, among others. And Bob Log must have seen that in her from the start, or he wouldn’t have invited her to accompany him on tour this past summer.
If Molly’s sound lands at one of the ends of today’s one-man band spectrum, it would be the same one where such artists as Bob Log III, Honkeyfinger, Possessed by Paul James, Phillip Roebuck, and Reverend Deadeye belong. And that becomes quite clear while listening to her songs, too, really listening to her songs and taking in every chord, every note, every slide bit, every pronounced boom and tap and jingly beat of her foot drum setup. One gets an especially good sampling of her sound from her new album, her second full-length release titled “Hillbilly Love” on Solid Audio Productions’ label, which was released this past spring just before she went on tour with Bob Log III.
“Hillbilly Love” is an eleven song album with superb recording quality and some of Molly’s best material to date. The CD comes in a gatefold case, on the front of which is a photo of Molly sitting outside in an old chair in some backwoods setting, looking for the world like the country gal she truly is in a sleeveless top, black mini skirt, red knee-high fishnets and black high heels, holding a double-barrel shotgun in one hand and a jug o’ hooch in the other. And with songs like “Bumble Bee,” “Ain’t Goin’ Home,” “My .22,” “A Whoaman’s World,” and “Dancin’ in the Graveyard,” “Hillbilly Love” is bound to end up alongside the more important one-man and one-woman band albums in music’s recent history.
Speaking of Molly Gene’s tour with Bob Log, I had the pleasure of seeing her perform at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York. It was quite a day leading up to that point, however, and my traveling companions and I nearly missed the show altogether. That was due to the traffic-choked highway going into the city, and then almost getting arrested at the Holland Tunnel. Though we weren’t arrested, our vehicle was impounded, and we had no choice but take the pathway into Manhattan from Jersey City. It was hot. Too hot. And there was a light drizzle coming down, making the day all the more humid and intolerable. Eventually, after a lot of walking and more than a little sweating, a stroke of good luck: we scored a ride from Manhattan over to the venue in Brooklyn. Even though we had a difficult time getting there, we arrived just in time to catch Molly starting her set. To be sure, her songs sounded just like they did on the album, only overflowing with the raw energy that comes only from live performances. Her stage needs are minimal, as she only brings a guitar, a harmonica, a Farmer foot drum setup, and her voice. Still, her sound is a big country and blues sound, definitely something that one-man/woman band purists can sink their teeth into. And I left the venue that night with what I was no doubt a lasting impression of Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, and even after I had experienced the absolutely incredible Bob Log III set.
If you were to ask Molly to describe her music, she would invariably tell you that it is “folk, blues, and booze.” And if you to ask her to include you in her line-up, she would invariably say, “No, you cannot be in my band.”
After listening to “Hillbilly Love” over and over, attending the show in Brooklyn, and carrying on a rather infrequent correspondence with Molly Gene, I finally got the chance to interview her recently. The contents of that interview have been included her in this piece for you in their entirety.
To give my readers a better idea of the artist I am interviewing I like to begin these pieces in an introductory fashion. In other words, who is Molly Gene One Whoaman Band, not just as a singer/songwriter but an individual, as a human being of this mad world in which we live?
Well, I was born in a town called Warrensburg, Missouri, and I grew up on a farm about ten miles north from there. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Florida Keys, where I hope to move after completing my degree in Interior Design.
There aren’t a whole lot of women involved in the one-man band community, let alone in roots music, or the country and blues scene rather. What is it like being a woman in a male dominated area of music? And how do people usually receive you at shows and other such events as such?
I think it’s great being a one-woman band. I always get excited when I see female musicians. People are usually surprised to hear my raspy voice because my speaking voice is so high-pitched and girly sounding. I can’t seem to control either one. Something about playing music possesses me.
This past summer I attended your show in Brooklyn, New York with Bob Log III…which was absolutely fantastic, by the way. You sounded truly phenomenal. What was it like to tour with the great Bob Log III?
Ha! Did we meet? Maybe we did and I didn’t know who you were. Touring with Bob Log was great. It was my first tour and it went surprisingly smooth. Bob is one of my great musical influences, so touring with him was an amazing experience. It was fun playing for such large crowds that got so excited about my music. Felt like I was doing something right. I didn’t want to come home.
Your second full-length album “Hillbilly Love” was only just released this year on Solid Audio Productions. As someone who has had the pleasure of listening to the hell out of it for several weeks now, I would like to know: What prompted you to embrace that dirty country and blues sound that you’ve been spreading around for a little while now?
When I first started playing guitar I was about fifteen and played mostly folk stuff. Started playing harp with a rack and learning lots of Bob Dylan tunes. As time went on, I got my Farmer foot drum and thought I should go electric since I added the drums. After I moved back to Missouri from the Keys I was determined to start another band but I didn’t really know anyone. I thought, “Well maybe I’ll just rock the ‘one whoaman act,'” since I was already playing three instruments at one time. This gave me the opportunity to strictly play what was inside of me and wanted to come out. And what came out was the blues. I didn’t know that was going to happen, but I’m glad I found out about it. Fred McDowell has to be one of my favorites, a great inspiration. I listen to many different genres of music but the Delta Blues is the real music, in my opinion, the music with the most emotion. Those men didn’t just tell stories, they told true stories of the terrible things they were going through. I cannot imagine living everyday of my life being thought of as worthless because of the color of my skin. As a white woman I’ll sing the blues proud, telling their stories so they don’t die.
The past few years have seen a rather large increase in one-man bands the world over, particularly in Europe and South America, as well as a few here and there in the States. What are your thoughts on the one-man band movement? And…which one-man bands would you say to watch for in the months and years to come?
Man, I want to tour Europe! I talked about going next summer with Midnight Ghost Train. This one-man band movement might also have to do with the economy…maybe. I know when I started playing by myself and not having to split the pay, I didn’t really want anyone else in my band. Kinda mean, I guess…but mama needs a new pair of shoes!
I would have to say, check out Reverend Deadeye for those who haven’t. As far as getting a full sound through foot percussion, I am just amazed. Many one-man bands have those simple boom tat sounds, but he has really got some great fills with his feet.
What have been some of your most memorable touring/gig moments so far?
Austin, Texas…at Emos. One of the most energetic crowds I have ever played for. I got a lot of bras thrown at me, too. Good times.
In Washington DC, Bob and I played this little tiny room with no windows in the middle of July. It was an eighty-eight max capacity room and they shoved a hundred and thirty people in there. It had to have been well over one hundred degrees in there, and people were passing out left and right. I remember playing and blacking out ’cause it was so hot. I just kept playing, but I couldn’t see anything. It was good for me. I don’t know how Bob did it with the helmet and bouncing girls on his legs. He is my hero!
Are you involved in any musical projects other than Molly Gene One Whoaman Band?
Not at the moment.
What are some of your favorite bands and singer/songwriters, past and present?
Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir is my all-time favorite band. I want them to play at my wedding. Not that I’m planning on getting married anytime soon…ha! Son House, Rev. Lois Overstreet, Memphis Minnie, Blind Lemon, Clutch, Bob Dylan, Rosetta Tharpe, Ray Charles, Led Zeppelin, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band…man, I could go on forever.
What’s next for Molly Gene?
At the moment I am going to finish my degree in Interior Design here at UCM. I know as soon as I get done I’m just gonna go on tour forever so it seems silly. But I do want to design Rock star RV’s and I would like to design Hospitals. Hospitals suck and are unpleasant. If I could at least help the function and aesthetics of the place I would feel like I was helping people and their experience would be that much more enjoyable. I want to do everything at one time. That’s always been my problem.
*Photo by Kathleen Harkins (Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York City, in July 2010)