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Molly O'Leary Talks Loss, Love, and New Album 'Marigold'

'If you try to please everyone, you're going to lose yourself, and you're going to become a blank canvas that doesn't have any character.'

Source: Maggie By The Millimeter

O'Leary's second album, 'Marigold,' was released on Feb. 23.

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Molly O'Leary is a singer-songwriter who can break out a guitar and explain loss, pain and love all in one song. Hailing from New Bedford, Massachusetts, their debut Holding Space, a minimalist exploration of their struggles with an eating disorder and mental health, was released in 2021. However, it's been the more recent support and input from Nashville-based musician/producer Will Hoge that has given O'Leary an expanded and mellow palette to grapple with self-acceptance within the grooves of the just-released Marigold.

Q spoke with O'Leary via Zoom about how the healing process of music can bring about personal hope for the future.

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What have some of the positive effects of getting this music out there and explaining what your songs mean?

I think that especially playing them out at shows, and then interviews and things like that, it's been really nice to hear people's responses about how they relate to certain things on it and how they connect. And you know, that it is telling of the thing that musicians talk about a lot, about how music is a universal language. How it helps us know we're not alone. And as a therapist and a musician. I have found so much healing from music. Not that music is a replacement for therapy, but I think that it is really great for processing and is a really wonderful tool. So to be able to have conversations with people that I wouldn't have otherwise had has been one of my favorite things.

Source: Freida Garcia/New Frontier Touring

Marigold - Molly O'Leary

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The songs on this album are very quiet and internal. I went back and listened to Holding Space. There's some songs in there that are pretty heavy, and you attacked them very heavily. What was the transition?

Well, Holding Space was my first-ever album. And first-ever experience recording. I played music since I was 11, but never was able to get into a studio until then. And I was learning a lot on Holding Space, recovering from different experiences with an eating disorder and feeling scared about it, or in denial about it, and then healing from it.

But I think that Holding Space let me then have the vulnerability that I wanted to have in Marigold. When I did heal from the disordered eating, I felt like I could address different aspects of mental health related to PTSD and anxiety. It had to be more vulnerable and tender, and there are still songs that are a bit louder on Marigold, but I did want there to be more quiet moments. Which I think maybe were scarier. The quiet more vulnerable things that I had to address.

On a song like "Karen Carpenter," I hear a lot of anger.

I think "Karen Carpenter" is an anthem song. Where I'm saying, "Come on, people! Let's wake up, let's stick together and let's speak out about these things." And you're right. I think there is a lot of anger in that song, and it reminds me, too, of that saying of how there's anger, but usually underneath anger, there's sadness or guilt or shame. There's usually a root emotion underneath the anger. And so what comes to my mind right now is, let me release a lot of anger! I was angry at how diet culture had affected me. I was angry at how there were so many social injustices that had affected me and others.

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Source: ℗ © Molly O'Leary/YouTube

"XIII" by Molly O'Leary (original song) at PB&J Records

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Family is a big part of your music, and you're literally writing songs about your brothers. Has that been pretty recent? Or has it always been like that?

I think so. I feel like I've been someone who's always valued friendships and families so intensely. People have commented on that before: “I feel like you love your friends just as much as you would love a romantic partner.” Which I think is true, but they're all so important to me. On Valentine's Day there was this post that I shared, talking about the importance of friendship, love, and family love and how can we celebrate all different kinds of love. And I think that really comes out in Marigold.

But then you had a breakthrough with Will, seeing as you opened for him. Did it feel like everything just went crazy after that?

It felt random. Some people might argue, it's the universe. Or it's luck. In January of 2022, I got Covid for the first time, and I was really, really sick and as I started to get a bit better at the end of the two weeks I was aching to play. So, I emailed probably 50 venues, just like a bit of spam emailing! But it's fine. It works out sometimes. But I did end up hearing back with an opportunity to open up for Will. So then, in April I opened up for Will and Geoff Rickly, who's from the band Thursday from Boston. And yeah, everyone at that show, Will and his bandmates and Geoff and his friends, were so kind. I've had other opportunities to open up for folks, and nothing has ever been negative. But I just see how rare that was. That everyone was so invested. It was really special.

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What was the recording process like then? Holding Space sounds very sparse. Here you move into Marigold, and it's warmer. How did Will help that process when you recorded in Nashville?

We recorded over the course of eight or nine days in February, 2023. Recording with Will was one of my favorite experiences of my life. That's not an exaggeration. He is so caring and invested and creative and fun. I was like, okay, everything is possible here. And he assembled a very well-thought-out team of musicians. He really understood the sound that I was going for. It was such a wonderful experience!

What has the feedback been playing these songs live?

The feedback has been so wonderful live. It reminds me of this concept I've heard of: if you try to please everyone, you're going to lose yourself, and you're going to become a blank canvas that doesn't have any character. Maybe it'll appease more people, but it won't really be this strong, authentic thing. Whether I'm singing about things related to gender and being non-binary, or if I'm singing about "Lion's Gate," how magic is real. I believe in a higher power. I've lost friends who have passed on, but I think I can still feel them, and I think I can still connect with them. And so I believe in that sense of magic. There's definitely people who will misinterpret that song. They'll think it's of the devil because we're dressed up as witches and dancing, and that's fine. People can misinterpret. But then the people who understand and connect? That's how I'm gonna find my people. And so I've just realized that, especially with this album that I don't wanna just appease people or tone things down. I wanna be bold with what I feel and my people will find each other that way.

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Source: ℗ © Molly O'Leary / YouTube

Molly O'Leary - "Lion's Gate" (Official Music Video)

How're you feeling about getting these songs out in public?

I'm excited. I'm nervous. All of those things! In a way, it doesn't feel real because I've been working on it for the past couple of years so intensely. I think it'll feel like a celebration, and I think the nerves will come in a bit, just in general, of releasing songs and wondering how people will react. I'm usually very much an open book. But there are some songs that I hadn't opened that chapter up yet, or shared with people. So that's always scary. But I know now from past experiences, that what I do, certain people won't get it. And that's okay. But the people who really get it? They become your family. lt's a really beautiful thing.


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