A lot can happen in a decade. In the case of local musician Molly Dean, 11 years passed before her re-emergence as a solo artist on her latest record, The Natural Minor.
Sitting in a dark corner at the Bryant-Lake Bowl with a glass of red wine, Dean points to a nearby table and says, “That was where Barbara Jean and I decided to work together on Dusty Heart,” her bluegrass duo with the Minneapolis-by-way-of-Grand Marais banjoist.
Dean began the writing process for the album many years ago, but to quote Jeff Goldblum’s Jurassic Park character, “Life, uh, finds a way.”
When asked what took her so long to get these songs to the studio, she smiles and says, “I could go through a breakdown of my life, but I was more focused on traveling, and I did a lot of writing and performing.”
Dean even did try to record at one point in 2008 when she received a grant for studio time, but the creative process was elusive. The singer had just moved back to Minnesota from Alaska where she was living in an apartment and working as a waitress. Her time spent there was used for self-discovery while seeking solace in the quiet.
“I just wasn’t ready for it,” she elaborates. “It’s like a relationship. You can’t be harvesting all of the time. You have to take a step back; there were periods of time where I didn’t focus on writing at all, and I just wanted to play and collaborate.”
Those collaborations led to working with Graham O’Brien on her production-heavy, electro-pop act Moon & Pollution and with Dusty Heart. As with her other projects, Dean is deliberate with her lyrics on her new album, on which she invited Dave Simonett [Trampled by Turtles] to work as producer.
Dean met Simonett a few years ago when Moon & Pollution was asked to play Bayfest in Duluth, but it wasn’t until Dean asked her guitarist Erik Koskinen to close the connection that the deal was set. She shared her demos with Simonett, who at the time had only produced the double-banjo duo the Lowest Pair.
Simonett’s production style ran a lot of parallels to Dean’s music: It was all about subtlety. Rather than dramatically rework the tracks, Simonett came in and guided and expanded the songs. Along with Koskinen, he brought in Bryan Nichols and JT Bates to add more depth to Dean’s current band of Shannon Frid-Rubin, Daniel Zamzow, Nicholas Gaudette, and Paul Jennings.
The Natural Minor is quietly beautiful. It's an album that creeps into your life and wraps a warm but worried pair of arms around your heart. There are times when the guitar-based songs re-affirm themselves. In those moments, such as on the closing track “Storyteller,” her light hand is counterbalanced with her passionate vocals. One of the oldest tracks on the album, “The Natural Minor,” has her revisiting her acoustic roots, pulling the listener in before she lets loose and weaves a tale about love.
“I tell every musician I work with, ‘Keep it simple and meaningful. I love the subtlety of the sounds,'" Dean says. "I feel my favorite records that I listen to are the ones that I’ve listened to for years, and I always hear new intricacies.”
She grins when pressed on which records she's referencing.
“The Undisputed Truth by Brother Ali," she says. "I listened to that album for three years. I love lyrics, and I love flow; I love the way it all comes together. It filled me up.”
The 2016 version of Molly Dean is much more confident than the 2005 version.
“Ten years is a long time to work on your craft. You have to write terrible songs and have horrible performances and learn how to carry yourself and your presence. What is really comes down to is how you believe in yourself, because that’s where the authenticity of a performer comes into play. I’m not interested in the surface.
"This album is a quiet story I’m telling, but mostly it’s about the relationship I’ve had with myself throughout the past 10 years; I’ve been molded by my environment. The biggest reason it took me so long to put out new music is that I wasn’t worried about rushing things. Whatever goes on with this or whatever I put out, there’s a whole new world out there that continues on. I love that.”
Molly Dean The Natural Minor release show
With: DVRG Redefined
Where: Icehouse, 2528 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
When: 9 p.m. Thu., March 3
Tickets: $8-$10; more info here.