Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore, who recently played in the Estes Park Jazz and Blues Festival, talked with the Clear Clear Courant about their music and in-person shows, including an upcoming show at the United Center in Idaho Springs on June 11.
Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Clear Creek Courant: How’s it feeling being back doing in-person shows?
Mollie O’Brien: It was actually really great last weekend, it was a really receptive audience and it was really fun to have feedback. As we said last week on stage, not being in front of a computer screen. You know, trying to make your stuff look really good, and not having extra rolls or toilet paper and paper towel rolls in the background, things you forget about.
The COVID thing is still kind of a dark cloud over the music business, though.
Rich Moore: I love it, I’m a show-off, for better or worse. I love performing. There’s a lot of prep work required to do a show, you don’t just get a phone call in the morning and they say come on by tonight, everything will be ready to go. It’s a lot of legwork and time, and that makes it very cumbersome at times. But, I’m still really happy to be back performing again.
CCC: How did playing at the United Center come about? Have you played there before?
MO: I don’t remember, I think we knew somebody who knew somebody who put on shows there. I’d have to look up when was the first time we played there, but it’s been at least ten years, or more. I think this will be the fourth or fifth time, it’s always been really fun there. But it’s a cool little town.
CCC: What genre would you put your music in?
MO: We just say it’s American roots music, because we may do a Broadway song, or a blues tune — we tend to get lumped in with Bluegrass because I used work a lot with my brother Tim O’Brien who’s a famous Bluegrass musician, so people just assume what Rich and I is Bluegrass, which is a bit frustrating.
We do play Bluegrass Festivals, and people like that we play them because we are different. We’re kind of like the palette cleanser, you hear all this Bluegrass stuff and then there’s two people who come out and do something completely different.
RM: I hate to use the old tired terms of folk and Americana, but American is such an all-encompassing umbrella now, I guess we would fit into that category. We don’t write a whole lot of material, so we’re song interpreters and stylists, and it’s pretty much anything we can get away with, with just a guitar and her voice — and occasionally mine. It’s our interpretation of good music.
CCC: What directions does your inspiration usually take you?
MO: It’s funny how when you start thinking about recording an album you have a kernel of songs, or group of songs, you’re thinking maybe this way for the album — here’s a song about death and destruction, and here’s a song about heartbreak — and you think you’re going in that direction, but as you start working on more material, somehow it can lead you to more of the same style or theme.
We don’t write a lot of stuff, we get solicitations all the time from people who like how we interpret things, how we arrange things. There’s tons of songwriters out there, lots of good stuff out there. Rich writes a lot, but he writes a lot of his own guitar pieces. I saw a quote the other week that not every songwriter is a good singer, and not every singer is a good songwriter, and I thought that was a really good way of looking at things. What people want to hear is the song, I don’t think people care if you’ve written it.
CCC: How do you think your individual styles differ?
MO: He definitely is the finger-style guitar, he comes from that lineage. Though he grew up listening to all sorts of stuff like I did. He likes rag-time, and old finger-style stuff that was really big in the 60s. When we are doing songs we recorded on a record with a band, we have to somehow distill it into an arrangement that works just for a guitar and voice, and Rich can really knock it out of the park, making a guitar sound almost like a band.
RM: I grew up listening to a lot of solo folk artists, I really like classical rag-time music — not something that Mollie and I really do, but some of my guitar pieces lean in that direction. I don’t really think about, ‘Oh, I’m going to a write a piece for Mollie and I to do together.’ If I go off in left-field, well it may be comfortable for me, but more left-field if we were doing it together. But this rag-time stuff, and the rock stuff I really like, it may not turn into anything Mollie and I would do together.
CCC: How do you think your style together has changed over the years?
MO: Rich and I didn’t really start working full-time together until about 2006. We took pretty much every song I recorded up until that time and worked it out instrumentally and arrangement wise so it would work with just the two of us. And I think over time, I’ve become less of the blues, balls-to-the-wall, R&B kind of thing. It’s not less interesting to me, I’ve just gone off in a different direction. I’d rather tell songs with the stories we are telling, and you don’t really do that with the blues tune, or bar band tune.
RM: Well, some of the criteria is, ‘can we make this song work?’ We each have broad taste, classical and opera to pop, to old traditional folk, to blues, to jazz, to showtunes, we like all kinds of stuff — there’s also stuff Mollie likes, that I don’t and vice versa. But, if we find something we both like, then we’ll try and make it work, we try our best to make it ours. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next song we do sounds like something we did 15 or 20 years ago.
CCC: Do you ever feel shoehorned into the genres you’re known for?
MO: No, I think it’s more like, ‘this is fun to do now.’ It’s funny how things just kind of open up, and appear as they are revealed to you, that maybe this is how you should go, and if you don’t like it, you can make a turn and try something different. But everything I’ve done seems to have led to a different place. I’ve really enjoyed the stuff we’re doing now, a lot of ballad stuff, and I hate to say Jazz standards, but those kinds of things. It’s very satisfying to do.
Tickets for their June 11, 7 to 9 p.m. show at the United Center, Idaho Springs can be found at the United Center's website unitedcenterinc.com.