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“Music, as a form of expression and communication, is protected under the First Amendment.” Ward vs. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781, 790 (1989)
I’ve certainly had the opportunity to review a few debut albums from solo artists, but this particular debut is a little different. Molly “O” Otis has been playing in the area for quite sometime, around three decades off and on, and she just broke through a hiatus that has lasted years with her new album “Justified.”
I first became aware of Molly when she was with Molly & The Heymakers and I saw them play when I was a kid during Grandma’s Marathon when my father and I would be down in Canal Park. I knew she still played on occasion, but my interest piqued when I received this new album. I had the chance to talk with Molly a little bit about her past with this area, music, a legal battle and this album.
Molly was brought up in the Ashland area where her father was head of the music department at Northland College and then he later filled a similar role at a college in Saskatchewan, Canada where Molly went through grade school. Eventually her family moved back to the Ashland area. “I grew up going to concerts and was backstage. I was a music rat, running around and I remember when he’d bring in people like Gordon Lightfoot to play at the college,” said Molly. Her exposure to music started early and involved her in a variety of performance situations. “Anytime he needed something with kids in a musical or something, he’d pull us in, my sisters and I. It was always there, it was always present. I absorbed so much of it at an early age.”
Reader: So you eventually started a band, primarily with Andy Dee? How did that develop in the 80s?
Molly: That was just by happenstance. I was at a resort and I sat in with the band. It had Andy Dee in it, his brother and a bunch of other guys who were just playing while they were in college. Andy and I, we were always the ones taking the lead. When Andy was done with his schooling in Hawaii, he came back to the Mid-West and we started a band together and that turned into the Heymakers. We started in 1980 and by the late 80s, we were getting pretty serious about a group. The strongest time for us was through the 90s.
Reader: That’s probably around the time I first saw you. Either way, it eventually turned into Molly & The Danger Band.
Molly: Yeah, I honestly felt like I lost my sincerity. I was being brought down to Nashville all the time, doing songwriting and just cranking out music. It just became kind of formula, it didn’t move me like it used to. I just took a break. Months would go by and I wouldn’t even pick up an instrument. That was around 2000 through 2002 and in late 2002 I opened up this cafe and I thought it’d be fun to have an open mic and it resurrected me to play again. I was just content playing covers. I was having fun and it didn’t matter, all the pressure was off. I really started to enjoy playing music again and some of the guys who came in as regulars would play with me for this open mic. Now we’ve being playing for ten years.
Reader: Was this The Pavilion that you’re talking about? I heard you went through a court battle with the City of Hayward.
Molly: I did. It was surprising to me. I opened this wine bar and it became very popular and I realized it wasn’t the wine, it wasn’t the food, it was the music. People would come over night after night and bring their friends. It was spilling out of this little space that I had into the courtyard that I had developed.
That first summer we were playing a little bit of music outside and then the city was planning on setting a music ordinance where there would be no music after 10 o’clock. Of course being in the music business I knew you couldn’t do that, you could have a noise ordinance. I went to the city council and I was very polite and said, “if you have a noise ordinance then everyone is playing by the same rules and you get a metering (decibel) gun and that’s how you monitor volume.” The Mayor just looked at me and said, “we’re going to do it our way and do what we want.” He laughed and said, “we’re not buying the meter reading gun.”
I couldn’t believe it and they went on and passed the ordinance. A few weeks later at 10 o’clock, when the so called music ordinance kicked into effect, six cops showed up and raided the bar. It’s a wine bar, it’s middle aged people, professionals…
Reader: Yeah, we’re not talking the seediest dive you’ve ever seen.
Molly: No. Of course people couldn’t wait to get out of there and it killed the business. There was this stigma where something bad is happening here and the business died off.
Reader: So you don’t have the business anymore?
Molly: No, I’ve sold it since then. It just set into motion all sorts of really tough things. The business didn’t do well after that and I had to move it inside, which was kind of beyond the point. It was meant to be an outdoor venue for summer and in the winter, it’s Hayward, Wisconsin, I didn’t think I’d have a big crowd. The whole thing was buried by this music ordinance. I met Glenn Stoddard and he said, “they can’t do that.” We then went in to ask for a permit and they denied me. It really became a personal thing, basically they were picking on me. Not only did they single me out and then they said, “you can come and get a music permit,” and was denied. That’s when we started this law suit and it took three years. We persevered one step at a time, but then three years later, we won. As soon as I sold the business I started writing music again because I had time.
Reader: Basically this is your debut solo album, which is kind of remarkable since you’ve been playing music your whole entire life.
Molly: It’s not like I sat around and wrote music during those ten years when I had those businesses, I just wasn’t writing. But as soon as it wasn’t busy just managing all this stuff, I started writing music. It’s really been fun and I have renewed interest. I am on my own now. I knew that the guys in the band were busy and wouldn’t be able to do the studio work, plus I really just wanted to stretch myself out and see what I could do alone.
It’s not surprising to see that Molly’s new album packs years of experience and professionalism into it. While there are a number of guest musicians, it’s really Andy Dee and her who play most of the instruments and make this album happen. Dee has a fairly impressive background. He is a multi-instrumentalist and producer. He’s worked with some fairly well known artists such as Kevin Bowe, Corey Carlson, The Blue Canvas Orchestra, Robby Vee and more. Andy has recorded with The Proclaimers, Soul Asylum, Jonny Lang, Erik Koskinen, G.B. Leighton and, of course, Molly & The Heymakers.
Molly mentioned that she had spent time recording in Nashville and that’s the feel I get off this album. It’s cut and professional. Molly plays violin, mandolin, guitar and handles the vocals on the album. It’s a mix of pop, rock, folk, country and blues. Her vocals are smooth with just the right amount of character backed with experience. The string arrangements and overall sound sometimes take on a Celtic nature like in the songs like “Boulevard” and “Castle Rock,” but it still has a modern flair. The album has fun pop/rock tunes like “Rum” which is about drinking on the beach and more sincere songs like, “Wings.”
This album probably isn’t for everyone. If you like your music heavy or experimental, this won’t be your thing. If you saw Molly back in the day and enjoyed it, this album will definitely be worth checking out. Molly is working on setting up some gigs in the Twin Ports and surrounding areas. Be sure to watch for her as she hits the stage with this new material. Show and contact information is available at mollyomusic.com. She also can also be found on Facebook.