Molly Sweeney
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Molly Sweeney

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | INDIE

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2015
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter




"Molly Sweeney: Gold Rings and Fur Pelts"

On her debut album, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, Molly Sweeney succeeds nearly on the power of her voice alone. That’s not to say that the arrangements here don’t work, or aren’t impressive in their intricacy—“Swollen” is thick with pedal steel and horns, as bleary-eyed as it is pastoral, while “Spirit, I Will See You” is a dissonant, otherworldly haunt—but it’s her voice that pulls this all together. She’s got a great range, going from sultry depths to angelic heights, but it’s her delivery, with all the control and emotion of a seasoned soul singer, that makes her a unique talent. The softness of her voice on opener “Swollen” grows ever so subtly into a quiet snarl as she sings about how “the Jacks and the Jills just try to make names for themselves” and how she stands there with “swollen fingers” and her “blood hobbles through her veins”. There are wonderful phrases like this that work their way through the entire record, though her voice is always restrained and patient enough to make you go and find them, rather than clubbing you with her often striking words. The songs, as a collection, end up feeling a little too sleepy overall, maintaining a slow, languid trudge through the whole record. While it’s true that that gives Sweeney’s voice space to stretch out and impress, it also undersells the inherent immediacy and energy of her voice. Gold Rings and Fur Pelts is an impressive debut, on the whole, and with a voice like this, Sweeney’s got nowhere to go but up. - Popmatters

"Introducing …the dusky-throated Molly Sweeney"

“There’s nothing more mortifying,” Molly Sweeney confides, “than cracking on a note when your voice isn’t properly in shape.”

And she should know. The dusky-throated Montreal singer blew out her voice a few years ago while singing at the loud summer pastime known as the Tam Tam Jam on Mount Royal.

“There’s that ubiquitous beat,” she says with a laugh, “and I was trying to sing above it.”

If her sublime debut album Gold Rings and Fur Pelts is any indication, the voice (and her songwriting and co-production chops) is back in attractive form. This week the sixties-styled folk-siren performs in Toronto and Ottawa, where her pipes are the draw. But there’s more to this elegant upstart than her vocals.

Where she’s coming from

Sweeney, 29, grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (where her father taught at Lake Superior State University) but spent much of her time across the border in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“There wasn’t much to do on the American side,” says the singer, who took her power-skating lessons in maple-leaf land.

At age 17, she moved from Massachusetts to Montreal. She attended McGill University, but went to school on Joni Mitchell.

“I got a copy of Blue and I guess it totally blew my mind,” recalls Sweeney, now a dual citizen. “She was a huge influence, as far as choosing an acoustic instrument and discovering alternate guitar tunings.”

What she’s saying

Her lyrics are often metaphorical, you might say enigmatic.

“That’s a compliment,” she says. “It just means it’s something to figure out. It requires a little more attention.”

On the pop-cabaret title track, the gold rings and fur pelts represent prosperity and happiness, and the sacrifices made to find them. The words are sharply and scathingly literal on the darkly lit Not Faithfull (titled as to play on faithful/Marianne Faithfull, and textured with tiple, Wurlitzer, violin and upright bass).

How raw can Sweeney go, you ask? Try “think you should go, because I don’t need you; and it costs too much to feed you.” The song refers to a “psychological and emotional” rift with a friend. “I tend to confront people,” Sweeney says. “How long friendships endure depend on our ability to take criticism.”

Once in a full moon

The centrepiece of the album is Full Moon, a delicate ballad set to guitar notes that could have been picked by James Taylor. The song lifts lunar-high toward the end – Sweeney’s voice rising unimaginably. “I’m screaming this song and I hope you will hear / well I must owe you something, since I hold you so dear.”

The burst of vocal range stuns out of the blue. “Dynamic range is important, in terms of emotional expression,” she says. “It’s like leaving the stage after a half an hour. You want to leave them wanting more – to leave on a high note, so to speak.”

Molly Sweeney's Gold Rings and Fur Pelts is streaming here. She plays Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, Dec. 7; Ottawa’s Raw Sugar Café, Dec. 8. - The Globe and Mail

"Molly Sweeney: Song Of Faith And Devotion"

When you were small, somebody probably read you The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown — and, perhaps for the first time, you experienced mixed emotions. That 1942 picture book about a mother's inescapable love draws in parents and kids through Brown's lulling words and Clement Hurd's gently surreal illustrations. The passion that allows the mother to transform into a fisherman, a tightrope walker, a tree, even the wind itself is magical. Yet her relentlessness is creepy. Bunny boy just wants a moment away from helicopter mom.

Molly Sweeney's poison-pen seduction in "You Mustn't Worry" similarly traces the way loyalty can tilt toward obsession. The song, like many on the Montreal-based singer-songwriter's debut album Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, personalizes a classic story — a fairy tale, really — by focusing on the wrenching emotions such stories both describe and stimulate.

The verses tell of a woman's search for her lover, who has gone off to war. A slow march played on a chorded zither and Sweeney's opalescent alto open the song: "You mustn't worry," she croons, "I will find you." Other instruments — cello, dewy keyboard, a heartbeat bass line — build to a whorl as the pace quickens and Sweeney's voice swoops up in ways reminiscent of a young Kate Bush.

"I don't believe I should grieve, though they tell me that you're dead," she wails, pushing against the music's mossy wall of orchestration. Then the dynamics shift — everything quiets down, and Sweeney nearly hisses that she will defeat any rival, be it another woman or death itself, to reunite with her man. As the music rises and retreats, Sweeney's voice runs through it like a river's current. In the end, only the refrain survives: "I will find you."

Sweeney, who first gained notice singing with composer Sam Shalabi's orch-pop project Land of Kush, mines the same ground that Bush has so fruitfully explored, and also recalls the likes of Joanna Newsom, Mariee Sioux or Josephine Foster. Though her compositions range beyond typical pop song structures and her lyrics lean heavily toward the mythical (other tracks on Gold Rings and Fur Pelts include "Eros and Psyche" and "Spirit, I Will See You"), Sweeney's music never feels quaint. It's too intimate, too musically and emotionally risky, for that.

"You Mustn't Worry" stands out on this rewarding album because of its deceptively simple structure, a finely executed bit of musical suspense. The listener, drawn into the heroine's quest, begins to wonder by the end if her steadfastness may be just what her soldier lover was fleeing. Run away, buddy. - NPR

"Molly Sweeney - Gold Rings and Fur Pelts"

Gold Rings and Fur Pelts is the debut solo album from Montreal singer-songwriter Molly Sweeney, but it is not the first time she has made her presence known in grand fashion. She first made a memorable appearance on Land of Kush's 2009 album Against the Day, writing lyrics and showcasing her powerhouse vocal chops on the epic "Bilocations". Since then, she has gone on to perform both live and on record with Sam Shalabi and the various incarnations of his ambitious Land of Kush project, and a healthy trace of that outsized ambition has evidently rubbed off on Sweeney. Gold Rings and Fur Pelts splits its attention between intimate psych-folk and stylized chamber-pop, often with an emphasis on mood and atmosphere rather than songcraft.

As a vocalist, Sweeney is a remarkable talent. Her elliptical songwriting and acoustic instrumentation have already led to some inevitable comparisons to Joanna Newsom, but that seems to me a bit misleading. Sweeney has a multi-octave range that lends her vocals considerably more versatility than Newsom's, and in its lower registers her voice can recall classic Joni Mitchell or Judee Sill before then soaring upwards in wild swoops reminiscent of Josephine Foster. Sweeney herself alludes to Marianne Faithfull with one title here, "Not Faithfull", a nice homage that seems another red herring-- she's got innumerable cartons of cigarettes ahead of her before she can approximate Faithfull's rasp.

With Sweeney's voice as the music's constantly shifting center, she and co-producer Radwan Moumneh surround her performances with discrete orchestration, using an extended group comprised largely of various Land of Kush and Constellation label veterans. Together, they produce moments of aching loveliness, such as the shivery cello and viola that opens "Spirit, Will I See You" or the spot-on woodwinds that encircle the opening "Swollen". Ultimately, however, Sweeney and the group are not able to disguise the impression that most of these songs are just not quite there.

Despite, or perhaps because of, her ambitious style as a songwriter, Sweeney does not sound much interested in repeating choruses or crafty pop hooks. This tendency doesn't matter as much on the detail-oriented "Spirit, Will I See You" or the ornate, jazzy closer "Radiant Sun", which maintain interest through their ever-changing color palettes. But without memorable hooks, Sweeney's simpler, folky pieces such as "Florida" or "Full Moon" are rendered meandering and aimless, and border dangerously close to generic, Jewel-like coffeehouse pop. At the other end of the spectrum, the album's title track is a daring pastiche of Argentinean tango, enlivened by Sweeney's full-throated vocals and French lyrics, yet it is unconvincing as anything but a diverting bit of theater.

The album's lyrics are also a stumbling block. In several instances Sweeney's lyrics seem to have been written in a strange rush, leading to clunky rhymes ("You were fit once, just like a god/ A sweet young child in a grown-up's bod") that can stop an otherwise sophisticated song dead in its tracks. Here again, her ambition seems to have gotten the best of her, as on "Eros and Psyche" whose mythic title might suggest a lavish narrative but instead details a romantic encounter ("His hands were softer than a breeze/ I'd put my fingers in his curls/ That gathered like the tops of trees") better suited to a Harlequin paperback. These distractions accumulate enough to leave Gold Rings and Fur Pelts a tantalizing misfire, one that can hopefully be improved upon once Sweeney manages to bring her extraordinary voice and grand songwriting ambitions into tighter focus. - Pitchfork Media

"Molly Sweeney at Casa del Popolo"

It’s a warm spring evening and I’m swigging something dark and oaty from a pint glass. Sometimes Casa is a little rugged and edgy. Other times, it’s wild and inexplicably strange, like a mind-muddying nightmare you’re too curious to forget. Tonight, Casa is inviting and serenely beautiful. The delicate, charming sound of a piano flutters through the room like a bird, as the artists greet friends and weave their way through the crowd. It’s a sold-out show and the room is radiant with smiles and sincerity. There’s a row of tea lights across from the bar, and I find myself captivated by the way they cast a glow on the bold black frames mounted above them. A lone gust of wind breathes through the room, begging the flames to dance, and they yield, swaying in his wake.

Josephine is first to take the stage. Draped in shawls, she takes a seat at the piano and begins to play. An ethereal, lilting voice begins at the back of the room and joins Josephine before the audience. The juxtaposition of the two women makes for an experience that is as entertaining as it is musically gratifying. Foster has a hauntingly beautiful voice and seems reserved and demure, moving only to trade the piano keys for a guitar. The other musician, however, is barefoot and restless, playing a cello before abandoning it to have a go at the drum set, then perching herself on the back of a chair and hanging a tambourine off her feet. The tone of the set is eerie, but also absurd enough to feel a little surreal.

As Molly Sweeney and band ready the stage for their performance, I’m immediately charmed by the natural, easy chemistry between the band members. Molly and the bass player (Jérémi Roy) met each other through a mutual friend eight years ago, and the drummer (Patrick Conan) was bandmates with Molly in Sam Shalabi’s 22-piece orchestra, Land of Kush. Sheenah Ko and her vibraphone, piano, and back vocals are the newest addition to the group. Martin Rodriguez, amazing guitarist and all-around cool guy, is unfortunately absent tonight. I’m still admiring Molly’s outfit (peasant blouse, crochet skirt, unfastened leather vest, and a killer pair of tough-looking boots - swoon) when she begins to sing.

My brain registers the sentiment of her voice before the sound. Lamenting and forlorn, her voice has a highly emotive quality that’s dizzyingly intense. She is, at once, dreamy and despairing, delicate and distressed. The duality of her voice lends itself to a very visceral sound, and the longer I listen to her, the more it begins to feel like someone’s pouring a thick syrup into the gears in my head. I’m beyond trying to make sense of the situation, astonished by the loveliness of the sounds of the instruments as they unfurl through the room and combine to swim into everyone’s ears. All I know is awe and contentment, and a sneaking suspicion that this must be how babies feel when they look upon their mothers’ faces.

Molly’s first instrument was a guitar (gifted to her by her brother when she turned 13), but throughout the course of tonight’s show, we also see her pick up a small ukulele-esque thing called a tiple (a 1930s folk instrument from the US, made famous by Ed Askew), and a custom-built chorded zither/autoharp. Her sound during the show is rendered richer and more vibrant by the contributions of her band. I have already pored over her first album, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts (2011), where her sound is sparser but more complex. A self-professed mythology nerd, Molly started the songwriting process for her first album with social situations, then drew on myths and storytelling techniques to make the tale more pertinent to a wider demographic. Of her older songs, Not Faithfull is this writer’s favourite, not only for the astounding range and caliber of her voice, but for the burned bitterness of the subject matter. She sings, “you always took my warmth for granted / you didn’t tend the seeds you’d planted / when we were young, you never noticed / but now you’re old enough to know this”, and it’s so easy to delight in the strange validation we seem to get when hearing our long-festering thoughts roll off the tongues of others. Later, when I bring up the caustic narrative, she laughs and remarks, “everybody likes hearing a little bit of anger in a song, because we can all identify with that to some extent. I’ve heard ‘I really want to send this to a specific person that I had a falling out with’, before”. (Song here, words here, for your evil, sassy needs.)

Molly Sweeney and band are currently working on the second album, recording at the well-renowned Planet Studios. She hopes to have it released by Spring 2014 (“there are so many little things to be a perfectionist about!”), but in the meanwhile, keep an eye out for live shows and a single! This is a gang of immensely talented artists, and I suspect their show might’ve added a dimension to my brain and melted the icy, icy exterior of my cold, unfeeling heart.

That’s as good a testimonial as any, I think. - Hot Soupe

"Molly Sweeney: Gold Rings and Fur Pelts"

Gold Rings and Fur Pelts


*** 1/2 (out of four)

It is pure, unalloyed pleasure to hear an indie singer-songwriter who sounds like a woman, not some poor-little-lost-waif-girl. It's also a treat to hear an artist prove in their debut album that categories and genres don't have to matter. Be it on the tango-infused drive of the title track, or the bluesy ballad "Eros and Psyche, " Montreal-transplanted, Sault Ste. Marie-born Molly Sweeney's creations stretch out a taut arc of dramatic tension, sound musical craft and unvarnished emotion. The finishing touches on this remarkably polished debut come from Sweeney's vocal chords, which sound as if they've already soaked up more than their fair share of trial and tribulation. There's excellent, richly textured backup support from a talented assemblage of young Montrealers. My favourite tracks are the grinchy-graunchy "Spirit, Will I See You, " where a song of longing languorously emerges from the emotional muck, and its disc-ending moody, atmospheric blues-waltz companion, "Radiant Sun." Don't miss a chance to hear Sweeney & co. live June 21 at the Tranzac.

John Terauds - The Toronto Star

"Tender Offering: Molly Sweeney’s husky voice and profound writing propel Gold Rings and Fur Pelts"

I was first acquainted with local singer-songwriter Molly Sweeney as the sassy lass that served up the suds at Casa del Popolo. She may have mentioned she was a singer in passing after I had tipped many o’ pint, but nothing much lodges into the memory banks after a copious amount of amber nectar, and besides, ya can’t swing a samosa in that place without hitting a self-described “singer.” It wasn’t until I attended a vernissage for a mutual friend that I finally got to hear that voice.

When she opened up her mouth, instead of the all too familiar “another pint?” I was greeted with the type of singing voice that instantly gets the goosebumps standing at attention. Dredging the depths of her husky baritone, she also smoothly ascended to high falsettos that never grinded gears while always hanging her hat on deep-rooted emotional release instead of American Idol-style vocal pyrotechnics.

“I guess, over time, I just started to gain a bit of confidence in my singing, and that was really a breakthrough for me,” says Sweeney. “I believe everybody can sing and can be beautiful in certain contexts. It’s like everybody has different body types and you have to learn to accentuate what you have and make your strong suits stand out. You just need to feel good about your voice and sing every day even if you think it’s not good and your neighbours hate you.”

Pegging Sweeney as merely a singer’s singer would be a gross oversight, as her profound songwriting is perfectly intertwined with her voice. Her new record, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, dips into U.K.-style psych/folk, traditional forms of folk and experimental elements, with vulnerable lyrical pearls and dark barbs shooting straight from the heart. “Singing and writing is definitely really cathartic for me. When I feel conflicted about something, that’s when I’ll usually start writing. Playing music really makes me realize pretty heavy things about my life and how I feel about them, and I connect to those feelings through music.” - The Montreal Mirror

"Molly Sweeney – Gold Rings and Fur Pelts"

When discussing female singer/songwriters, particularly those from Canada, the conversation will inevitably lead to Joni Mitchell. Despite her voice’s two octave Nicotine drop and her puzzling Bob Dylan criticisms, Mitchell is a living legend whose forty-year career stands as a model to scores of talented women who have fallen under the spell of her abilities. The Mitchell school was most popular in the Seventies, but every now and then, someone will come along that jumps between musical styles while retaining a sort of existential loneliness that is perfectly expressed by a heavenly, versatile voice. Enter Montreal-based Molly Sweeney, stage right.

Sweeney channels Mitchell in the best way possible. On her debut album, Gold Rings and Fur Pelts, Sweeney puts her own personal songwriter stamp on the songs while singing with the sort of inexplicably fragile strength that Mitchell captured on albums like Blue and The Hissing of the Summer Lawns. Gold Rings launches with “Swollen,” a country-tinged song about weariness and disillusionment. Sweeney sings with brutal honesty about how she will “[S]tep on their feelings so that I can feel good.” Throughout the album, the way Sweeney delicately moves between her head voice and chest voice is stunning; “Swollen” being just the tip. Specifically, the way she caresses the lyric, “Well the present’s for selling/And the past is for dwelling/And the future’s like fire/First the smoke starts a-swelling.”

Sweeney transforms her Joni Mitchell into a Stevie Nicks alto with “Faithfull” (which pays homage for another female singer, Marianne Faithfull). “Faithfull” is an album highlight, with understated mandolin and an earnest melody. In “Florida,” Sweeney says she belongs in Florida–hardly a Mecca for indie musicians, but appealing to all of us northerners in the winter months. “Gold Rings and Fur Pelts” is built on an unexpected tango melody and showcases Sweeney’s French speaking ability, practically a civic duty for every Montreal artist.

“Full Moon” returns to the folk stylings of the first track. At this point, the gloomy atmosphere of the album becomes apparent, despite the inherent beauty of Sweeney’s voice. “Full Moon” ends with, “I first sang this tune through a cascade of tears/’Cause I knew it was time for me to disappear.” “Eros and Psyche” is a haunting accordion tapestry based on the Greek myth about the disappearance of a mysterious lover while “You Mustn’t Worry” continues the mythological plot-line. The album ends on a particularly dark note, with dirges “Spirit, Will I See You” and “Radiant Sun,” cleverly relating back to “Full Moon” and “Florida.” On the album’s closing track, Sweeney appeals to the God-like sun, “And if I ever end up just like Marie Curie/Well I’ll never blame you for what happens to me.”

So many artists use the singer/songwriter mold, it’s rare to see someone’s music initially cut out of such marvelous clay, and turn out such a rewarding, non-imitative result. For a debut album, Sweeney has outdone herself. Her songwriting isn’t yet the stuff of genius but it’s consistently compelling, and with her pristine voice, there is a deep well of potential. - SSG Music


Molly Sweeney - A Golden Grin (TBA) 
Molly Sweeney - Gold Rings and Fur Pelts - June 2011



One of the most compelling new voices to emerge from the Montreal music scene, singer-songwriter Molly Sweeney was born in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, the youngest of five siblings, and grew up in Northern Michigan and Cape Cod before returning to Canada to attend McGill University, where she studied the classic poetry and literature that inspires much of her music. Working at a music venue in the heart of Montreal’s indie and post-rock scene, Sweeney met many of her friends and collaborators, including composer Sam Shalabi, who recruited her to appear on his first Land of Kush album Against the Day (Constellation, 2013). She later collaborated with Shalabi on a number of soundtracks and live performances, and sang the title track from Land of Kush’s 2010 album Monogamy and 2013's The Big Mango

Sweeney's self-produced debut album Gold Rings and Fur Pelts was released in June 2011 to critical acclaim. Ann Powers of NPR compared her to “a young Kate Bush” and The Globe and Mail likened her to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. Sweeney was a featured performer at the 2012 Dawson City Music Festival, where her eclectic musical style, mythology-inspired lyrics and soulful vocal techniques found the perfect showcase. She has shared the stage with a diverse slate of musicians including Ron Sexsmith, Josephine Foster, Scout Niblett, MV and EE, White Magic, Ed Askew, Sally Seltmann, The Barr Brothers, Matana Roberts, and Doug Paisley.  Now she takes the stage with new songs and a 5-piece rock group that electrifies her folk roots, taking her songwriting, sound and voice to new heights. Her first release from her forthcoming album A Golden Grin is scheduled for September 2015.

Band Members