Molly pease is an eclectic vocal artist and composer who sings rock, folk, jazz, neo-soul, classical, opera, experimental, contemporary and improvisational music. As a singer-songwriter, she fuses music, movement and visuals in solo projects and interdisciplinary collaborations. In 2018, his experimental rock album ACKLAND was called ‘not of this world’ (Emerging independent groups). In 2019, Molly composed the soundtrack to a two-month installation by sculptor Jimena Sarno at the 18th Street Arts Center in Los Angeles.
His latest album, Inner astronomy (released in August 2020) is a multidisciplinary project inspired by the poetry and drawings of his father, incorporating original music, collage, fashion design and video. Currently she works with the librettist Divya maus on the opera Hysteria which explores the myths and truths about women.
YOUR CANTATE INTERNAL ASTRONOMY IS BASED ON EIGHT POEMS YOUR FATHER WRITE WHILE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS AND YOUR SELECTIONS?
My dad’s journey was pretty complicated, but here’s the short version: When I was in high school he was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer and underwent chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery, and received opioids to deal with the pain. He recovered from cancer, but his suffering continued and he became addicted to drugs, eventually mixing them with alcohol.
My father’s addiction caused a lot of problems for him and our family. He eventually became sober after rehab and became involved in AA, but succumbed to severe depression and bipolar disorder. His brain was badly damaged from the whole experience. He has attempted suicide more than once, but luckily he did not succeed. His body was also very broken because of everything he had been through. He was in and out of the hospital for many years.
He began to lose his memory and his early dementia led to his death. It’s very intense… I’ve been through a lot of phases throughout this long period. I was angry with him for a long time because I felt his bad choices had led to his misery. But before the end, I accepted him for who he was and just tried to be there for him as best I could. What helped me get to this place was focusing on all the amazing life gifts he had given me, from creative culture to a deep connection to nature, and of course his love. pure and constant for friends and family.
In 2016, he sent me some 90 poems, asking me to make a book out of them and put some of them to music. I was a little overwhelmed because there were so many, but he accepted that I could pick my favorites. I read each poem until I came across the one that seemed musical to me. Then I only used the sections that spoke to me. It was a fun process.
Inner astronomy came from a title of one of the poems that I didn’t set to music, but which, in my opinion, beautifully summarized the very personal and universal world he was investigating. The title poem can be found in the Book of Drawings and Poems, which is now available for Pre-order.
My father was not involved in the composition process. He heard some of the plays a few months before he passed away, however, watching them via a video from my CalArts graduation recital. Unfortunately, he struggled to focus on the performance, let alone remember it much afterwards. I wasn’t there to see his reaction, but my brother told me he cried at one point, so I know it resonated with him at least a bit.
YOU DEFINE THE POEMS FOR FOUR VOICES AND FIVE STRINGS. PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPOSITION PROCESS.
I knew from the start that I wanted to write for all female voices, because my father’s writing has such a feminine vibe. I thought the female voices would bring the hopeful warmth that the poems needed, but I also knew that the singers would also be able to get grainy. I really love writing for strings because of the incredible range of textures they can create, but also because I think they sound so good with vocals.
As mentioned before, I started by reading the poems. I read them each in my head or out loud, looking for rhythmic moments or natural melodies. After understanding a basic melody and chord structure, I tried to imagine what textures were needed to sustain it, as well as times when the strings could take center stage compared to the vocals.
There are quite a few moments in the cantata for improvisation and chance. In “Recovery Family” almost all of the string parts are just guidelines for different textures to be placed below the vocal line, and they are ready to be played and randomized. There are improvised solos in “Higher Power” (the violin and my vocal solo at the end), and the improvised vocal trio in “Tree’s Me”.
The phrasing between the two soloists at the start of “my son my one” is also improvised, as well as the phrasing for the vocal and bass soloists in “From I to We”. These moments were all very important in adding individualism to the songs. I like to design pieces to be interpreted differently with each performance.
THE CD BOOKLET IS DECORATED WITH BEAUTIFUL ART WORKS AND YOUR WEBSITE ALSO LISTS A RELATIONSHIP TO FASHION DESIGN. HOW IS THIS RELATED TO YOUR MUSIC?
The artwork on the album cover is made up of pencil drawings my dad made. When he first sent me everything, they were included, and he asked me to use them in the poetry book I was going to make for him. Laura Sofia Perez is the graphic designer for the project — she designed the CD cover and booklet, as well as the poetry book, using my father’s designs throughout their work, cutting them out and gluing them a bit. There will also be a video clip for “Higher Power” which will feature these designs! I am really excited about this.
When it comes to fashion design, I worked with the amazing designer Camilla Carper (who I grew up with in Sacramento). Camilla made clothes for the music video for “Recovery Family” as well as the virtual performances of “my son my only” and “deer proud of our climbs” at the online launch event I hosted in December. .
Eventually, I’d like to do in-person performances of the entire cantata, and they’ll design clothes for that performance as well – we’ll reuse some that we already have and add some for other performers. Camilla has also lost her father in recent years; he also suffered from depression. Camilla used their personal experience, my music and my father’s poetry and designs as inspiration for the clothes they made.
YOU OFTEN WORK IN A TRANSDISCIPLINARY WAY. WHY THIS PREDICTION?
I have always been very passionate about the visual arts, both as an appreciator and as an amateur. (I grew up doing a lot of painting and collage, and I still use it as a practice to calm my mind and express myself.) At CalArts, I was surrounded by amazing artists from all different disciplines, and I was incredibly inspired by the idea of combining my music with their art. I started imagining these collaborations in my head while I was composing, and now it’s a huge part of my job. My most recent collaboration was with sculptor Jimena Sarno on the project Score for the near future.
CURRENTLY YOU ARE WORKING ON HYSTERIA WITH LIBRETTIST DIVYA MAUS. COULD YOU TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?
Hysteria is an opera project born from an idea I have been thinking about for a few years. I’ve always wanted to write a theatrical work and have it focus on the stories of women facing real problems. Divya and I chose to explore the concept of “hysteria,” a medical diagnosis used for women that dates back to the 5th and 4th centuries BC. AD, using five real, fictional and mythological heroines.
The opera explores the real distress experienced by these women and the interpretation of their feelings as irrational madness by those around them. Divya and I were accepted as one of three creative teams for “Original Vision”, a development workshop through an opera and musical theater production company. Harmonic industries.
The workshop will conclude with a presentation of one of the scenes premiering online on May 29. A full premiere of the opera has not yet been scheduled. We hope to apply for grants and get some support to fully produce it in the future.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorial independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded by generous donor and institutional support. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF.