Molly Venter is the newest member of Americana trio Red Molly who will be performing at the Santa Fe Depot Sunday evening. She plays guitar along with Abbie Gardner on banjo and dobro and bassist/banjo picker Laurie MacAllister. The trio is best known for their signature three-part harmonized vocals.
“We’ll be performing a really varied show in Norman,” Venter said. “There will be bluegrass, upbeat country, ballads and contemporary folk and blues. We have a lot of fun on stage, joking around a lot with the constant being our 3-part harmony.”
All three women have over-achiever resumes. They’ve each followed different career paths that have led to success both commercially and artistically. Individually they’ve won a prestigious songwriting award, sold a tune placed in a Hollywood movie and ones used commercially by computer and vehicle makers. They’ve taught music to others and learned the art from master musicians. Gardner’s pop is the renowned New York jazz musician Herb Gardner. The women had a wealth of experience as solo singer/songwriters before collaborating together as Red Molly.
“We all three draw artistic inspiration from different places but mine is from the contemporary folk and indie rock persuasion,” Venter said.
She was the teenage girl staring out her bedroom window while listening intently to Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco.
“I found that writing songs gave me the same kind of relief and inspiration that listening to music did,” Venter said. “At one point I thought, if I could make music that made people feel the way I feel when I hear my favorite songs, I'd feel good about my contribution to the world.”
She went on to make those contributions through a multitude of channels. Venter’s only been a Red Molly member for a relatively short time, joining the group when founding member Carolann Solebello departed. With fresh talent the trio promptly released new album “Light in the Sky” in 2011. Each woman brings different musical strengths and artistic sensibilities to the trio.
“Laurie has a great aesthetic sense for beauty,” Venter said. “She's a natural harmony singer with lots of dynamics in her voice and gravitates towards songs with a beautiful melody.”
MacAllister cut her teeth performing solo in NYC coffee houses and released her first album of original compositions in 1999. A few years ago you may have heard her singing a java jingle on TV for a national Folgers Coffee advertisement.
“Abbie is a prolific songwriter and the consummate musician in the band,” Venter said. “She's always shredding that dobro in order to be able to express herself differently each time in solos.”
Dobro may seem an unlikely instrument for someone with a sterling jazz pedigree such as Gardner’s but she adopted it as her primary instrument nearly a decade ago. Gardner traveled west to study with dobro gurus Rob Ickes and Sally Van Meter and now is a sought-after recording accompanist on other’s musician’s projects.
“I'm passionate about singing and song-writing,” Venter said. “I gravitate towards more raw and gritty sounds, both vocally and in production.”
Read gritty to mean soulful. No criticism intended for being in a three-part harmony group but her solo vocals showcase magnificently. Contemporary musicians seldom have just one band outlet and she’s no exception. Venter also forms half of Goodnight Moonshine along with east coast hipster jug band Roosevelt Dime’s Eben Pariser. In that duo her platinum pipes often take center stage.
Venter digs her touring sorority of sophisticated young singers and string players.
“We’re three women who get along well,” she said. “We’re clean, considerate and also have a lot of fun. Whether it’s all men or all women together your guard really gets let down.”
She described closeness between them that allows for the group to play a wide variety of music.
“We play plenty of fast songs along with ballads that have quiet and loud sections,” Venter said. “Connecting with the audience is hugely important to us so we try to be our best selves. We keep it lively and try to make each other laugh. That usually results in a fun and spontaneous show for the audience.”
If You Go
What: Red Molly in concert as part of the Winter Wind Concert Series
Where: The Performing Arts Studio in the Santa Fe Depot, 200 S. Jones Ave.
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 24
Red Molly's members all have side projects in addition to this 3-part harmony trio.