It’s a striking thing to see Molly Tuttle cover “White Freightliner Blues.” When the singer and guitarist makes her way through the Townes Van Zandt classic, her soothing voice rings out steadily.
Meanwhile, her hands are breaking the sound barrier.
At 25, Tuttle is already a world-renowned master of “flatpicking,” a blindingly fast guitar technique that’s fueled traditional bluegrass and country music for decades. In 2017, she became the first woman in history to win the award for Guitar Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association. Last year, the Americana Music Association named her Instrumentalist of the Year.
Tuttle has played guitar since she was 8, and grew up playing in bluegrass jams with her family. And by the time she was 16 — after soaking in everything from Gillian Welch to The Smiths and Alkaline Trio — she decided she wanted to be a singer-songwriter, too, with an album of her own, someday.
That dream is fully realized with the April 5 release of her debut album, “When You’re Ready.” Tuttle wrote or co-wrote all 11 acoustic-driven tracks, which showcase not only her guitar prowess, but a unique breadth of influences and a vocal style that’s tender yet assured.
“Take the journey, no matter where it starts or where it ends,” she sings over an elastic guitar line on “Take the Journey.”
“Take the journey/ to see the sun rise again.”
“In my life, I’ve kind of had to learn to be more accepting of myself and different situations that I’ve been in,” Tuttle says. “I’m really interested in meditation. I guess some of that has played into the songwriting and just being accepting of the world, and accepting myself.”
Tuttle, a California native, moved to Nashville in 2015. Settling in a new city was just part of a “big transition.”
For her entire life, she’d been a musical student in some form or another. Her father, Jack Tuttle, is a longtime guitar instructor, and in 2014, she graduated from the Berklee College of Music, which she attended on a scholarship. Even her songwriting career was ignited by school.
“When I was in high school, I took a songwriting class at a local community college. The teacher didn’t give us too much instruction, but he was like, ‘You need to write a song every week and come in and play it.’ That was the catalyst for me, having that deadline, almost. … I think, looking up to some of my heroes, like Laurie Lewis, Gillian Welch and Neko Case, who led their own bands and wrote songs, that made me want to follow that path, as well.”
Tuttle says she wanted to have “a blank slate” for “When You’re Ready.” All of its songs were written after she settled in Nashville. Her collaborators included Steve Poltz (who offered “A Million Miles,” which he originally wrote with Jewel) and Sarah Siskind, who lent her expert roots sensibilities to “Take the Journey.”
“Writing with Sarah was always really fun. She’s such a prolific writer that it was also a little intimidating … but it really pushed me to carry my own weight in the writing session.”
Her sessions with Poltz helped her shake off songwriting anxieties.
“I think to him, there’s no such thing as a bad idea or a stupid idea. That helped me write a little more freely.”
She’s also received encouragement from one of her heroes — earlier this year, Welch sang her praises in an interview.
“I think she has a tremendous sensitivity for the music,” Welch told Uproxx. “And there’s something about her spirit, it has a gentleness and strength in it.”
“I was like, ‘Holy crap,’ ” Tuttle recalls. “I feel like so much of my music I’ve made thinking, ‘What would Gillian Welch do?’ “