Musical Space: Molly Nilsson and the DIY Aesthetic

Jul 18, 2016

In this Musical Space podcast, music commentator Mark Foley and KMUW's Fletcher Powell discuss songs and artists in varying states of DIY. 

A script of the on-air commentary is just below the podcast audio, followed by the playlist of songs and artists discussed in the podcast.

I’ve recently discovered the music of Molly Nilsson. She’s pretty obscure--there’s not even a Wikipedia article about her--but she’s interesting to me because of the completely self-made nature of her career, and I think that in itself is a reason to listen to her.

Molly Nilsson writes, performs and records her own albums. She also founded the label they’re released on, designs the cover art, maintains her website,  books her own tours, even co-directs her videos. When you buy one of her albums, she’s the one who goes to the post office.

Her production budget is obviously very small. The synth and drum machine sounds are really primitive. Her voice is low, raw, and untrained, so the lyrics are sometimes hard to understand. It’s obvious she doesn’t use autotune. So Nilsson is probably not going to take Taylor Swift’s place on the pop charts, but she has the freedom to make any kind of music she wants a freedom that superstars don’t have. Yes, it’s dance music, but dark and personal; the lyrics can be brutal--too strongly flavored for the radio.

I like the veracity of her work, knowing that it is a completely personal project. The music comes off honest to me because it all comes from her. Molly Nilsson is currently on tour, and her seventh album will be coming out any day now. You’ll be able to find it, but only if you look for it.

Music: Molly Nilsson, “1995”

A Playlist of Artists in Varying States of DIY

  • Molly Nilsson, “You Always Hurt the One You Love.”
  • The Residents, “Constantinople” - created their own label, “Ralph Records,” to maintain artistic control.
  • Ween “Don’t Laugh (I Love You)”
  • Self-produced cassettes in the late 80’s scored them big gigs. Even after they signed to a label, they continued to record on a cheap four-track cassette recorder in their basement.
  • MF Doom “The Time We Faced Doomsday,” first track on Operation: Doomsday. Pretty much every hip-hop artist is self-produced to a certain extent. MF Doom is very hands on - amazing use of adventure cartoon samples to create a fictional origin story.
  • Arctic Monkeys “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.”
  • Distributed by a tiny DIY label run out of someone’s apartment after popularity of homemade, home-burned CDs. Went straight to #1 on the UK singles charts in 2005.
  • C. Duncan, “By.” Recorded the album “Architect” in his bedroom, was on the 2015 shortlist for a Mercury prize.
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