The Davenport, Iowa singer/songwriter has developed a singular, percussive style on her battered Breedlove, proving they both have staying power.
Molly Durnin is fierce. She demurs at the word but doesn’t argue with it. The Davenport, Iowa powerhouse has been making her living for the past seven years solely from strumming her guitar, and it shows. She actually bought the now-discontinued AC250/CR model in 2009 and she hasn’t put it down since.
The instrument, Durnin says, tells her story, its face scarred, a fingernail-ravaged patch beneath the soundhole of its cedar top testifying to hundreds of long nights and long drives; its body tattooed with the thousand indignities of the gigging musician.
“My guitar is my identity,” she says unabashedly. “It gives my poetry a melody.”
“I have played so many other guitars, and they’re empty. This guitar just tells my story. I mean, look at the thing. I discovered my writing style, my sound, my percussive beat thing that I do, on this guitar. This guitar brought it out of me, not any other one.”
Durnin’s first gig was hard. She was quite literally pushed onstage, with no warning, fair or otherwise, at a 2007 open mike. A baptism by fire. She made it through, and though she still gets nervous sometimes—“you should always be pushing yourself out of your comfort zone,” she says—things have gotten better. Much better.
“It was so bad,” she grins at the memory. “Just a crippling fear of singing in front of people. And, despite that, the performing bug bit me, even then.”
Durnin’s mom was a folksinger. That’s where she got her fingerpicking skills, and her natural love of music. Carolyn Durnin had even done some touring, but she set music aside when she started a family, and her old Gibson was ready for a young Molly to explore.
When it was time to graduate to her own guitar, Durnin, an East Coast native, didn’t choose the Breedlove. It chose her.
“I walked into (the now defunct) Cathedral Music, in Troy N.Y., and I saw it and I picked it up, and I said, ‘I want this one. This is the one.’ It wasn’t even very expensive. I’ve had it ever since.”
“I’m so terrified, because if anything ever happened to that guitar, I don’t know what would happen to my career. It stays in tune. It just vibrates. It’s got this harmonic resonance to it. It’s small. I’m small. It’s just perfect. I’m just … I don’t know what else to say. It’s the perfect guitar.”
In mid-decade, after establishing herself on the regional scene and releasing the critically-hailed 2012 long player Run, Durnin, a Paul Smith’s College alum, headed south, spending four years in South Carolina before snaking west to Iowa.
“I like to move every couple of years. I like to change it up, I’ve got no ties to anything.”
The tourist economy in Charleston found Durnin balancing the day’s latest country hits, a pile of indie anthems and her own literate, blistering songs in high energy sets driven by a thumping right hand. As noted, that hand left its mark.
“I’ve treated this guitar so bad, so poorly … so many gigs, so many gigs … So much Jägermeister has been spilled on it. So many times, I left it in the car when it was a hot day. It’s been kiln dried in the sun of Charleston. I mean, it’s just awful how much I’ve beat this guitar up. But, it’s road worthy. I question if that’s why it has the sound that it has.”
“It’s Molly Durnin’s guitar.”
She’s been more than ready to record a long-awaited follow up to Run, but was snafu-ed, at least for a good stretch, by a management tangle. She has, she says, more than three-dozen songs in the hopper and is currently negotiating with a Davenport producer to get back in the studio.
“I have so many songs now. That’s an obstacle in itself, because how do I choose? I’ve even messed around with a couple of different album titles,” she winks, “and I think by now, I’m going to have to go with, Well, That Was A Long Eight Years!”
At a pre-COVID tour performance, back on home turf in upstate New York, Durnin rolled some of those songs out, by turns witty, tough and hilarious. When she was bawdy, dudes in the back shouted out in concordance; when she was tender they shut up and listened. She controlled the entire room with her guitar. She is fierce.
Durnin—author of, among other ripostes, “Me and My Big Lady Brain”—has also survived the thousand indignities of being a woman in the music business, and she will continue to do so.
“Men can get away with anything,” she not-so-faux rages, before launching into an entertaining yet disheartening spin of off-the-record horror stories.
“As I’m going forward,” she says, “I’m trying to focus on my originals, because no one else can do Molly Durnin except me. Everybody can do “Santeria.” Everybody can do “Brown Eyed Girl.” But nobody else does Molly Durnin.”