The first thing Molly Alphabet felt after hearing the news of Thunderbird Café and Music Hall’s reopening was relief. The release show for her first full-length album, Broken Record, was scheduled for July 26, just 10 days after Thunderbird got the official go-ahead to open its doors.
“We didn’t have a back-up plan,” says the country/folk singer.
With so many venues available in Pittsburgh, why did Thunderbird have to be the one? Well, Alphabet is a fourth-generation Lawrenceville native and before Thunderbird closed in 2016, she and her family had gone to the venue for as long as she could remember.
“We have always wanted to have our release show in Lawrenceville just because that’s very much intertwined in our history,” says Alphabet, the "we" referring to her husband Chet Vincent, who plays guitar in the Alphabet band and is known for his work with rock group The Big Bend and folk band Biirdwatcher. “The last release we had was at my family’s Irish club on 52nd street. This time we wanted to do something bigger. We were getting nervous as it approached because we wanted to keep it in the neighborhood, and [that] limits the options.”
While her Lawrenceville ties are the reason for the location of Broken Record’s release show, growing up in the area had little effect on her musical taste. Alphabet grew up listening to classic rock and R&B and it wasn’t until she left for college that her classic rock interest gave way to the twang of country and folk.
“When you get into the folky side of classic rock, like Bob Dylan or Neil Young, they really are just one tiptoe away from old country music,” says Alphabet. “A lot of their old songs are blatantly country music. So I sort of started gravitating more towards that side of classic rock.”
After graduating from college, Alphabet returned to Lawrenceville to find something unexpected. In the time that she was away, local country-bluegrass icon Slim Forsythe had created an entire classic rock-country scene at the iconic and now-closed Nied's Hotel.
“We played a ton of shows together there,” says Alphabet. “I was very surprised to come home and find that this classic country scene was building up here and we have a whole little scene going still with The Beagle Brothers, Bindley Hardware Company, and all these bands that are playing these kinds of music.”
So even though growing up and living in Lawrenceville didn’t directly influence her interest in country music, Alphabet feels that it gives her music an edge not seen in most songs in the genre.
“It makes for a kind of fun mix because you get country songs that aren’t about all the same old country tropes,” says Alphabet. “I love those songs too — but like a train and a valley, all these old songs that seem to be about the same thing. We’re in the city, you get a little bit of a different perspective and different kinds of inspiration to take that genre and make it your own, make it more unique.”
Following her Traces EP, released in 2017, Broken Record reflects Alphabet herself more than ever before. Written entirely on her own — many of Alphabet’s previous releases were written with Vincent — and recorded while she was pregnant with her first child, Broken Record is sometimes quirky, sometimes serious, and sometimes hits all the country markers.
The opening track, one Alphabet notes as a favorite, “is a more typical representation of what we do,” she says. “It’s like hard-driving, fun, off the walls, but at the same time, not just a total joke song. More of a typical party song that we like to play.”
Then there’s the title track, where the bridge is about staring at new kitchen counters, something Alphabet says she actually did. Or “For The Birds,” a song based off a true story from her friend MaryAnn. “To my surprise, that’s the song that more people have commented on than any other,” says Alphabet.
Alphabet’s hometown, life experiences, and love for country will all take the stage on Friday at Thunderbird.
“It’s really meaningful to have [the release show] there,” she says. “Everyone’s excited to get back in there. I feel really excited as a Lawrenceville songwriter and Lawrenceville band. We get to be the first ones to release an album there, that’s really cool to me.”