The mysterious English songwriter Nick Drake wasn't particularly well-known in his lifetime. But since his death in 1974, at age 26, he’s developed quite a cult following -- and influenced so many other musicians. Now, we’re hearing from someone who was a great influence on him -- his mom. A new album from Squirrel Thing Recordings collects the songs of Molly Drake, who was an artist in her own right.
The 19 songs included on Molly Drake were recorded to tape at the family home in the 1950s, and have been restored for this release by the engineer John Wood -- who was also engineer to Nick.
According to Gabriel Drake (daughter of Molly, and sister to Nick), "For Molly, music was a private joy, as was her poetry...and she would sit for hours alone at a piano, working out words and music. It never occurred to her that her work could be of interest to a wider audience." Now it certainly is -- particularly the haunting and beautiful “How Wild The Wind Blows."
Molly Drake - How Wild The Wind Blows
I caught up with David Herman, a recording engineer, and co-founder of Squirrel Thing, for a bit more backstory. (Full disclosure: Herman is also an employee of WNYC).
How did you come across this material? What appealed to you about it?
Two of Molly's recordings (“Poor Mum” and “Do You Ever Remember?”) were included on the 2007 Nick Drake collection Family Tree, (they were also heard in the Nick Drake documentary A Skin Too Few). My partner at Squirrel Thing, Dan Dzula, and I first heard these around 2011, and we were immediately floored. Not only by the eerie similarity between her voice and her son's, but by the poetry in her lyrics, somehow sophisticated and naive at the same time. It was incredibly poignant stuff. So we got in touch with the Drake estate to see if there was more of her music to be heard, and lo and behold there was!
What was it like to first interact with the songs?
The recordings are so intimate, when I listened to them on headphones for the first time, I felt as if I were sitting right there in the Drake family living room, next to her husband Rodney fiddling with his tape recorder, listening to Molly play the piano for no one in particular. It was a totally immersive, instantly transportive experience, much like the experience of listening to the Connie Converse tapes. I suddenly found myself in another time and place, and in a very tangible way.
What, if anything, does it tell us about the work of Nick Drake?
The enduring mystery of the Nick Drake story is why his music didn’t catch on during his life. It’s as if he were born to the wrong time, like he came out of nowhere. I think these recordings show us that he didn’t come out of nowhere – he had a profound influence right at home. The musical styles of mother and son are certainly born of different generations, but underneath her charming wistfulness, and her easy elegance, there’s darkness in so many of Molly’s songs, a darkness that Nick Drake would distill down and explore further in his own work, and in his own way.