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Songwriting contest leads to burgeoning solo career

by Jordan Green

The song gushes out of the car radio turning out of the Harris Teeter parking lot onto High Point Road and headed into the sylvan interlude of Sedgefield before the avenue reaches into the ugly strip-malled expanse that aprons from Greensboro’s stunted skyline.

Only it’s a song about Kansas.

“A cathedral in Kansas where the cowboys come to pray,” Molly McGinn sings. “It’s so quiet you can hear a prayer drop from a mile away.”

The voice is plaintive and open, sweet and powerful. The music is expansive, like the landscape it describes, the only instrumentation to speak of the gently rolling strum of an acoustic six-string and the stately cry of a steel guitar.

Dodge City. The bloodiest town in that frontier state. The place of McGinn’s birth. The image of Christ hung between two thieves on the altar of the cowboy church. She contemplates the finality of death, the strange fate of the good and the bad falling into the same lot, herself cast interchangeably into the roles of “the penitent, the spiteful, the forgiving one.”

McGinn’s independently released CD, Girl With Slingshot, which includes the cut “Preachers and Thieves,” was passed from her boyfriend, Sean Coon, to Kathy Clark, a volunteer DJ at WQFS 90.9 FM, the campus station at Guilford College. The music would find its way to the world through other channels, too.

A songwriter since the age of 8, when she composed “welcome home” songs for her father on his return from business trips, by 2000 a budding journalism career with the News & Record had crowded music from her life.

In October of that year, McGinn covered a murder trial in High Point. The defendant, a jealous lover, had scratched the name of his girlfriend into a bullet he used to kill her. After that, when she would swim, each time she sank beneath the water’s surface the name would pound through her head: “Anjanette Craine. Anjanette Craine.”

She felt miserable as a reporter. Particularly with the police and courts beat she found herself unable to leave the job at work. Another time, when a landlord in High Point was shot in the face, “my editor said, ‘You have to go ask his family how they feel,'” she recalls. “I didn’t want to ask them how they felt. I wanted to say, ‘What can I do to help?’ I would pour myself into these lives and I couldn’t shake it off.”

She cast off that heavy cloak when she made the painful decision to leave journalism. She has ever been trying to make her life align more closely to the true aim of her passion. The first step was going to work for Kindermusik, a Greensboro-based children’s music education company, where she wrote children’s music and conducted research for product development.

“They helped me fall in love with music again, doing all this brain research on the social and psychological impact it has on a child’s life,” McGinn says.

She started writing songs again, lullabies to put herself to sleep. And there were songs inspired by a serious romantic relationship that had ended in a breakup.

“I started rock climbing, I started long boarding, I started surfing,” McGinn says. “I started feeling myself uninhibited, putting aside the idea that everything I did had to be perfect. You know, just try anything.”

She started attending indie film group and composed a film soundtrack. She started attending blogging meet-ups and exploring new-media networking. She started singing and playing guitar with a band called Thacker Dairy Road.

Now, McGinn is planning her departure from Kindermusik, conjuring a small business that will harness her writing abilities with her budding online social networking and marketing skills. She expects that Kindermusik will be her first client, and she will also be able to promote her own music through the business.

“It’s a lot more risk in it, but I’m kind of tweaked about it,” she says. “I’m kind of scared, but what the hell else am I going to do? It’s what’s next for me.”

Paramount among the reasons for this independent entrepreneurial gambit is her need to free up more time for music. McGinn rehearses twice a week with Thacker Dairy Road and the band’s live booking is double that again. She also performs solo once a week at M’Coul’s in downtown Greensboro. She plans to record with Thacker Dairy Road and record more solo material in February.

Girl With Slingshot came about as a sort of fluke.

A little more than a year ago, she ran across a contest on MySpace.com called the RPM Songrwriters Challenge. She had two weeks to write 10 songs, and another two weeks to record them. She won, but didn’t have any plans to release the recording, which was produced by Greg Griffith. Then she played the songs for Coon. He liked them and encouraged her to upload them to sites like AmieStreet.com, which provides online music retail services. McGinn’s album made AmieStreet’s Top 30 for 2007.

The songs on Girl With Slingshot bear a spare warmth that McGinn says is related to both her grueling production schedule and preference for simplicity. One song committed to posterity as the clock ticked down, “Rekkid Playa Heart,” was recorded in McGinn’s car to the beat of the turn signal using a chair-adjuster for percussion.

“I literally locked myself in my house for a month,” she says. “I left an outgoing message on my answering machine to my friends, saying, ‘No disrespect, but I’m probably not going to return your calls.'”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at jordan@yesweekly.com.

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