Molly Kate Kestner

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What'd I Say

Molly Kate Kestner

S1, Ep. 9

We spoke to Molly Kate Kestner about fitting in in high school, listening to Prince as a kid, and hearing her brother sing the national anthem.

Episode Transcript

Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, song they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves.

Today, we spoke to Atlantic Records artist, Molly Kate Kestner. A few years ago, Molly recorded a video of herself performing her song, “His Daughter,” on her great grandmother’s out of tune piano on an iPhone 4 with a cracked screen. She posted the video to her Facebook page and within 48 hours, the clip has amassed 13,000 likes. From that, her younger brother encouraged Molly to post it on YouTube and it was shared by a few celebrities. Soon after, she was getting inquiries around the world to talk about the song. The good news is she is still creating music and amassed a devoted following since the release of her song entitled “His Daughter,” with singles including “Footprints” and “Good Die Young.” We spent time with Molly Kate in New York City at the Atlantic Records Studios to hear about what she’s been doing since her watershed moment. Let’s find out what’s next.

Tom Mullen: I think some of the inspiration for either this song or previous songs, you said you were thinking about high school. Did you have a click in high school?

Molly Kate Kestner: No, definitely not. I guess I was one of those people who, it wasn’t that I didn’t have friends, but I didn’t feel like I belonged to one certain group. I was an artsy kid who also was in smart classes, but I wasn’t really the smart kid in the smart classes. I had friends in sports, I had friends who didn’t do anything, I had church friends, so I never really felt like I belonged to one specific group. But there was a lot of people that I liked in all of those groups, and I definitely had friends who belonged to groups if that makes any sense.

Tom Mullen: Yeah, that makes sense.

Molly Kate Kestner: I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I guess I was a kid who I would go around to everyone’s table at lunchtime.

Tom Mullen: I like that.

Molly Kate Kestner: Okay, cool.

Tom Mullen: I like that. I was friends with everybody. It’s also good to get dirt on everybody. That’s how I do it.

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh my.

Tom Mullen: You’ve got to be friends with everybody and then you can be like, “I know what happened with the preppy kids. Something went down.”

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh my.

Tom Mullen: Did you have those awards in your high school, where they have superlatives? Did you get a superlative award?

Molly Kate Kestner: Super… I don’t even.

Tom Mullen: Basically it’s like “most sporty” or like, “biggest flirt.”

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh. You’d vote on them for the yearbook or something?

Tom Mullen: Yeah.

Molly Kate Kestner: It’s funny, I was voted “most likely to become famous,” I think.

Tom Mullen: Really?

Molly Kate Kestner: But in context, my video had already gone viral, so I think that had something to do with it.

Tom Mullen: Oh right, so it wasn’t before?

Molly Kate Kestner: It wasn’t like I just had the star quality. I wore sweatpants every day to school. I did get another one, I can’t remember though. It was either best smile, or something.

Tom Mullen: I like that.

Molly Kate Kestner: Maybe.

Tom Mullen: Your debut song, “Good Die Young,” was a tribute to Prince.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: Is there a Prince song you feel most connected to, or which one do you remember first hearing?

Molly Kate Kestner: “Kiss,” that’s always been my jam, just because-

Tom Mullen: For karaoke too?

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah. Gosh, and I mess up the words every time, but you never forget “Kiss.” But yeah, that one, it was just always fun to jam out to.

Tom Mullen: So “Kiss?”

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: I like that. Do you remember your first favorite song?

Molly Kate Kestner: Out of all the songs or just Prince songs?

Tom Mullen: Everything.

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh. My first favorite song, probably… I didn’t get to hear a lot of music as a kid, so my first favorite song was probably “Jesus Loves Me,” or something. But I would say once I started getting to listen to music like CDs and the radio, “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston, forever. That was probably the first song I learned all the way through and would just belt at the top of my lungs.

Tom Mullen: So that was the first song you memorized?

Molly Kate Kestner: Yes.

Tom Mullen: That’s a good one.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah, I mean.

Tom Mullen: Do you have brothers and sisters? How did they enjoy you doing that song?

Molly Kate Kestner: Honestly, I would usually do it in my room. They still could probably hear me because I have a very loud voice, but my brother, I wasn’t the one who was obnoxiously singing all the time as a kid. It was my brother right above me, and he was obsessed with singing the national anthem. Just all around the house (singing). But he was always just messing up the words or doing something wrong. It drove me crazy.

Tom Mullen: Did anyone give him the lyrics?

Molly Kate Kestner: No. I think he just like-

Tom Mullen: Let him mess it up, that’s fine.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah. It was very unpatriotic.

Tom Mullen: Did he ever perform it publicly?

Molly Kate Kestner: He did end up [performing]. It was like his life fulfillment when, I think it was in high school, he sang the national anthem at a soccer game or something and I was like, “This is so poetic that James is doing this right now.”

Tom Mullen: I like that.

Molly Kate Kestner: But yeah.

Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song or album you remember buying?

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh man. Let me think. Honestly, it was probably a Jonas Brothers album.

Tom Mullen: On CD?

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh yes. On CD.

Tom Mullen: With your own money right?

Molly Kate Kestner: I think it was probably their self-titled track. Yes, of course, my money that I took from my father’s wallet because I was not making money in middle school.

Tom Mullen: That’s cool.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: Were you excited when you got home and you had it?

Molly Kate Kestner: Oh yeah. Gosh, the Jonas Brothers, that’s maybe one of my biggest regrets in life, is never going to a Jonas Brothers concert.

Tom Mullen: Wow. Maybe they’ll reunite.

Molly Kate Kestner: Man. I saw Joe Jonas at a Jingle Ball or something, and I literally just cried. Just seeing him, I just started to cry and I was like, “What’s happening to me right now?” I’m not like a fan girl of any sorts, but that feeling of oh my gosh, this is my childhood dream, one third being fulfilled right now.

Tom Mullen: I like that.

Molly Kate Kestner: I just need to see Nick, and then if Kevin has any show. I guess I’ll go check that out.

Tom Mullen: Is there a musical influence people would be surprised that you have?

Molly Kate Kestner: Gosh, let me think. Well, obviously Whitney Houston is a big one, but I don’t know if that’s a huge surprise. Frank Sinatra was a big influence on me, as my parents didn’t have a ton of music. We weren’t that family where my parents had all the records and all the CDs, but they had Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and I think that’s a huge part of the reason why I love classy music. I like it to feel like it’s, I don’t know, it’s just classy. Does that make sense?

Tom Mullen: I know what you mean.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah. I just grew up listening to crooners.

Tom Mullen: You dressed up, you’re out and you’re having a nice night.

Molly Kate Kestner: I think my dreams have definitely shifted over the last few years, but when I first was thinking about signing and trying to envision myself singing for a stadium or singing places, I always pictured myself, if I was a singer, I would be like the singer at a jazz club next to the piano, just singing old classics.

Tom Mullen: “La La Land” stuff?

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah, exactly. But that’s definitely shifted now, but that was the original dream.

Tom Mullen: I like that. Was there a specific song of yours that you felt took you to the next level when you were making and writing? The song you were making, and you’re like, “Okay, that was cool, that was cool” and then one you were like, “Oh, I think I get this.”

Molly Kate Kestner: A song I wrote?

Tom Mullen: Yeah.

Molly Kate Kestner: I would say “Good Die Young” was that way for me, where I wrote “His Daughter” and that blew up and went viral, and then I got signed and I was like, “Wait a second. I don’t know if I can actually write, I’m not sure if I’m a good writer. That might have just been a fluke.” I moved to LA, and I started writing a lot, but I don’t think I really found my sound and really my style that I wanted to have until I wrote “Good Die Young.” It was like the first time I’d played to demo, and just hearing it and going, “Oh, this is it. This is what I want to have, this is who I want to be, this is what I want to say.” That was a really cool moment for me.

Tom Mullen: Definitely. That’s great. Is it when you’re recording a song, are you picturing anybody listening to it, like your audience? Can you see someone listening to it?

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah, I definitely could see people listening to it. Really, when I write songs and when I record them, I always see them in movies for some reason. I can picture the scene that that song would work perfectly in. I think it’s just because I’m a movie junkie, a TV junkie, Netflix junkie, I don’t know. I’m a visual person, so it’s like this would be perfect for the love scene where they come together or kiss, or this would be perfect for someone walking through the rain. That always is what comes to mind.

Tom Mullen: Cool. What’s the most recent song you discovered and had to share with your friends? Not a Jonas Brother song.

Molly Kate Kestner: Let me think. I’m trying to think most recent.

Tom Mullen: Or one you remember.
Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah. Actually, you know what song I love, and I guess it’s not super recent, but I have told so many people about it that I think it’s the best one to mention, is “Don’t Kill My Vibe” by Sigrid. Have you heard that song?

Tom Mullen: No.

Molly Kate Kestner: Okay.

Tom Mullen: I like the title.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yes. It’s called “Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and that was my song of the summer. She’s this Norwegian artist, up and coming, and the whole song is just, you just want to turn it up in your car, roll down the windows and jam out. I kept playing it on my Instagram story, or people would ride with me in the car, and I’d be like, “Check out this song.” It’s still, I haven’t gotten sick of it. I’ve played it so much.

Tom Mullen: That’s cool.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: What things do you hear in other songs that you connect with? Other songs you’re listening to, what things in it do you connect with?

Molly Kate Kestner: Well lyrics to me, are the biggest connect for me, and I always resonate with emotional songs. Even if it’s something I haven’t been through personally, I feel like I’m a very empathetic person, so I listen to a song and it takes me to where that person was. I think that’s a huge reason why I love Adele. Why a lot of people love Adele is you hear her song and it takes you to where she was and that emotion. Ed Sheeran’s a lot that way too, where he’ll paint the scene. “Supermarket Flowers” is by far my favorite song on his record, and he didn’t even write that about his own mom dying, but you hear it and you’re just like, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” To me, I resonate with that because I love writing stories and so I love when I hear a song that inspires me to want to go write a story.

Tom Mullen: I like that.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: Last one. Do you have a musical dream? I know, to be famous, to go viral, but deeper.

Molly Kate Kestner: To rule the world.

Tom Mullen: Deeper. Is there a deeper one that’s sort of you wake up and-

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah. Well, obviously singing and writing songs, that’s a huge part of my dream, but I do have this dream that I don’t talk about all the time, but I really would love to start my own nonprofit one day. I’d love it to be based around getting music programs in schools. I think that’s neglected in a lot of schools nowadays, and that was such a huge influence on me as a middle schooler, as a high schooler. My family didn’t have that much money and so being able to go into a choir room to play in an orchestra at school, because I maybe couldn’t do lessons outside of that, that’s such a huge reason that I fell in love with music and why I’m doing what I’m doing, and I think that’s so important for a kid’s experience growing up. That’s something that someday, when I have the money and I have the platform, I would love to do that.

Tom Mullen: That’s great.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yeah.

Tom Mullen: Cool. Thank you.

Molly Kate Kestner: Yes. Thank you so much.
Tom Mullen: Great job.

Outro: Thanks to Molly Kate Kestner for coming on What’d I Say. Find more about her at Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all the Atlantic Records podcasts at Thank you for listening.