Moriah Haven Lawson, founder of modern Bluegrass trio Sassy Molasses (providing vocals, mandolin, violin, guitar and songwriting), chose the meeting place.
“We country folk feel at home there,” she says.
Also a photo tech, Lawson has her nose pierced and wears big, cat-eyeish glasses with brown rims. Her hair is auburn, choppy and short, with long, jagged pieces on the left. Side bangs. She wears a thick belt and tight jeans. Her necklace is large and round. An Om symbol? No one’s sure.
Lawson’s incredibly long eyelashes stand out. When she talks, the lashes rise and fall like handheld fans, sporadically covering her big eyes, brushing her cheeks. She’s a well-known mandolin virtuoso with real talent. She can pick up any instrument and play it and her voice is clear and natural, full of soul.
Lawson’s originally from Jacksonburg, a tiny speck of a town in Butler County.
“I guess I’m pretty country,” she says. “I never have shoes on at shows.”
There was always music in her house. A family thing. At 9 years old, Lawson picked up guitar, then mandolin at 14.
“It just makes sense to me … something about the sound of it,” she says of her introduction to mandolin. “The first night I had it, I wrote a song. I was infatuated right away.”
Lawson has played in the local scene with friends/labelmates Chick Pimp Coke Dealer at a Bar and Wonky Tonk, and she currently plays in her family’s band, Lawson Reunion, which will soon release its sophomore album.
On the decision to “go solo,” Lawson says, “My family is kinda really conservative and a lot of the lyrics in the stuff I’ve been writing recently are not really up their alley … I mean, they definitely support me in everything I do, but I decided to do something that’s my voice, totally me.”
Lawson began solo work years ago, but she dove into it more seriously this past October after she had a baby girl.
“It’s definitely different playing my songs with a band,” she says. “I’m used to things being a little more intimate, but it’s fun. I really like to be able to kind of let loose a little more.”
Lawson met drummer Michael J. Hamilton at work. From West Chester, Hamilton started drumming at 12 and played instrumental Surf Rock with late local group The Flux Capacitors until recently. With longish, scruffy hair, he wears black-rimmed glasses. He’s hurting a little. Mellow and sleepy, he’s been partying since early afternoon band practice with another band, Revenge Piñata. Later, he’ll trek out for another practice with yet another project, Vaudeville Freud. Hamilton needs a nap. We suggest coffee, but he thinks it’s “disgusting.”
Lawson laughs. “I love you man, but I don’t get that. I have coffee going all day long.”
Hamilton says that Sassy Molasses is a more subtle, stylistic challenge: “It’s relaxing and it’s refreshing.”
Lawson met bassist Thomas Curran at a Wonky Tonk show. After playing with The Atriums and many other bands, Curran brings a Funk background to Sassy Molasses. On our interview day, he’s getting his long hair cut for charity, so he’s absent for a good cause.
On her website, Lawson writes, “Sassy Molasses was born to folk you up, son.” Currently working with local label Grasshopper Juice Records, Lawson’s Bluegrass songs are touching and heart-centered but stylistically unique, with hints of Blues and Country. Some songs are sparse, raw and poignant, giving a shout to Chris Whitley’s Perfect Day album and classic Blues. Others are more jam-based and kickin’.
“The songs are personal, about a tumultuous relationship … it’s always me sitting down trying to sort out the way I feel,” Lawson says.
She describes it as a “roller-coastery feel.”
Blues titans like Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf have influenced Lawson’s writing, but she’s drawn a lot of motivation from a more personal source.
“Patsy Cline is giant, and Alison Krauss, but my biggest influence is my grandma,” she says. “She’s written more songs than anyone I know. That’s really where my roots are … I grew up singing Bluegrass and Gospel at church.”
Sassy Molasses’ music is full of sweat and truth and guts. It comes from musicians loving the music. The songs go beyond image, giving a sense of real life, the celebrations and struggles, touching beyond the surface. They’re matter-of-fact but dig deep.
“Timeless — I think that’s what I try to go for,” Lawson says. “I’m more into (trying to create) something you can listen to 20 years from now.”
Chances are, Lawson will have that same kind of endurance, no matter what happens in her artistic “career.” Her passion for music is ingrained.
“I have to do music,” she says. “Whether it succeeds in some kind of commercial fashion isn’t 100 percent important. I just do it because I have to. It’s my outlet, you know. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I feel like it’s what I was made to do.”
SASSY MOLASSES (www.reverbnation.com/moriahhavenlawson) plays Covington’s Leapin’ Lizard Gallery this Sunday.