Sorry, there are no Molly Kate Kestner dates.
On the April day that Prince died, Minnesota-born singer, songwriter Molly Kate Kestner was in a writing session with some collaborators musing about his untimely death. “I think one of the most dark and desperate things is when you see a good person die at a young age. It doesn’t make sense. So I wanted to write a song about that whole concept, and I came to the conclusion that the only positive thing that comes out of something like this is that it makes you look at your own life and evaluate whether you’re living it to the fullest. Because we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, or any time at all. So when someone like Prince, who was so talented and full of life, is gone just like that, it encourages me to say, ‘Okay, I need to be doing my absolute best every single day.’" That session birthed Kestner’s debut single, “Good Die Young,” and it serves as a powerful indicator of her mission statement as an artist. A blonde, blue-eyed 20-year-old with an open smile and engaging friendliness, Kestner has always been drawn to finding the one piece of light in a dark situation, though her intimate, piano-driven songs — powered by her earthy, soulful voice — have often taken on hard topics. “If you look at the first 10 original songs I put up on YouTube, they’re all really deep and heartbreaking,” Kestner says. “I’m a happy person, so for the longest time, songwriting was a way for me to express my sad side. There were songs about unwanted pregnancy, bullying, depression and mental illness, cancer, and losing the person you love, but I always put a piece of hope in there as a way to meet someone where they’re at, if they’re dealing with something tough, but then to also show them that they don’t have to stay there.” Kestner has always been drawn to finding the one piece of light in a dark situation, [through] her intimate, piano-driven songs. It was such a song, “His Daughter” — an emotional ballad about finding hope in hopeless — that first propelled her into the spotlight, something she never dreamed was possible growing up in a small Midwestern town. Kestner was raised with her six siblings by an electrician father and a stay-at-home mother in Austin, Minnesota — a factory town that serves as home base for Hormel Foods. Before she could even write properly, Kestner would scribble down lyrics and sing the songs she had written to her family. “I was a little girl mashed in between five boys, so I spent a lot of time by myself,” she recalls. “I had this huge imagination, so I would write plays and musicals and songs in different languages.” Kestner learned how to play violin, piano, and ukulele, and sang in the choir in middle school, but a career in music seemed “out of the question where I grew up,” she says. “I had access to a limited amount of resources, so you set the bar low for yourself, which is kind of sad.” At the end of her junior year of high school, Kestner wrote “His Daughter.” The lyrics came to her while she was working a shift as a janitor at her dad’s electrical shop. “No joke, I was cleaning the men’s bathroom when I got this idea,” she says. “I had a close friend who had grown up in an abusive home, and I knew someone who had gotten pregnant at a young age. I thought, ‘How can I turn these stories that are really dark into hope?’ I grabbed a pen and paper from my dad’s desk and just started writing down the words. It all just came out. I came home and sat at the piano and it was done — my first song ever.” How can I turn these stories that are really dark into hope? …. I came home and sat at the piano and it was done — my first song ever. Kestner recorded a video of herself performing “His Daughter” on her great-grandmother’s out-of-tune piano on “this hideous, green iPhone 4, with a cracked screen” and posted it on her Facebook page. Within 48 hours, the clip had amassed 13,570 likes. After her younger brother encouraged her to post it on YouTube, actor/social media star George Takei shared the link with his nine million plus followers asking: “Has America found its young Adele?” Before she knew it, Kestner’s view count skyrocketed, celebrities like Jordan Sparks and Ashley Judd had shared the video, and she found herself fielding calls from media around the world. By May, Diane Sawyer was introducing a segment about Kestner and her newfound viral fame on ABC News and she was performing on Good Morning America. In February, Kestner left her close-knit family and friends behind and moved to Los Angeles, where she has impressed seasoned songwriters and producers with her talent, intelligence, and engaging personality while collaborating on songs for her upcoming EP for Atlantic Records. Her new songs include “Amen,” which she says is about “forever love.” “In Hebrew, the word ‘amen’ actually means truth or certainty. So when you say a prayer and finish with ‘amen,’ you’re basically saying, ‘That’s the truth.’ When you find someone you truly love, all you want is for them to know how much you really love them. To me, the lyric ‘I’m in like Amen’ is the best way to put that love into words. Because it means that no matter what, you’re committed to loving this person like the truth … and the truth never fades.” Another song, “Footprints,” is about her younger brother. “Growing up with a younger sibling is hilarious and infuriating,” she says with a laugh. “When you’re young, you argue about the most ridiculous things and compete for attention. But as you grow older, you realize that it’s pretty cool to have someone in your life who has seen you through everything and still loves you. As the younger sibling, my brother has learned from mistakes I’ve made but he’s also seen me get out of my comfort zone and move across the country to pursue my dreams. I hope he does the same.” Overall, Kestner’s goal for her burgeoning career is to write songs that make people feel understood. “When someone listens to my music, I want them to think, ‘Oh, this is for me. She gets it,’” she says. “Then not just leave it at that but always point it back to life, to hope, and to truth. I always want the end goal to be leading toward something that’s better than where you’re at.”