All her own work for record number 4 - Sarah Jarosz

All her own work for record number 4 - Sarah Jarosz

All her own work for record number 4 - Sarah Jarosz

Four albums into her recording career, Sugar Hill artist Texas-born Sarah Jarosz is pushing the boundaries of bluegrass folk country in an innovative inviting fashion. Multi-instrumental, singer songwriter Jarosz is growing by the day in all categories.   

Not least among her attributes is her bravery of stripping down a production to allow the lyrics stand up unaided. Other than her exquisite playing of acoustic guitar on the four solo tracks on her new album undercurrent (released June 17th) are of a standard to prompt me to believe she is destined to become one of the best of her genre. Getting to rub shoulders with the music’s finest has not done her any harm. On talking with Jarosz I gained the impression she doesn’t realise how good she is on guitar!  

Child prodigy Jarosz now living in New York has been around since she was barely into her teens, and making records since she was seventeen. Long enough to impress with Build Me Up From Bones (2013), Follow Me Down (2011) and her debut album Song Up In My Head (2009). There is much more, co-hosting Prairie Companion with legendry radio presenter and author Garrison Keillor among Jarosz’s most recent achievements. 


You will have made a lot of new fans the last year or so from being in the trio I’m With Her.

Yeah, I am having a lot of fun with that. 

What sparked off the idea to form the group

We (Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan) have been long time friends in the music scene. We were working separately at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado, it would be summer 2014 and we did a vocal workshop together and an impromptu opening set for the Punch Brothers. Afterwards we texted one another and said, that was really fun! We should do more of that. Luckily, our schedules opened up for it and we got together and wrote music and become a band, and it became a special thing. We are all excited about getting to further the association. To date we have recorded two songs “Crossing Muddy Waters”  and “To Be My Husband”. I think we have a lot of similar musical tastes, and it is good to get in there together and work out songs that suit a trio. 

On the solo front Undercurrent (Sugar Hill) your new album shows a greater maturity to your music from start to finish.

Thank you very much. 

Did you write all the songs on the record, the information I have to hand doesn’t confirm this.

Actually, it is the first album I have done without any covers. They are all either written by me or written with friends of mine who also appear on the album. Yeah, it feels especially personal I guess and closer to home with it all original material. 

Are there any songs that you are particularly fond of?    

The thing about them is as a record they all fit together nicely. I am particularly proud of that, and most excited about the record centred round four completely solo songs “Early Morning Light”, “Everything To Hide”, “Take Another Turn” and “Jacqueline” performed by just me and a guitar. I feel so connected to them and was so excited to have a stripped down version of a song like that for the first time. I had never put anything out like this before, without a lot of other things going on, here it was just me and feel connected because of that. 

It is brave call by you. I think your audience will greatly appreciate you doing this because it shows a belief your lyrics are strong enough to stand up on their own other than your guitar. 

Doing this was something I felt most important when I started out making this record. 

Talking about guitar players you have Jedd Hughes (Rodney Crowell) on the album.

Yeah, that’s right [enthuses Jarosz]

I was only just checking your website and reading the great things his boss, Rodney Crowell says about you. One thing he picks up on it the rhythm factor, something he knows a great deal about since he plays rhythm guitar. 

Oh, yeah, Rodney is he is a hero of mine for sure. I am especially thrilled to have Jedd so involved on the record; he is a fantastic singer and musician. It has been a pleasure getting to watch him the last few years playing with Rodney and Emmylou (Harris). He has something going on there. 

He is an absolutely brilliant guitar player. 

It’s stunning! 

Anyone who has seen him perform with them on Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freight Liner Blues” can’t help but be impressed by his awesome talent; he just burns it up on the song. 

He has a tendency to do that [laughs Jarosz]

Having a compact set of players on the record helps to being the lyrics home on the record. 

Yes, thank you. Certainly, on this record I tried to do that. Undercurrent was the first record where I wasn’t simultaneously in school. Finally, I had the time to focus just on the songwriting, and not just squeeze it in when the inspiration hit. This time I would work on it everyday and hopefully it shows through on the album. 

Where did you go to school.

I went to the New England Conservatory Of Music in Boston. I spent four years there and graduated in 2013, almost three years ago. Since then I have lived in New York City and feel the record has been influenced by my time living there. 

You have a new player to me on the record Luke Reynolds on guitar and vocals could you tell me a little about him.

I have been a friend of Luke for a couple of years. He comes more from the indie-rock world, he is an incredible steel guitar player too that he plays on one of the songs. He is in a band called Guster, an amazing band. We got to hang out together in Nashville, and have done some songwriting together that made it onto the album, he plays and sings on the song. It was fun to include him because he doesn’t come from my folk world so much, but comes from a different place. I think it is nice to do that, bring in a different sonic talent and Luke certainly does that.

You mention sonic which is something you could direct at some of the material on the record, like with “Everything To Hide” (aided by Jarosz’s intimate playing of guitar, her fingers sliding along the strings). 

Yeah, it is good to hear. I try to strike that balance between being honest with the listener, but able to also retain a certain element of mystery. 

The song that really made my ears perk up was “Green Lights”; the way it builds in tempo and glides to effortlessly. 

It is a fun one to play. 

Where in Texas are you from. 

I was born in Austin and moved to Wimberley when I was three years old. It is a wonderful place to grow up. 

Ray Wylie Hubbard lives there.

Yes, he does. There’s a lot of musicians from that that central Texas area.  

With such a diverse selection of music in the area I guess some of your influences include those people might not readily think of. 

It is such a lush musical environment. My parents would always take me to see live music somewhere; Houston among other places to see people like Shawn Colvin, one of my big heroes and Guy Clark. The list goes on. Texas certainly had a very strong identity to it.  

What part has Gary Paczosa played in your career, apart from co-producing Undercurrent.

He has been there from the start. It has been amazing, and it is special when you have someone you have a working camaraderie with. I first met him when I was very young, and had barely got started in the music world and he believed in me. 

We have stuck with one another through four albums and become better working with one another in the studio, and grown a great deal since I first met him. At a time when I had hardly put a foot inside a studio, and also the fact the records have been made at his house. His family have become like family to me. I think that environment lends itself to creative, honest work. I am honoured to have worked with him so long, almost a decade, which is crazy (at her young age). It’s great to have someone as talented work with you in the studio as him. 

With a relationship like that you know there is room to experiment and much trust shared when you do go into the studio.

Totally, there is no filter. He can be completely honest with me whether it works or not. It can be hard at times, but it is good to be around people who are honest with you. 

When you first started out what was it that turned you on to bluegrass music.

It’s funny because all the time I was growing up and learning stuff it was all about music, it wasn’t my initial love was bluegrass or any specific genre. As long as I had a memory music was always around. I think the reason I was drawn to bluegrass was when I was 9 or 10 I was drawn to the mandolin and the music connected to it is bluegrass and folk. I just became obsessed with the mandolin. Even on becoming deep into the tradition I still listened to all different kinds of music. My mentors in bluegrass music were all pushing boundaries, Nickel Creek, Bela Fleck and Sam Bush or Darrell Scott and Tim O’Brien. People from this roots background but weren’t afraid to look out there for music that wasn’t necessarily bluegrass. It was them I wanted to model myself.  

You mention Tim O’Brien who is a big fan of your music.  

Yeah, she laughs. I am also a big fan of his. Tim along with Gillian Welch along with Nickel Creek was the biggest reasons I wanted to get into this music in the first place. It’s been great the last 10, more like 15 years now getting to know them all, and work with them. Like now being in a band with Sara Watkins. It is funny how full circle music is, and that is how it is with the scene. I have to say how special it was that from an early age they allowed me to first meet and tag along with them. An eleven-year old like me. I definitely owe a lot of what I have ended up doing to them, being in the proximity and influences by those people. 

Having these big bluegrass festivals will no doubt been great for you. Gaining introductions with them.

Yeah, getting to meet and jam with them. Being forced to take a solo, those challenging situations when you are just starting off are good experience and quicken your learning of the music. It is like if you are learning a language but best way to learn is go to that place and learn it. Get right in the middle and go learn. 

Claw-hammer banjo is another instrument you play, something entirely different in many ways for it is old mountain music style. How did you come to learn it. 

Well, I was going to these music sessions, a bluegrass jam in my hometown of Wimberley. I had been playing mandolin for seven years and well into that, but such is the nature of a jam situations you swop your own songs and instruments too. There was this guy Bernard Mollberg, and he played clawhammer banjo every week. That was my first introduction to it. He had been playing for a while when he eventually passed me his banjo, and I started messing around with it and fell in love with it. He actually built the banjo I play today. It is an incredible instrument, and a really cool story because it all comes from that one night when he asked me if I wanted to mess around on it for a change. He let me borrow it and I went on from there. 

Have you a favourite instrument. 

It is so hard to pick a favourite, but I feel so connected with my octave mandolin. It seems like more and more it is the instrument I play more these days. It has always seemed to me like the ideal instrument ‘though I also love playing guitar and banjo.

Have you thought of putting out a live record.

I have the live EP Live At The Troubadour (with Alex Hargreaves and Nathaniel Smith), as for a full live album it something I expect to do some day. As for when we shall see, laughs Jarosz. I would be a fun thing to do. 

High among the greatest thrills so far for you would no doubt be working with Garrison Keillor’s legendary Prairie Home Companion as co-host. 

Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado has to be up there. And, yes being on Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor it’s been about the greatest of them all. I am so proud to have got to know Garrison; it has been a great honour for me to get to work with him. Chris Tile is to take over from him.

I understand Eli West (Cahalen Morrison & Eli West) is due to come over with you to the UK in November.  

It is something we are working on, only needs some finalisation. 

Additional Info

Maurice Hope

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