“Four years has gone by since I made my last record; a lot has happened in those four years,” said singer/songwriter Sara Watkins. “Life is bigger now. Hopefully that comes out in the songs.” It certainly does. Young In All the Wrong Ways sees the Nickel Creek founding member expressing ideas and emotions written broadly enough to allow for listener interpretation yet also feels intimately personal. Watkins, who will perform at the Lobero Theater Saturday, September 10, recently spoke with The Independent over the phone while rehearsing in Ashville, North Carolina.
How did you approach this album? There was a different approach to it in a lot of ways but I think that approach was just that it came about because that’s where I am right now. I don’t think it will be repeated what the circumstances and songs brought to the table. Different things that happened — some intentionally, some unintentionally — I didn’t play the songs live coming into the album. There were certain things going into the studio that we wanted to do. But I think mostly this album is different because — all three albums are different at this point, different producers. Four years have gone by since I made my last record. A lot has happened in those four years, a lot of different collaborations, a lot of life, a lot of new music that’s come into my world, just life is bigger now. Hopefully that comes out in the songs.
The album is cohesive and yet there are strands of folk, some county tinges, some rock. Yeah, it’s great that there’s a place for all of that on this album. I never really want to do an album that is all just one thing, it would seem pretty boring to me. It would be hard for me to do, say, a rock album, and have it feel as nuanced as I would want. I think that everything that is in your background is what adds up to what you are doing now. I think those influences are definitely there on this album.
“Young In All the Wrong Ways” is a really poignant song, as are many on the album. Are they inspired by your personal life or sketches of imagination? I think even when you imagine something it’s based in a framework you understand, so I definitely draw on personal experiences in these songs, but they are not biographical, necessarily. They all come from a personal place that I can go back to. You know, all songs are about a lot of different things. Personally, I’m never happier than when I know exactly what somebody else’s song is about. [laughs]. It always makes the song less interesting, so I don’t really want to spell it out for anybody.
And then people can interpret it however it suits them…Yeah. I think ultimately it might be less impressive if people knew exactly what these songs were about. [laughs]
Well I felt they were all about my life, so thank you for that. I’m so glad, that’s the ideal compliment. I feel like the idea of Young In All the Wrong Ways, we all go through that, like every so often a page in our life is turned and you just think “Who was I a second ago?” … It’s good to be there because that means we are moving on, which is a big part of what’s going on in this album — the process that needs to happen or rather all the things that need to be processed in order to keep moving forward in life.
How has your tour been? The tour is going really well. I’m actually not on tour in Ashville right now, I’m doing some rehearsing, which gives me a great excuse to come to a town I usually only get to pass through. So I’m here for a couple of days and I have a rental car, I have wheels so I can drive around in the mountains and go for a hike. When we are in Santa Barbara we are going to be kicking off a big chunk of the touring, up until now we’ve been doing little chunks based around festivals. But the bulk of the tour, the first five-week run is going to be starting in Pasadena, and then shortly thereafter in Santa Barbara.
Then you are going to the U.K. for a while. Have you toured over there before? You’ve probably toured all over the world in one musical iteration or another. Not all over the world, but I’ve gone to the U.K. several times, I love travelling over there. This will be my first solo tour over there. Sometimes I’ll bring a friend or two to play with me and it will be a small band but I’m really looking forward to doing solo shows out there. This album I wrote mostly on guitar, it’s the first album that’s all original material and I think that might make it feel a little more cohesive, it might add to that, whereas my previous records were half originals, half covers. That is something else that is different about this album — it feels more personal as an entity. I wrote most of them on guitar — it seems like the right album and tour behind it solo for those reasons.
That seems so brave to me — just you and your guitar. It’s definitely a different kind of experience, it’s a different way of doing a show in many ways. It’s different because — I should say that in Santa Barbara and the western tour, I will have band members with me, those aren’t going to be solo shows—but when I do do solo shows, as I have done already and will continue to do, it’s a different kind of thing. The energy is different, you do different songs, you avoid certain songs, although most of these songs present themselves pretty well as a solo artist. If anything, I’ll probably cut a song or two from the album from the full band show. They all kind of sit well as a solo performance. Other songs that I haven’t done in a while sometimes have a different face when they are in the context of a solo show. It changes the scene quite a bit.
Is there a direction that you are consciously heading in your music career or is it more organic and you take things/opportunities as they arise and suit you? I think being a musician is just such a part of me. Just now listening to your question I was thinking about it and it’s kind of like life goals. Like, there are certain things you develop — some people have a bucket list, or maybe they think “I’d like to live in New York some day” or “I’d love to take a trip to Europe, I’d love to own a horse.” There are these big things that we imagine that are out there, but in general, we most of us I think don’t have outlines for our life’s 10-year or 20-year plan, and I’ve been really bad at that with music too. I have projects that I really want to be a part of that I’m trying to fit together. Different collaborations, things that I want to do that …you know, you sort of have these vague blocks of time set aside for them in the next coming years. But mostly it’s just an ongoing thing and I just want to keep challenging myself and keep throwing myself into new situations and forcing myself to adapt and learn and be uncomfortable and learn how to adapt and be useful in new situations. The thing that I don’t want to do is repeat myself or stay where it’s comfortable simply because it’s comfortable. The thing I really want to do is just keep moving and I think with each step you get to see a different horizon and you keep moving toward it and things come along the way and you love it and they pass by and you look at the next thing.
Sara Watkins plays Saturday, September 10, at the Lobero Theater (33 E. Canon Perdido). For tickets and information, call 966-4946 or see lobero.com