INTERVIEW by GARY GOLDMAN | PHOTOGRAPHY by SCOTT SIMONTACCHI
After discovering the magic of singing at age two and the power of musical instruments throughout her childhood, Texas native Sarah Jarosz went to Boston’s New England Conservatory to master her craft as an acoustic musician. Sure enough, her brilliant first album, Songs Up In Her Head, received GRAMMY and Americana Music Awards nominations, earning her the respect of top critics and, surprisingly, of an ever-growing young audience. Her new album, Follow Me Down, validates her as a singer/songwriter here to stay, able to jump from timeless ballads to Radiohead covers. In addition to her accomplishments at just twenty years old, the bluegrass prodigy (who can play eight instruments) is also a down-to-earth girl who just really enjoys surrounding herself with talented musicians and connecting with her fans when on stage.
Congratulations on the success of your second album, Follow Me Down. Where are you right now?
I’ve been touring all summer so far, starting back in May. I am currently in Santa Monica right now and leaving soon for Canada and then Scotland in July.
From your hometown in Texas to becoming a phenomenon, can you walk me through the early stages of your career?
I was born in Austin and raised liberally. Music was always an important thing, and I got the music bug when I was just a kid going around music festivals. I started singing when I was two, so that was really my first instrument and the one that I still rely on the most. At age ten, I started playing the mandolin and got into the bluegrass scene.
You actually play eight instruments on your new album, which is quite a remarkable achievement!
I wanted to experiment with new and different sounds on Follow Me Down, you know? I think it’s a really natural progression for me. It’s been two years since my first album, and I went through a lot of changes both musically and personally.
One of the things that sticks out when listening to your music or learning about you is the importance of collaboration. How important is it for you to surround yourself with talented musicians?
It’s definitely a huge asset. For me, one of the most important things as a musician is being the best listener that I can be. Having the opportunity to be surrounded by so many great, experienced people I can learn something from is extremely valuable. I’ve had a lot of mentors growing up. One of the early ones is Tim O’Brien, who continues to be one of my favorite musicians and a great influence on me: he plays many different instruments and is the type of person I strive to be.
You’re twenty years old, but your style might not instinctively be representative of what young people listen to. How has the younger audience been responding to your albums?
It’s actually been encouraging, especially on the tour, to see more and more of a younger presence at my shows. Keeping up with record sales, 60% of my song purchases are digital: there’s definitely a growing younger presence in terms of listeners of my music and that’s very exciting.
There is a rise of singer/songwriters, with Adele and Lady Gaga topping the charts. How do you explain that trend?
There’s something to be said for people singing other people’s songs, and I certainly do so as well… but people right now are longing for a sense of honesty in music. It only helps when they know it’s an original song by the artist.
For some of our readers who might not know your repertoire, what three songs would you personally choose for a Sarah Jarosz mix tape?
That’s an interesting question! One of the earliest songs I wrote, called “Tell Me True,” and then maybe “My Muse,” and the single from the new album, “Come Around.”
“My Muse” is such a beautiful song – would you actually mind walking me through the songwriting process for that particular track?
Sure! It was one of those songs that was a gift: it all came in at once. Sometimes, the songwriting process is about piecing together ideas I’ve collected over a certain amount of time. For “My Muse,” I wrote the music and lyrics together, and it happened fast. Those are the special songs, I think.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Supporting the music by coming to live shows is really helpful, and buying the music – whether on iTunes or Amazon. For me, as a fellow musician, just being the best listener that you can be and trying to discover new things. It means a lot of when a show is sold out and lots of people are there to support.