Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sarah Jarosz comes of age

Sarah Jarosz just might be the Alison Krauss of her generation. The multi-talented multi-instrumentalist is signed to influential roots music label Sugar Hill, who saw her first album earn several major award nominations at the young age of 18. Now 20 and a student at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston during the school year, Jarosz is spending this summer touring around the country. When LEO spoke with her earlier this week, she had just played at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. She will perform at ear X-tacy Records, at 5:30 p.m. Friday, for free, in her only scheduled local appearance.

LEO: Do you prefer playing outdoor shows or in clubs and theaters?
Sarah Jarosz: I like 'em both, honestly. There are different settings sometimes that I prefer – vlubs and theaters because it's a little more of a listening vibe, but when it comes to really being inspired and being reminded why I was so inspired by music in the first place, I think festivals really help with that vibe.

LEO: Now that you're getting a little older, are you starting to get younger players coming up to you, wanting to jam, like you did when you were younger?
SJ: I guess... I'm still just 20, so I think maybe it might be a few years before its more in number. There was a little girl, Bella, who came up to me at Telluride, who just started playing mandolin – she's, like, 11. I've definitely met a few young people along the way; it's always really inspiring to see other people coming up and doing it, reminding me of when I was that age and falling in love with this.

LEO: Does that make you feel more like a veteran?
SJ: (laughing) I wouldn't say “veteran,” but it makes me feel time a little more, and where I'm at in my life.

LEO: You're 20 now. Are you looking forward to having your first beer next year?
SJ: (laughing) It will be a monumental occasion.

LEO: You've been nominated for a Grammy, and AMAs, and other awards.
SJ: Yep, yep, it's all quite an honor, for sure. I'm still very encouraged by all the support.

LEO: Does that make you feel like the Grammys sometimes actually get it right?
SJ: (laughing) Yeah, definitely. I have a lot of respect for them, and it was such an exciting thing to get to go and experience. But, y'know, what I say often is that, as much as all of that support means, even if none of it existed, I would still be doing this. I'm not doing this for all that. It's just a nice extra thing that I feel honored by.

LEO: Do you see it helping to raise awareness, to get people out to see you or listen to your albums?
SJ: I think so. People obviously pay attention to that, so it definitely helps. I'm very thankful and fortunate to have that at a young age.

LEO: How many different instruments do you play?
SJ: Well, usually on the road, I travel with four instruments: mandolin, octave mandolin, clawhammer banjo and guitar. So, those are my main things. When it comes to being in the studio, it always opens itself up to experimentation. On the record, I was playing wurlitzer, electric guitar and a lot of different things.

LEO: Do they all come easily to you? Or are some harder to master?
SJ: I don't know, I just feel a different connection to each instrument. I know my way best around mandolin, but when it comes to songwriting, it's nice to be able to play all of them, because if you're looking for a different sort of sound, or have a lack of inspiration, then switching over to a different instrument, at times, helps give ideas.

LEO: Is there a style that you're really feeling right now?
SJ: Being at Telluride, I saw Tim O'Brien play; it's interesting, he's one of the reasons I even started playing music, I grew up listening to him... just revisiting the stuff I grew up listening to a long time ago. Like, the Punch Brothers – they're sounding so amazing right now.

LEO: Do you prefer playing versus singing or writing?
SJ: I like it all. I do go through phases of things that I really feel I need to work on – and, a lot of times, it's all three. But I think that they all feed into each other. A lot of the people that I've really respected growing up have been singers and instrumentalists and writers, and so that's something I strive to get better at.

LEO: Are there other artists outside of what people might think you'd be into that inspire you?
SJ: Oh, yeah, totally. That's one thing I feel fortunate enough to have had were parents that listened to a bunch of different stuff, all around the house. They're big music lovers – my mom plays a little guitar and writes songs, and my dad just loves it. A band like Radiohead, or the Decemberists, or Wilco – and then, now that I'm at the New England Conservatory up in Boston, getting into more jazz things that I'd never listened to before. It's just all really inspiring.

LEO: How much longer do you have at the Conservatory?
SJ: I just finished my second year, and I have two more years left.

LEO: I'm curious if you have any regrets yet?
SJ: I feel fortunate to say that I don't. Yet (laughing). I think for me, so far, that has to do with feeling really fortunate to be surrounded by a great team of people that have been helping me; the whole Sugar Hill Records team, my management- there's so many crazy things in this music business, and I feel really lucky to be with people that I can trust. They're supportive of me going to school and supportive of the music that I try to make. Also, having the opportunity to be surrounded by so many musicians that I feel inspired by on a daily basis, it's really special.

photo by Scott Simontacchi

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