Sara Watkins may be best known for her brilliant fiddle work with Nickel Creek, but expect that to change as more critics and fans hear her extraordinary solo release Sun Midnight Sun. Clearly, the fiddle virtuoso is a solo artist with whom to be reckoned.
Watkins credits her time touring with The Decemberists for revving up her creative juices, resulting in the lush 10-track Americana album. Guests include Jackson Brown and Fiona Apple, and songs range from the Everly Brothers‘ “You’re the One I Love,” and Willie Nelson‘s “I’m a Memory,” to iconic songwriter Dan Wilson‘s “If It Pleases You.” But make no mistake, Sun Midnight Sun is all Watkins. Not only did she write or co-write the other songs on the album, but the guests and even the cover songs emerge simply as accents to her own unique songwriting.
“I really couldn’t point to my finger at any one thing,” said Watkins when asked how she honed her songwriting skills, which she’s criticized in the past. “Everyone hopes to get better at their craft and the way to do it is to write, and a lot has to do with listening to other people’s music and admiring their work and trying to get that to rub off on you in some way.”
Watkins credits co-producer and songwriting partner Blake Mills, formerly of Dawes, with providing support as she balanced her music between Nickel Creek’s bluegrass roots and a bit more rock sensibility.
“Blake is a player himself and he has spent a whole lot of time in the studio. Everything went really fast,” she said. “We saw the songs grow really quickly so there weren’t a whole lot of passes on everything. If we were trying to build string arrangements for a song, those things take a little bit of thought. And if we needed to get something right, we would take the time to do it. But personally I try to keep performances sounding like they came from humans, not machines.”
It is apparent that the album was not over-produced or put together by formula. Indeed, Watkins has a history of letting her muse direct song development, and those on this album are no exception.
“You want a record to make sense and and be cohesive but you don’t want to put limitations on it for the sake of limitations, because you are afraid of going in a new direction,” she said. “If you go into the studio, that’s a means to explore different options of where the songs can go. You try things. If something doesn’t seem like the right direction, then you go in and undo it and go in a new direction. A lot of making music is just trial and error.”
And clearly that leads to success for Watkins.
Find out more about Watkins music and upcoming tours on her official website.
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