When the acclaimed progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek stopped touring
and recording in 2007 to pursue other projects, gifted fiddler and singer Sara
Watkins stuck to what she knew. But that time has passed.
“A lot of the first record was me finding Nickel Creek
fans and showing them that I’m still alive and that they should care,” reflects Watkins. “In this record, I’m getting to play
for new people. And that’s really exciting.”
Sun Midnight Sun features more adventurous instrumentation and
a refreshed sense of creativity, which Watkins says was helped along by her decision to step away from her own music and hit
the road as a backing musician in 2011.
Touring with Americana favorites the Decemberists rejuvenated and inspired
her enough to enter the studio with a new producer (Blake Mills), and the resulting album pushes Watkins even farther away
from bluegrass. From the opening track — a grungy, distorted instrumental piece with a hint of Celtic flair — listeners
will feel the difference.
The album also includes a guest appearance by Watkins’ friend and indie darling Fiona Apple
on a cover of the Everly Brothers’ “You’re the One I Love,” so fast
it’s hardly recognizable, and a devastating indictment of a lover in “When
It Pleases You,” written by Dan Wilson. Meanwhile, “Take Up Your Spade” shows a young songwriter looking optimistically
toward her future.
CMT.com caught up with Watkins before opening a concert for Jackson Browne at Nashville’s
Ryman Auditorium. She filled us in on finding her feet as a solo artist, shaking loose new songs for Sun Midnight Sun
and discovering that being your own boss is far from easy.