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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
THE MUSIC LOUNGE
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins lays it on the (dotted) line

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

Wait! So there's a bluegrass act that covers Britney Spears, Nirvana and Radiohead? Damn right there is! Nickel Creek is a Grammy award-winning trio - Chris Thile, Sean Watkins, Sara Watkins - who individually are expert string musicians. Together, they're a potent blend of traditional bluegrass, folk and country with subtle hints of pop and rock. The acclaimed three-piece, who've easily sold out the Paramount Theatre multiple times and appeared on Bumbershoot's main stage, took a hiatus 7 years ago to pursue solo journeys and only this year have returned with a new album, A Dotted Line, and a nationwide tour that finds them playing to capacity crowds in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, to name a few. All tickets for their performance at the Moore Theatre next weekend, May 17, have been gone for weeks. But, Seattle fans have another chance to see them live this summer when they appear at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on August 1. Visit www.ste-michelle.com for ticket information. I reached Sara Watkins by phone a few weeks ago, just before Nickel Creek was to perform on The Tonight Show. Here's what this amazingly talented singer-songwriter-fiddler discussed with me inside The Music Lounge.

Albert Rodriguez: In 2007, you guys decided to go your own way. Was that meant to be a permanent breakup, or did you know that you'd be reuniting again down the road?

Sara Watkins: Well, our tour was called Farewell (For Now) because we always had an idea that we'd be doing something in the future. Honestly, we haven't been talking about this as a reunion at all. We put it on the shelf for a while, but we did not break up, we just didn't tour or record for a while. It just feels that we're picking up where we left off. We've played with each other off stage and sat in on each other's shows over the years and hung out and maintained close friendships, but we just haven't toured or made a record. So, it doesn't feel like a reunion at all.

Rodriguez: Had you anticipated the length of time between albums, or did you think it would be shorter than seven years?

Watkins: I think this is about right, honestly. I knew it was going to be at least five years, just because it takes so long to get anything going, in terms of other projects. We all jumped into our own projects and that takes time. You've gotta make records and spend time on the road touring those things, and introducing yourself to people under a new name. I knew it was going to be a while, but we didn't really have plans. We just put it down for a while and then over conversation or over dinner we'd say, Oh, next time we should do this.

Rodriguez: How many songs from the new album are you guys rehearsing to include on this tour?

Watkins: We're going to be ready to play everything off this new album. The old catalog, we're gonna pick favorites. Some of the songs we stopped playing live a long time ago, some we'll try for the first time probably, and a lot of the old favorites we're gonna include. We want people to enjoy the show, so we're gonna try to play the songs people want to hear.

Rodriguez: I've seen Nickel Creek twice in concert and both times you played cover songs, from Nirvana and the Beatles. Are there any currents songs, maybe like Royals or Thrift Shop, that you'll be including on your upcoming set lists?

Watkins: We haven't discussed that yet. I don't know. I think our priority is getting back to our old material, and we'll see what comes up as far as cover songs. I'm sure something will present itself.

Rodriguez: But that does play into the evolution of Nickel Creek, that you were inspired by so much of what's out there and you took that inspiration and created something from it.

Watkins: Yeah, Sean and Chris are so good at getting these pop songs and rock songs - things you wouldn't expect to hear on an acoustic guitar and a mandolin - and finding some way to reinterpret them on their instruments; they are particularly really good at it. We used to do a cover of Toxic and our bass player jumped in with both feet on that. We tried to get all the parts of the production on that song. It's a fun little game and challenge, to rework other kinds of music with the limitations of your instrument.

Rodriguez: You've been to Seattle numerous times, with Nickel Creek and as a solo artist. Do you have any fond memories, anything you remember about Seattle?

Watkins: You saw us at the Paramount, right?

Rodriguez: Right, and I met you guys backstage before the show, too.

Watkins: I loved those shows! We did three shows there, I think. One time we played two shows back-to-back and it was so much fun. I also had a night off in Seattle and went into The Crocodile when it was around and Matt Chamberlain was playing drums. It's a great city to discover things. One of my favorite things, speaking of Matt Chamberlain: I was doing a show at the Tractor Tavern; I think it was for my first record. It was just three of us - my brother Sean was helping me out playing guitar on that tour and Sebastian Steinberg was playing bass with me, and Matt Chamberlain came by with Tiny Little Drum Kit and it was so much fun! The room was packed, and having Matt there was electrifying to all of us. On stage it was so fun; it just transformed all these songs into a whole other thing.

Rodriguez: Things have changed since your last tour; people can now record footage of live shows with their cell phones. Does it bother you at all when concertgoers are recording videos while you're performing?

Watkins: It depends. We haven't expressed our band policy on that yet. But sometimes you see people filming with iPads and it blocks the people behind them, and it's kind of distracting to look out into the audience and see this white square. Our goal from stage is to share a moment with everybody in the audience, and as far as we're concerned we're not looking at our phones during the show. I feel that's the most in-the-moment I can possibly be, and the most fun performances are when you look out there and the audience is in the moment and they're not trying to update their status.

Rodriguez: Where do you keep your Grammy?

Watkins: [laughs] Right now, it's in the corner on the left of my stereo. [laughs] It's behind a couple of other trophies, but I like seeing it there.

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