Interview: Sara Watkins Shakes Off Complacency With ‘Young in All the Wrong Ways’
Sara Watkins has spent the past few years engaged in a variety of projects: Nickel Creek's A Dotted Line album, released in 2014; 2015's self-titled Watkins Family Hour project; and a two-song 7" with Sarah Jarosz and Aofie O’Donovan, also released in 2015, to say nothing of a plethora of tour dates. Still, she felt herself getting in a rut.
"There's so many things that we draw on to affect how we live life, you know?" Watkins tells The Boot. "[Despite those different projects], I find myself being redundant in ways that I don't mean to be, and it's not always musical; it can just be how I'm looking at the world or considering my friendships and my relationship with family, and wanting things to matter and not wanting to waste time by accidentally following the same patterns simply because they're easy -- wanting to make choices that mean something to me. And that takes a little bit of energy and focus for me."
You can't fault Watkins; after all, who hasn't found herself in a similar situation, especially when busy (see: all of those albums, all of those tour dates) or when things are going well (again, the bustling music career).
"Yeah, when things are going well, exactly," Watkins says. "And then you realize, when you have a second to look around, 'Oh, I've just kind of been in the same place.'
"And then you realize, 'Okay, I need to take some steps here,'" she adds.
It was with that mindset that Watkins crafted her third studio album, Young in All the Wrong Ways. In press releases, the singer calls the 10-track project a "breakup album with myself," but, with a small laugh, Watkins insists that's not as dramatic as it sounds.
"I was mostly referring to a couple of songs in particular," she notes, citing, specifically, "Invisible." "I think of this album more as a 'course direction' album -- the adjustment that everybody does every so often.
"We all go through the times of realizing that you've been somewhere a little bit too long, and you didn't mean to," she continues. "Sometimes we don't mean to find ourselves in these ruts, and in order to get yourself out of those, you kind of have to be a little aggressive or willing to disrupt some things."
Sometimes we don't mean to find ourselves in these ruts, and in order to get yourself out of those, you kind of have to be a little aggressive or willing to disrupt some things.
To aid in that disruption, Watkins did a couple things differently for Young in All the Wrong Ways: First, the album does not contain a single cover song; Watkins wrote or co-wrote the entire project -- a product of the fact that, she admits, "I think I have a little more to say."
To be fair, Watkins intended to put a cover song on her newest record, but when she started to record it, it quickly became clear that it didn't fit. She didn't even finish recording the tune.
"It's been really great to look at the setlist every night at be like, 'Wow, most of these are my songs,'" Watkins says. "That's a new thing for me; it's really nice."
Strangely, spending so much time performing covers with the Watkins Family Hour helped Watkins' self-penned musical output: "I think that kind of got it out of my system," she muses. "I really love singing covers ... I get tired of my own perspective and my own lyrical voice ... but I got to do that last year ... and in a strange way, it kind of made way, in my own brain, for me to play these songs, figure out what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it."
She adds, "That's why it's fun to be a part of a lot of different projects, be in different bands: They all help each other, they all give room for each other ..."
Additionally, while crafting Young in All the Wrong Ways, Watkins did not have a label or manager on board. And while she says she's never had a label that "tried to affect the creative output of albums for me," there was a difference in the sense of ownership Watkins felt throughout the process.
"A lot of what's behind some of these lyrics is this 'no one's going to do it for you; make it happen, make the changes that you want to see' kind of sentiment," she explains, "and it was all in line; it coincided well with where I was ... personally and professionally."
That's not to say that nothing stayed the same or was familiar, however. In fact, Watkins worked with a number of well-known musicians and friends on the disc: Jarosz and O'Donovan provide harmonies, while, among others, the Punch Brothers' Chris Eldridge and Paul Kowert play on the album, which was produced by another Punch Brothers member, Gabe Witcher.
"It just seemed like it would be really fun to play these songs with them," Watkins explains. "They just seemed to be the right people for the gig, and they were a great match to each other."
The world changes very quickly, and I hope to continue to grow with it and see things as I feel today rather than as I did five years ago.
Watkins just recently began touring in support of Young in All the Wrong Ways, but she says that, already, she's seen fans responding to the record's final song, "Tenderhearted," as well as the more aggressive "Young in All the Wrong Ways" and "Say So."
"It's been really fun to get to actually play [these songs] to an audience, see what they respond to, mess around with the setlist and see where -- just give it life," she notes. "The songs were meant to be played for people. That's how I always related to music, and that's the next step; that's the completion of it."
As a sentiment, Young in All the Wrong Ways can sound a bit ... well, negative. Watkins, however, points out that, as human beings, we often feel "young in all the wrong ways" because we're growing -- and that's a good thing.
"I think everyone relates to feeling like that," Watkins says, "... your transitional times of life where you're -- you can feel a page turning somehow, and it's hard to relate to who you were or how you saw the world three weeks ago even ...
"The world changes very quickly," she concludes, "and I hope to continue to grow with it and see things as I feel today rather than as I did five years ago."
Watch Sara Watkins' "Young in All the Wrong Ways" Music Video
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