It's spring but it's no break for Grammy-nominated teenager Sarah Jarosz
It’s Spring Break in the United States, and all over the country students are coming down from hard months of study, heading for beach resorts and bars. There’s no rest for Sarah Jarosz, though; she’s on the road, with her many instruments, making the most of every free day to play her music and promote her forthcoming CD.
“It’s a tough balance sometimes,” admits the 19-year-old. “All the breaks in school I have to be working musically. But I can’t complain. I feel lucky to be so busy.”
Jarosz picked up the mandolin when she was 10, and was appearing on stage by age 12. With guitar and banjo added to her repertoire, a strong voice and a host of self-penned songs, she was signed by Sugar Hill Records when she was 16. Her first album, Song Up in her Head, came out in 2009, and earned her a Grammy nomination. The new one, Follow Me Down, is released next month.
“It started early but it all felt very natural,” she says. I’m blessed with two amazing parents who never forced anything on me. It was all because I loved it and wanted to do it, begging them to take me to all these things. And they did.”
Jarosz grew up in Wimberley, Texas, a 45-minute drive from the musical city of Austin, giving her plenty of opportunities to take in the music.
“It’s just a great place to grow up, to have the small-town vibe of Wimberley but then to be so close to a city like Austin was great, especially when I started getting into music. In Wimberley I found out about this weekly Friday night bluegrass jam that I started going to, which is kind of how I fell in love with it. Then I started going to Austin, playing more music there, going to more festivals, building up experiences.
In high school, she acknowledges, balancing her fledgling music career with her education was difficult. “There were definitely times when I kind of felt like I had two lives going on.” And many musicians, with a guaranteed career in front of them, might choose to skip college. Jarosz admits she was tempted.
“ I thought about what it would be like to just go straight out onto the road. That was definitely tempting. But there was a big part of me that wanted to preserve these special years of my life when I can just be a normal college kid, go to college and study, and so I’m really glad I made the decision.”
Jarosz is completing the second year of a four-year Bachelor of Music course at the New England Conservatory in Boston, majoring in contemporary improvisation in voice. “I’ve learned so much since I’ve been there,” she says.
“I get to do music things on the weekend and during the summer, and eventually when I’m done with school really kick into that full-time. For now it’s nice to have the two.”
Jarosz says she takes playing, singing and songwriting equally seriously.
“I find that my heroes are amazing at all three, and so I strive to work on all aspects of it. They’re all special in different ways. Someone like Tim O’Brien or Darrell Scott or Gillian Welch, amazing musicians and writers, and I’ve always respected that.”
Jarosz’s new album is heavy on the big-time names, including Scott, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Shawn Colvin and Punch Brothers. She wrote nine of the 11 tracks herself – the other two are covers of Radiohead's "The Tourist" and Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” – with Vince Gill on harmony vocals. She says it’s a little less rootsy than her previous album – or at least, it has drums on it.
“Obviously being in school I’ve learned a lot of things, been exposed to a lot of styles, lot of new inspirations, sounds, things in my musical vocabulary that I wanted to make use of, and so it was a fun record to make. It was challenging and took about a year for the whole thing to be done. I’m really excited about it.
“Probably the biggest difference between the first album and the second is that I’ve since moved away from home, gone to Boston, gone through two years almost of college. A lot has happened in those two years, a lot of growing. It’s interesting to see new perspectives and things.”
Jarosz made her first ever trip to the UK last month to take part in BBC 4’s “Transatlantic Sessions”.
“It was a great experience for me to get to share music with all those musicians, Americans and British alike. It was a very inspiring week and I came away from it with all sorts of new ideas . Everyone’s so lovely, everyone’s in it for the same reasons. I felt honoured to be a part of it.”
She will be back in the UK this summer as part of a wide-ranging summer tour with her trio that will run, well, from the end of the college term until she’s due back in Boston for her third year!
Sarah Jarosz UK gig dates: click here.