Sitting Down With Sarah Jarosz

Charlotte Baroody



Twice Grammy Award nominated singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz co-headlined a slow-cooked country blues show at Charleston Music Hall October 1st with Parker Millsap.


Jarosz has a sound directly influenced by contemporary folk and Americana, but I personally describe Sarah Jarosz (because the aforementioned just isn’t enough) as the belle of the bluegrass ball. Her prodigious use of guitar, banjo and octave mandolin are more than enough to crown her as folk music's new mistress. Jarosz's 4th album, “Undercurrent”, was just released via Sugarhill Records. Since its June 17th release, Jarosz has received critical acclaim and left fans and critics awestruck by her ability to metamorphosize from her graciously received, Grammy nominated, "Up in Bones" to new album, “Undercurrent”. Jarosz seems to wade in the waters of beautiful lyrics and chilling melodies. I had a chance to speak to Jarosz and she was as enthralling in her interview as she is with her captivating vocals. Riding this “Undercurrent” with Jarosz has been worth its weight in gold.



What is the theme behind Undercurrent?

SJ: I found myself using the word "undercurrent" a lot in the song "Everything to Hide”. That word really stuck out to me and became the vibe of my record. It was more about the surface below instead of everything on my last records that were more visible. This was more about life going against the grain and using darker material. I was writing this alone and I think you can feel the sparseness in the music.


Do you have a pre-show routine?

SJ: I've watched different singers open and have different rituals. For instance, Gillian Welch told a story about how Johnny Cash would always walk out before shows and shake a ton of fan's  hands, but I don't even go out on stage and tune. I like to sit and be quiet and still. I know once I'm on stage it's time for me to connect to my audience and to leave them with that element of surprise and preservation of the experience for all of us. I want to make that effort to connect with my audience.


What are your necessary comforts on the road? 

SJ: I try to work and maintain a schedule and treat my tours like real life. I simulate a routine by bringing my favorite coffees and going for a run here and there. But, I'm a huge foodie so I like to do a little homework before I arrive somewhere and find where the best restaurants are and try special foods indigenous to that area. I'm always listening to music, whether I'm flying, on the subway or anywhere- that's how I stay inspired.


In your writing process- which usually comes first? 

SJ: Personal introspective has had been where I first start my writing. My personal experiences that other people can hopefully relate to. I collect ideas, melodic and lyric ideas, and see what works together. I write about myself and how I observe other things and it all comes together in one big process. 


How long did you work on your latest album Undercurrent? 

SJ: I started in the spring of 2014 and worked for a year and a half writing and collecting songs. This was a whole new process for me because I had so much more freedom on this record. On my previous albums, I had been in school and had to write here and there when I could, but on this one I could devote a lot of time just writing. And it took about two months to record.


What was your draw to singing and playing music? Are your parents musicians? 

SJ: My mother has always sung and played the guitar as a hobby and my dad loves music so much. Both of my parents are teachers and I am an only child, so in the summers my parents would take me to as many music festivals as possible. They were always supportive and helpful with helping me shape the vision I had selected for myself. I started playing the mandolin at nine years old, then the guitar and the banjo. At 17, I learned how to play the octave mandolin and that is really the instrument that helped me find my sound and super inspired me with my writing. 


Do you have a funny road story or concert story you don't mind sharing with us? 

SJ: Well, there is always at least one overenthusiastic fan in the front row singing the songs with me, but singing them louder than me. That always kind of makes me and the band laugh a little, where it's very sweet. It's also funny. And once we were playing with the Milk Carton Kids in Des Moines, Iowa and we heard there was a bat living in the stadium. We waited and waited, very anxious to see it, but it never flew out during rehearsals. During the actual concert, my band was playing this really sensitive song and the bat came flying out and relieved himself over the audience. Now that was hard to get through. 


What's your favorite part about performing live?

SJ: As a musician, I spend numerous hours working alone, working on my craft, singing and songwriting. In the studio, I am collaborating and that's lovely. 

But after some chipping away, to get out and finally share with people and have fans come up and say something helped them or inspired them to play music. It's an honor to have these people spend their time with me and I want to create music that moves them. I love the stage. It's a natural extension of who I am.