Saturday, January 10, 2015

Interview with Sean Watkins

Americana phenom Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, Works Progress Administration) has played with a wide variety of other musicians during his two-and-half-decades-long career as a band member, sideman, and special guest. 

However, for the first time ever in his 25-year career, Watkins is about to embark on the first full-band tour of his solo material behind his most recent album All I Do Is Lie. To help celebrate the milestone, Watkins is offering the album in its entirety here on NoiseTrade. 

Watkins was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy tour prep schedule to chat with us about All I Do Is Lie and what it’s like to be in the solo spotlight after so many years of collaboration. 
NoiseTrade: Your most recent solo album All I Do Is Lie is far more relaxed and introspective than your releases with Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, or Works Progress Administration. Was that an intentional direction on your part or a natural outcome of only having to answer to (and speak for) one voice? 

Sean Watkins: It wasn't an intentional direction as much as I wanted to make a record that I really felt was "me" – whatever that meant. I wanted the lyrics to be largely autobiographical and I wanted the music to be a clear and honest representation of who I am as songwriter and composer. 

My goals were to write songs that I felt had a strong and clear message or meaning and then to record them in a simple, non-dressed up way. Not that I didn't have fun on the production side of things, I did, but my hope was that these songs would hold up alright in just a guitar/vocal situation. I guess it was sort of half intentional direction and half natural outcome. 

NT: From a songwriting perspective, do you approach your solo material any differently than you do your band member/sideman output? 

Watkins: Writing for a solo project can be equal parts fun, terrifying, rewarding, and disappointing. I feel like it's a case of one creative situation needing the other. I love being creative in a band situation and I’ve been fortunate to be in bands with people and musicians who I love and respect. I realize that that is not always the case and I am very appreciative of that. I have tried to take advantage of it and soak up all my times in those situations.

I also like the idea of having to stand on my own two feet, whatever that means. It's fun and good and healthy to do as an artist of any kind, I think. I love it all and I think each creative situation can help the other if you let it. 

NT: In what ways do you think being a part of multiple musical groups has impacted your solo material? 

Watkins: Being in more than one band is really important. If you can make it happen, you should. It alleviates the pressure on one or the other, especially if one band is more successful than the other. It's good to have multiple outlets. That way you aren't trying to cram all your ideas through one voice.

NT: I read that some parts of All I Do Is Lie were recorded in hotel rooms instead of an actual recording studio. Was this just a logistical decision or a purposeful move to capture specific moments in the creative process? 

Watkins: That is true. It was done out of necessity. I did a few songs in a studio near my home in Los Angeles and a few other songs in my own garage studio. I also did a few while I was out on the road a couple of years ago with Jackson Browne. He doesn't like to sing more than 2 or 3 nights in a row, so we had 2 or 3 days off a week. I had started my record right before leaving for that tour and I was antsy to stay productive while on the road. So there were a couple of small midwest studios and a few hotel rooms that were appropriated along the way. It was fun and challenging and a good use of downtime. 

NT: You’ve planned a full-on tour for All I Do Is Lie starting this month, which is a first for one of your solo albums. Are you more excited or nervous about being front and center for a whole show? 

Watkins: I'm totally excited. I've done a lot of solo shows but mostly just at home around Los Angeles. I'm taking out a couple of my closest friends and respected musicians along with me. It's going to be a blast. I'm really looking forward to it. 

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