10 Questions: Sarah Jarosz

With her debut record, Song Up In Her Head, on shelves for just over a month and just days before her first main set at Colorado’s RockyGrass Festival, Sarah Jarosz is keeping herself busy.

And that’s not taking into account the 18-year-old’s preparations for her freshman year of college this fall.

Last week she took a few minutes to answer some questions about the juggling act, her favorite places to get coffee and the new album.

Q: Your new album is out now and you’ve graduated (from high school), how does it all feel?

A: It feels amazing, timing-wise it was really cool. I graduated at the end of May and just about a month later, my album came out so it was such an exciting time in my life. This whole summer has been amazing. But for those two milestones to happen very close to each other was a very cool thing to get to experiences.

Q: You had two scholarship offers from music schools in Boston, have you made a decision?

A: I auditioned and applied for Berklee School of Music and New England Conservatory and they both offered me scholarships, but I’ve decided to go to New England Conservatory of music. So I’ll be moving up there at the end of August and I’m so excited about that.

How do you plan to juggle college with being a musician?

I had to do it in high school and it was definitely the biggest challenge as far as doing the whole balancing act. I think I’ll just try to carry the skills that I learned from doing it in high school over to college. I realize it will be even more of a challenge on the college level but I’m definitely ready and willing to take that challenge on. It’ll be an adventure for sure.

Q: The album has two covers, Tom Waits and the Decemberists, are there any songs that you would love to cover but that might be a little too far “out there?”

A: As far as choosing covers to go on the actual album, I knew that those two, ‘Shankhill Butchers’ and the Tom Waits one, I felt like they really fit in with the rest of my original material. As far as other covers that are out of my genre, I love doing things at live shows. I’ve covered Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and The Beatles’ ‘Drive My Car.’

It’s really cool to do fun covers at live shows, but as far as picking covers for the album, it’s a whole process to decide what works best with the original material and for the album itself I thought that the Tom Waits and the Collin Meloy fit in really well.

Q: How do you come up with ideas and new songs?

A: It’s a varying process for me, some of the song on the CD, some of them just would come – they were like gifts the air sort of, that’s really cool when that happens, when a song just comes pretty quickly. But other times, and a lot recently, I have this kind of method where, well, not really a method but I’ll record melodies, melodic ideas that I have and I also keep several journals all over the place and sometimes what I’ll do is go back through them and see what works well together and sculpt the song around that.

Q: It’s your eighth year coming to RockyGrass, but your first main set – what do you think will be different about it, what are you most excited about?

A: RockyGrass has been, oh my gosh I can’t even say enough good things, it’s kind of where it all started for me outside of Texas. Yeah, eight years ago was my first one and I’ve been doing the academy and the festival that whole time. Unfortunately I won’t be able to go to the academy this year. And it’s my first main set, I’m so thrilled.

I think one of the exciting things about it is that whenever I return to RockyGrass every year it really feels like a big family reunion because I’ve made so many friends there over the years. I’m excited for the set because it always feels so comfortable when I’m there. it’s one of the happiest weeks of my life and I’m really excited to go back.

Q: You’ve already worked with so many musicians, both live and on the album, who’s next on the list of people you’d like to work with?

A: I would have to say, well, Gillian Welch is one of my biggest heroes and I’m really heavily influenced by her music so I would love to get to meet her and work with her someday.

Q: What do you always take with you on tour?

A: Way too many clothes, usually. I find that I sometimes pack too much. I’m actually leaving to go play at Grey Fox in New York and then I’m going to be gone for about a month so I always want to make sure that I have enough stuff, but I’m learning to pack lighter.

I always bring a journal with me, for sure. And I have a little iPod recorder, that’s crucial. And some sound equipment and then all of my instruments. I travel with four instrumental, my mandolin, my guitar and my clawhammer banjo and my octave mandolin.

Q: Do you have any favorite stops while you’re out on the road?

A: Two things that come to mind are whenever I’m in Nashville, I always love going to the Frothy Monkey, it’s like a little coffee house. I’m big on coffee houses.

Whenever I’m in New York City there’s this place called the Sensuous Bean, which is really a great coffee shop. They have all these different flavors of coffee. Traveling is one of my favorite things in the world and that’s a good thing, since I’m a musician, we have to travel around. I love it and I love discovering new places and seeing new things.

Q: What other music do you listen to?

A: Definitely Gillian (Welch) and Tim O’Brien is a huge influence and mentor to me, I listen to him all the time. The Decemberists and Wilco and Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Paul Simon, Shawn Colvin, I could go on for days.

Basically the important thing to know about my musical tastes is that I really try to listen to as many different styles and musicians as possible and just try to be influenced by as many outlets and artists and original music as possible.

Q: Having started your career so young, did you ever consider any other careers?

A: Music has always been my biggest passion. Of course when I was like five or something I would say things like, ‘Oh, I want to be a veterinarian!’ or something like that but I really, honestly can’t picture myself doing anything else and being truly happy.

School has always been really important to me and I’ve always tried to do well in school to keep my options open but music’s my true passion.

Where do you hope to end up with the music, what’s next?

Really, the next thing is moving to Boston and trying to get acclimated to that whole environment and seeing where that takes me. And trying to focus on school and also my music career and really the goal for me is to keep writing as much as possible and keep creating the most original music I can. To keep making records and playing shows.

Sarah will be playing RockyGrass on Sunday (07/26) afternoon at 2pm.
Check out SarahJarosz.com for more tour dates and info.
Photo by Scott Simontacchi
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