Nickel Creek play Taft Theatre
By Justin Kreitzer
To celebrate their 25th anniversary as a band, Nickel Creek – the trio featuring mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Sean Watkins and violinist Sara Watkins – have returned from a nine-year hiatus to deliver their stunning sixth album, A Dotted Line, released early last month via Nonesuch Records. They formed in 1989 as wide-eyed, yet super-talented pre-teens and have since brought their progressive bluegrass-leaning folk-pop music to the masses, winning Grammys and dominating both country and pop radio – and they look to continue that with their new album. Additionally, the band has returned to the road for the first time in over seven years and will make a stop in Cincinnati at Taft Theatre on Tuesday, May 6. Also performing is the likeminded Alabama-based sibling folk duo The Secret Sisters.
During the long hiatus, each member kept busy. Sara Watkins released two critically-acclaimed solo albums, including 2012’s Sun Midnight Sun. Chris Thile, the in-demand mandolin virtuoso, lent his skills to many recordings as a session player and with his supergroup, Punch Brothers. He also released three collaborative albums with Edgar Meyer, Michael Daves and Yo-Yo Ma, respectively. Sean Watkins also took advantage of the downtime by releasing two albums with Fiction Family, his folk-pop side project with Switchfoot vocalist Jon Foreman.
The group has returned refreshed, and the highly anticipated new album showcases their immeasurable talent alongside their innovative instrumentation, catchy melodies and tightly-wound vocal harmonies. They blend in a few of the new tricks they picked up along the way, especially on the percussion-heavy and pop-leaning “Hayloft” – a reimagining of a track from the Canadian indie rock group, Mother Mother. On the other hand, they treat their listeners to the jaunty, more traditional-sounding bluegrass instrumental “Elephant In The Corn” for a nice balance of classic and modern.
In anticipation of their upcoming performance, Dayton City Paper interviewed Sara Watkins and inquired about the band’s reformation, their 25th anniversary and the future of Nickel Creek.
Welcome back, Sara! Other than the band’s 25th anniversary this year, what else sparked the band to get back together?
Sean, Chris and I had casually discussed doing some shows together again at some point just for the fun of it, but when the 25th anniversary came up, and it just so happened that our various record cycles allowed it, we decided to put together a little run of shows … maybe record an EP for it … and it just snowballed. The writing process went really well and we left the first five days of writing with a handful of songs we were excited about, and a couple covers. We realized we could actually make a full record. So, we did!
– Sara Watkins
How did the time off during the hiatus influence the band when you got back together?
In these seven years since our last tour, I know we’ve learned a lot. Speaking for myself, having put out two of my own records and toured extensively behind each of them working from the ground up, working with a variety of musicians and performers and just being in other bands, I have learned an immense amount about the kind of musician and performer and person I want to be. We’ve all grown a lot and singing together, in particular, has been very satisfying. – SW
The new album was released on April 1 and you are about to start your first tour in over seven years. How has the response been from your fans to your return?
Tonight [April 16] in Birmingham, Ala. will be our first show. Ticket sales are really good, which is really exciting because we didn’t know precisely what to expect going into this. We’ve been intensely rehearsing in Nashville and I can’t wait for tonight to actually play these songs for people! – SW
One of my favorite songs on the new album is the single, “21st Of May,” with its Gospel-inflected traditional bluegrass style and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Can you please speak to the inspiration of the song, it was written from the perspective of the infamous pastor Harold Camping, right?
Yeah, Sean wrote that song! He wrote it in 2011 when there was a campaign notifying the world of the imminent rapture on the 21st of May. – SW
What song from A Dotted Line do you think will be the most fun to play live?
Well, I have a feeling “Destination” is going to be pretty sweet. –SW
Other than touring in support of the new album, what else does the future hold for Nickel Creek? Will we have to wait another eight years for a new album? I sure hope not!
I don’t know! We’ll find that out together! – SW
Nickel Creek will perform Tuesday, May 6 at Taft Theatre, 315 E. 5th St. in Cincinnati. The Secret Sisters will also perform. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information, please visit nickelcreek.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.