Sarah Jarosz Balances Career, School and Many Instruments

It’s very rare when you meet someone like Sarah Jarosz, a young musician who possesses such grace and sensible vulnerability at once. The Texas native approaches her folky bluegrass with gentle hesitation, meticulously nailing every last note, making her musicianship speak volumes.

Jarosz’s latest album, Follow Me Down, is intriguing and intimidating from a technical standpoint, yet the music is undoubtedly beautiful. She chatted with over the summer to discuss her growth as an emerging artist while straddling schoolwork, touring and working with her heroes.

CMT: You play several different instruments. What interests you about them?

Jarosz: During my show, I play mandolin, octave mandolin, clawhammer banjo and guitar. Mandolin was my first, primary instrument that I really fell in love with and got serious about. But then, all of the other ones just kind of fell into place. I started going to this bluegrass jam in my hometown of Wimberley, Texas. From playing with the people there, it being a jam-type situation, just trying out new instruments. It’s great as a songwriter to have all the different sounds and instruments to go to for inspiration.

When do you feel most yourself: playing with your band or performing alone?

I think I love both for different reasons. I love the solo performance because I get to take my time and go at my own pace. I’ve been performing as a solo act for a long time, but I love playing with the guys because there’s this new sense of energy that they bring along. They’re such amazing musicians, so it brings it to another level. … I’ve known both of them [violinist Alex Hargreaves and cellist Nathaniel Smith] for about seven years. We’ve been playing as a trio for about three. They’re on fiddle and cello, and they’re amazing musicians, and I think we all push each other in different ways.

You go to the New England Conservatory of Music and you’re a musician on the road. Is it hard to balance both?

It’s definitely a challenge sometimes. I’ve sort of been doing that “balancing-the-school-with-the-music” life since all the way through high school and now college. I’ve learned I have to take it day by day … traveling, leaving on the weekend and doing gigs and all the school work. When it all comes down to it, I’m really grateful to have both in my life. The school thing has been such a great experience for me. It’s given me the reality of being a college student and preserving this time in my life while also having chances to do things like [playing festivals]. So I feel pretty fortunate.

Do you ever feel like because you’re a woman and you’re so young that sometimes other artists or other people in the music industry underestimate your talent?

That’s interesting. I’m sure there’s maybe some of that, but I personally have always felt nothing but support, especially from my heroes I grew up listening to. Even in the sense that so many of them have been a part of the two albums that I’ve made. It’s like the Punch Brothers. They’re such a great band. [Punch Brothers mandolinist Chris Thile] was one of the first people that was one of my big heroes and a reason why I started playing this music. Now to be friends with those guys and have them be mentors on top of that is pretty special. I think it says a lot about the music community, especially in the acoustic world. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from those guys and that whole world of musicians.

What would your advice be to young musicians trying to make it?

Gosh, it’s different for everyone — how they end up where they are. For me, it was just a matter of persistence. Just trying to do as much as possible and, really, when it comes down to it, be true to myself and my music and not be afraid to write my own songs. Be creative in that sense. I feel fortunate that I’ve had heroes to look up to that are like that, too. Yeah, it can be a crazy, crazy scene — this music business — but it’s worth it to keep pushing through.