Sarah Jarosz Builds Career After College

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Sarah Jarosz’s excellent Build Me Up From Bones glides and grooves with effortless elegance. The best part is the recent college graduate’s subtly stunning take on Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.” Perfect.

“The record was coming together in my last semester of school, in the last six months,” says Jarosz, who grew up in Central Texas and studied music at the New England Conservatory. “It was a combination of things I learned in the last four years at school and working with a trio the last three years.”

CMT Edge: Explain the new album’s title.

Jarosz: “Build Me Up From Bones” was one of the first songs I wrote for this record. It was in the process of writing that one that I knew it was coming together, and I could see a vision. That song really encompasses the feel and the vibe of the album as a whole. Also, I just like the title and thought it’d be cool. (laughs)

Does the album have a common lyrical theme?

It’s interesting, I typically don’t approach going into an album with a theme or concept. A lot of things just happen as each song happens, but I definitely feel that the songs overall are more personal and more imagery-driven, especially with all the co-writing I did on this album. I was able to branch out in terms of co-writing, which I was a little apprehensive about, but I think it really paid off.

What does co-writing allow you?

I guess why I was apprehensive was that writing to me is a very personal process, but there is a downside. I can put it off as long as it seems necessary. (laughs) One great thing about co-writing is that you’re sitting in a room with someone, and you’re able to throw ideas out in a quicker way and brainstorm. In that sense, it’s like a deadline in a way: “We made the effort to sit down here and work and write. Let’s try to get this thing done.” So far, I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve teamed up with, like Jedd Hughes and Darrell Scott.

Describe writing with Darrell Scott.

Oh, man! He’s one of my musical heroes and has been for a long time. We’d been in touch about wanting to write together, and close to a couple months into the album, we were trying to get together. Finally in May, we found some time in Nashville. I went over to his house, and we spent the whole day talking and writing. We actually wrote another song that didn’t wind up on the album, but it was a really special day getting to talk with him and see his process.

Tell the story behind writing the one that did make the album.

The song, “1,000 Things,” I had been working on for several months as a seed. I had most of the melody in place, but I could never quite finish the words. I emailed the song to him and was like, “Hey, I think this would be a really good fit for us.” We bounced emails back and forth for a couple days, and that’s how the lyrics were finished. He’s totally an inspiring force of nature when it comes to all things musical.

Word is he cooks great dinners, too.

Yeah, yeah. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have any of his cooking, but I’ve heard the same. He’s an amazing chef!

Who do you draw from as a lyricist?

Oh, man, I guess some of my biggest influences as far as songwriting would be Gillian Welch and Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon. They’re my biggest favorites. I could go on and on, but I feel lyrically those are the people I hold up high.

Why cover Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”?

Yeah, it’s funny. I wasn’t planning on covering two Dylan songs on two records in a row. [Jarosz covered Dylan’s “Annabelle Lee” on 2011’s Follow Me Down.] It was backstage before a show about a year ago, and [cellist Nathaniel Smith] and I were jamming and he mentioned that song. Blood on the Tracks is probably my favorite Dylan album if I have to choose one. Nat mentioned that song, and the way we played it was pretty close to how you hear it on the album.

On top of loving the song and feeling that it brought something to the record that wasn’t already there, it was the textural thing of just the voice and the cello. I’ve never recorded something that stripped-down before, so that was really intriguing to me.

You’ve said painting and poetry helped you get into music in a deeper way. Explain.

Totally. It was my last year at NEC, and I had some electives to take of visual arts and poetry classes for a couple semesters. I think after having three full years studying music, it was nice to have an outlet to express myself creatively not in a musical way, especially with the poetry I did the last year. To be writing in a non-musical setting was really freeing for me. It stretched me in that way, and it’s something I hope to keep doing.

How does it feel to be finished with school?

It feels really good. (laughs) I feel like it’s sinking in now that I’m realizing I don’t have to go back. It was sort of surreal when it first happened, but I’m very happy to be done.

Why was school important in the first place? You already had a career.

Yeah, but I guess it was always a goal of mine for a long time to finish college and have the college experience and not skip over that time in my life. On top of really loving what NEC had to offer, the Boston music scene in general is really thriving. A lot of the friends I made at music camps in the summer growing up were migrating to Boston, so even without the school part, I knew that’s where I wanted to end up after high school.

Do you ever plan to come back to Central Texas?

I actually just moved to New York City a few weeks ago, so I’m probably going to try this out for an indefinite amount of time. I’m loving it so much so far.

It sounds like the acoustic music scene is pretty great there right now.

Yeah. Totally. A big factor in wanting to move here, aside from it just being New York City, is that a lot of my friends from Boston have been making the move down here. It’s a really great scene. It feels like a very exciting epicenter to be in right now.

Don’t take everyone away from Austin, all right?

(laughs) I know! I love it there, too. I miss it a lot. I think Austin will always hold a very huge part in my heart, but I’ve been wanting to move to New York since I was 15. I had to make it happen.

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