Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins on How They're "Holding Nothing Back" on Their New Album

It's been seven years or so since the last time the music world has seen or heard anything from Nickel Creek. But now, in honor of the progressive bluegrass trio's twenty-fifth anniversary, musical siblings Sara and Sean Watkins and their longtime friend Chris Thile have dusted off their respective instruments and resumed playing and touring together, sounding very much like they never left each other.

Earlier this year, the trio of three finger-plucking childhood friends released A Dotted Line, the first Nickel Creek album in nine years, and have embarked on a nationwide tour to show off new songs, old favorites, and reassure fans that the band's "indefinite hiatus" is over with and done.

In honor of Nickel Creek's upcoming performance at Mesa Arts Center this week, Up On the Sun had the opportunity to converse with Watkins, the band's singer and fiddler, about why they decided to return from hiatus and record again.

Nickel Creek formed in 1989, when you were eight years old. What sparked the bluegrass firework at such a young age? My family took us to see a bluegrass band play every Saturday near where I grew up. Something about being part of the scene where there was a great community around us was very inspiring. When Sean and I started playing we met Chris and his family, and we all just clicked. We began locally, and then started traveling to festivals at a young age.

You guys have toured with some big-name country acts, all of which have or will visited or will visit Arizona this year. Who have been some of your favorite touring partners?

Andrew Bird was great; he is one of my favorites. But, we've been having fun with The Secret Sisters

What prompted the decision to take an indefinite hiatus? We had worked pretty densely for the last eighteen years and needed a break to invest in individual interests.

Did you have an idea of when the hiatus would end?

No idea. We were very open-ended in our minds. But, we realized twenty-five years was coming up, so we found it was a perfect excuse to play a few shows. Then thought we should record an EP to play some new songs. We realized that when we got together to write, writing went so well that we found ourselves with a whole record.

This is your first release from Nonesuch Records, but not the first with Eric Valentine. What fingerprint did Eric Valentine place on your record that called you back to him?

As a band it's the first with Nonesuch, but Chris and I have worked with them on our own individual projects. We were happy to work with him because he's perfect for us and he has great sound. Each band has different needs and wants for each project and he suits us perfectly.

For such a pristine and clean-cut record as far as harmonies and instrumentation go, it's unbelievable that this was recorded in just twelve days. How much pre-production did you go through to pinpoint your accuracies before hitting the studio?

We had a few days, but not a lot of time. It's weird because, to me, this is the least pristine of any Nickel Creek record, which is why I think it's my favorite. It sounds like us on a good day; just so raw and holding nothing back. The [fast-paced] nature made it a fun process.

Nickel Creek is scheduled to perform on Thursday, August 28, at Mesa Arts Center.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Mandi Kimes
Contact: Mandi Kimes