Singer-Songwriter Sarah Jarosz Finds Inspiration and Grit in Nashville

Great artists are never satisfied with staying in one place creatively and tend to find ways to challenge and push themselves. Feel free to put singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz in that category.

It would be easy for her to coast on her laurels based on the four Grammy statues she’s won, with the most recent being the Best Americana Album Grammy for 2021’s “World On the Ground.” The Texas native instead uprooted herself from New York City and headed to Nashville intending to immerse herself in that city’s songwriting community. The result is “Polaroid Lovers,” her seventh full-length outing that found her opening herself up to a larger pool of collaborators. And while Jarosz has teamed up with other singer-songwriters like Luke Reynolds and Parker Millsap to write songs before, this time was different.

“I moved to Nashville at the beginning of the pandemic somewhat unknowingly,” she explained. “I thought I was just getting out of New York City. I think living in Nashville really kind of spurred me to want to embrace elements of the music community there that I hadn’t really explored [before]. In 2022, I decided I was going to spend my time focusing on songwriting in a way that is not rushed and in a way that I can just put my head down and write as many great songs as I can. In the past, when I’ve written songs with other people, it’s been largely with other artists. And this time it was with people who considered themselves first and foremost writers and they forged their path in Nashville that way.

“It really was my first time [doing it this way],” she said. “I think when I was 17 making my first record, I had a lot of people wanting me to do that and get in writer rooms with other writers. I just didn’t feel like I knew myself well enough to go into those scenarios. So this time, I knew my voice better and knew what I could bring to the table, so exploring with these other people is only going to be a positive for all of us.”

Among the kindred spirits Jarosz found in her new home was singer-songwriter Daniel Tashian, who also produced the album. Tashian, whose writing and producing credits include Kacey Musgraves, Lee Ann Womack, Martina McBride and Sara Evans, helped gently push the 32-year-old multi-instrumentalist out of her comfort zone. It’s a talent Jarosz very much appreciates.

“Daniel is incredible and is the kind of curious musician that I like to work with,” she said. “He’s not concerned about genre, which I’m the same way. We’re just trying to write good songs. I think he has a very forward-thinking sonic palette that really contributed to this record. And the band he helped put together that we tracked mostly live for all these songs wound up being the right people for the job and these songs. I learned a lot about songwriting from working with him from just little melodic ideas to certain turns-of-phrase. It really was inspiring to work alongside him.”

Anyone who has followed Jarosz’s path from her humble origins growing up in Wimberley, TX, a small town just outside of Dallas, shouldn’t be surprised at where she’s at in her young career. Having first picked up the mandolin around the age of 10, Jarosz built her instrument repertoire to include guitar, clawhammer banjo, and octave mandolin.

By 2009, she had released her Sugar Hill Records debut “Song Up in Her Head.” That same year, she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music. By 2013, she graduated with honors with a degree in contemporary improvisation. Since then, she’s worked with a number of notable artists, including Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Shawn Colvin, Kate Rusby, and the Punch Brothers. In 2018, she joined forces with Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins and Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan to form the progressive-folk trio I’m With Her, an outfit with which she continues to work (“I am just so grateful for Aoife and Sara,” Jarosz said. “I feel like that band sort of was this magical gift in my life.”)

But for now, the road awaits in the form of a 50-plus date tour which promises to attract plenty of fans.

“So far it’s been absolutely amazing. It’s been really fun to see the songs come to life on stage,” Jarosz said. “I wasn’t sure if people were just going to want to hear the old songs. But people are just so excited about the new songs and singing along to the lyrics. It’s been really rewarding so far. I’m experiencing a good problem for the first time. It feels like I have more songs than I can fit into a set. I’m kind of picking and choosing the special ones and definitely making it half and half old [songs] with the new record. And slipping in a cover or two.”

For the immediate future, Jarosz is “…hitting the road really hard and just pouring all of my energy into getting these songs out into the world and playing them.” And with a reunion with I’m With Her (her band with Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan) sure to follow, Jarosz is leaning into her parents’ advice of not getting lost in the day-to-day chaos of her chosen profession.

“I think that’s [guidance] I constantly have to come back to and remind myself,” she said. “I think everybody could benefit from that. It’s just the nature of our world and the craziness of what’s the next thing, what’s the next thing. In a way, that’s what the song ‘The Way It is Now’ is about. Just remembering to be in the moment and to take it one day at a time.”

You can see Sarah Jarosz in action this weekend at the Ogden Music Festival. For tickets and information, visit their website.

Featured image photographed by Shervin Lainez.

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Alan Sculley
Alan Sculley
Alan Sculley has operated his music feature service, Last Word Features, for more than 25 years. His music features and reviews have appeared in more than 100 daily newspapers, alternative weeklies and entertainment publications.

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