Sarah Jarosz is an American singer-songwriter from Wimberley, Texas, now based in Nashville, Tennessee. A four-time Grammy Award winner, Jarosz is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who is known to captivate audiences with her voice and intricate songwriting.
After releasing her full-length debut, “Song Up in Her Head,” at 18 years old in 2009, Jarosz has gone on to release numerous critically acclaimed albums. Her two most recent records are the 40-minute thematic piece, “Blue Heron Suite,” which serves as a meditation on childhood memories and mortality, and “World On The Ground,” a collection of stories from her small hometown in Texas.
Sarah Jarosz joined KHOL DJ Kevin P. for a live conversation in advance of her recent performance at the Center for the Arts in Jackson on March 23.
The following interview transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.
KEVIN PUSEY/KHOL: For the listeners that are not familiar with your stuff, can you elaborate on the difference between “Blue Heron Suite” and “World On The Ground?”
SARAH JAROSZ: So, “World On The Ground” was the first record that I did with a new producer. The first four albums I made with this amazing producer and engineer in Nashville named Gary Petrosa, and we co-produced those albums and Gary’s like family to me. And it was a wonderful thing to make those records with him. But I think, four records, four albums, it was a huge chapter of my life. I mean, it was a whole decade, basically, and I think I was ready to kind of turn the page and explore working with other people. And I was curious about working with a producer who was also a musician. And so John Leventhal has been a hero for years and years. I found out about him through the work of Sean Colvin. I grew up loving Shawn Colvin records. The process of making “World On The Ground” was very collaborative with John. We wrote four of the songs together. Basically, everything on the record is the two of us with a couple of guests, but it’s basically just the two of us.
“Blue Heron Suite” is very different. I wrote it in 2017. There’s a festival in Massachusetts called Fresh Grass. It’s a great festival and they commissioned me to write an original piece of music to premiere at my set at the festival that year. And they were like, ‘You can write whatever you want, but it has to be 30-45 minutes in length,’ which is, you know, substantial. It came at a good time because I had already released my fourth album. I was in a place where I could creatively, you know, commit to writing something that substantial. I would say it’s kind of sparse and broken down arrangement-wise compared to “World On The Ground.” It’s just a trio. I play mostly octave mandolin and guitar with bass by Jeff Picker and then Jefferson Hammer plays electric guitar and vocals. And it’s a song cycle, so it’s meant to be listened to from start to finish in order. And that’s really nothing I have ever done before. And I think because of going on tour with “I’m With Her” and then the pandemic hitting, that’s sort of why it took so long for it to come out. But in a way, I was really happy. It almost seemed like it was meant to be that it didn’t come out until 2021 because after everything that we’ve all collectively been through in the last two years, it almost seemed like listeners were in a place where they could sort of absorb something, or they wanted to sit down with a piece of music that long and just be present with it. That was really just one of those omen things where even though I wanted it to come out earlier, it kind of was really special that it didn’t come out until later.
KHOL: Well, that makes sense.
JAROSZ: I just wanted to put it out into the world, I think, when they commissioned me to write it. It was meant to be performed in its entirety at the festival back in 2017. I think even when I was writing it, I wasn’t sure if I would ever do anything with it beyond that one performance. But then I realized how special the music was to me because I wrote it mostly about my mom, who at the time was diagnosed with breast cancer and was in the thick of chemo and radiation treatments. And it was really tough. It was a really tough year when I was writing that music, and I chose to sort of focus on the symbol of the great blue heron. We would see those birds on the Gulf Coast of Texas my whole childhood. We would go down there and my mom always said, ‘It’s a good omen to see a blue heron.’ And so, I think at that really tough time for my family, I was trying to like focus on a symbol of hope, and thankfully she’s in remission now. But yeah, so after that initial performance, I just wanted to record it and knew that I had to capture it beyond that performance.
KHOL: Yeah, that’s really beautiful. There’s some beautiful imagery there. So, what’s next for Sarah Jarosz? What’s happening after this tour?
JAROSZ: Well, I mean, in a way this year kind of feels like playing catch up, you know, on tour, on the road. A lot of people have been asking me, ‘When’s the next record?’ And I feel like I’m just in the phase of living life and being out in the world, experiencing the world for the first time in two years. I think a lot of creative people can relate to that where you sort of have to live and listen and observe in order to be able to write and filter through your own lens of creating art. So, that’s sort of the phase I’m in. I think that’s this year. I’m just sort of listening and watching and living and just really enjoying being back out on the road. I missed it so much. And then, you know, Aoife, Sara and I are also talking about making some more music down the road. That’s again like everything’s been pushed back a little bit. So, it’s unclear when that will happen, but it definitely will happen, which is exciting. [I’m happy] just being creative and playing shows.
Listen above for KHOL’s full conversation with Sarah Jarosz.
This coverage is funded in part with an Arts For All grant provided by the Town of Jackson and Teton County.