Bluegrass trio Nickel Creek reunites for tour after 7 year hiatus

eshaw@islandpacket.comApril 17, 2014 

Nickel Creek will perform April 22 at Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah.

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  • IF YOU GO



    WHAT: Nickel Creek

    WHEN: 8 p.m. April 22

    WHERE: Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave., Savannah

    COST: $27.50-$44.50

    DETAILS: www.savannahcivic.com/events

After a long hiatus, roots music trio Nickel Creek has reunited for a 2014 tour. The progressive bluegrass band took an "indefinite" break in 2007 to pursue individual music projects, but thankfully, the pull of their 25th anniversary led to a reunion and a new album.

On April 22, guitarist Sean Watkins, violinist Sara Watkins (his sister) and mandolinist and vocalist Chris Thile will perform at Johnny Mercer Theatre in Savannah. On April 24, the group will perform at the North Charleston Coliseum and Performing Arts Center.

"We fell into step very quickly," Sara Watkins said. "We felt like we had started right up again."

The group first performed as Nickel Creek in 1989 at a pizza parlor in Carlsbad, Calif., when Sara and Sean Watkins were 8 years old and Thile was 12. The three were quickly labeled child phenoms in the bluegrass world and put out three albums, including their Grammy-winning sophomore effort "This Side."

"Having grown up singing together, there is something natural about our voices and it's really fun to harmonize," Watkins said. "Our voices have come to match each other's really well."

Not long after Nickel Creek began its hiatus, Thile formed the experimental quintet Punch Brothers, who were a featured act at this year's Savannah Music Festival.

Sean Watkins formed the duo Fiction Family with Switchfoot singer Jon Foreman, putting out two albums. He also helmed a country-rock group, Work Progress Administration, with Sara Watkins and former Toad the Wet Sprocket singer Glenn Phillips.

Sara Watkins recorded two solo albums, produced by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

When Watkins, her brother and Thile got together at Thile's New York apartment last year, they ended up with six new co-written songs, which they eventually took to a Los Angeles studio. The result was "A Dotted Line," a familiar-sounding record filled with warm, friendly collaborations that Nickel Creek fans will find was worth the wait.

Lowcountry Life caught up with Sara Watkins before Nickel Creek's Savannah and Charleston shows and got the scoop on the new record, the reunion and what's next for the group.

Question. Was it ever strange coming back together as a band after a long hiatus?

Sara Watkins. It felt really natural in a lot of ways. Sean and Chris and I have a shorthand way of communicating that makes the fundamental part of the band pretty easy. We have learned so much during the seven years (apart) that the collaboration process was more fun because we had these new influences and new experiences and new strengths to draw on and contribute to the band in new ways. That was exciting because we weren't just dealing with the same pile of tools we had on the last records. We have developed a lot and discovering how to put those things together in new ways was really fun.

Q. What are each of you bringing to the band now that you didn't have before?

Watkins. It's not a list of things. It's just been nine years since our last record. That's a long time. We've all been very busy, and I think of it like you go to school with people for however many years, and then you graduate and have to figure out what to do with your skills. To a degree I think it was kind of like that for each of us.

At least my experience was fairly limited to a Nickel Creek and a couple other things. When we decided to go on a hiatus, that shifted focus for our individual careers in a new way and you have to figure out what you want to do. I think each of us had to step up to the plate in a new way, and have become better musicians and better people. Those things have all come into play in a great way.

Q. What were some things you learned about yourself while putting out two solo albums?

Watkins. For me, the process was pretty great and it was a steep learning curve. It was starting over to a degree. In terms of touring, we were playing for a crowd of 2,500 people as Nickel Creek, and then going to 200 or 300 is a different vibe, and you have to learn about different logistics because of that. So the practicality of that was a pretty great thing to learn. And I was in charge of it. I was tour manager and was making all those decisions, so I saw the nitty gritty side to the business in a whole new way.

In addition to that, you learn how to be a more well-rounded musician and wearing many different hats.

Q. Does the new album, "A Dotted Line," feel more mature to you or was it a chance to go back to the music that you guys grew up making together?

Watkins. I think we're all hoping it sounds a lot more mature. We got to draw on the things that we learned, and I think we feel like it represents us as where are now. Which hopefully is more mature.

Q. What's the most exciting part of being back in Nickel Creek?

Watkins. We've really enjoyed singing together in a new way. We've always enjoyed singing together, but we're better at it now. We can relax into it a little more. It always takes a lot of effort to make good music, but there are certain things we're a lot more comfortable with, like our harmonies, than we ever were.

Q. After this tour, what's next for you guys? Will you continue to pursue individual projects?

Watkins. Yep. We'll go back to our various projects. I'm hoping to have my third solo record out next spring.

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.

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