Episode 156: Sean Watkins
Air date: 3.23.2016
Sean Watkins has been a professional musician since he wasn’t yet old enough to drive. Along with his talented sister, Sara, Watkins formed the progressive acoustic trio Nickel Creek after meeting mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile at a pizza parlor bluegrass jam in North County, San Diego when they were still kids in 1990. The chemistry between the three young musicians was rare and palpable, and it wasn’t long before bluegrass stalwart Alison Krauss was producing what would become their third album. After expanding their sound over their next two releases and winning a Grammy for This Side, Nickel Creek went on a hiatus for seven years, returning with their acclaimed fifth album, A Dotted Line in 2014. Never one to let dust settle, Watkins regularly has multiple projects going at any time, with the ongoing decade-plus residency at Los Angeles’ Largo - billed as The Watkins Family Hour - as the center of a musical universe that has included Jon Brion, Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, Don Heffington, Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and other musical luminaries. Beyond his virtuosic guitar playing and a trademark tenor voice, a hallmark of Watkins’ career has been his maturation as a songwriter. Although his early solo releases allowed him to experiment and expand his sonic palette beyond the acoustic setting of Nickel Creek, Watkins has evolved into an accomplished songwriter with his own unique voice. His brand-new album, What to Fear, finds Watkins turning his sharp eye and emotional compass to bittersweet ruminations of failed relationships, narrators who may or may not have the best intentions and incisive indictments of our modern society’s penchant for false goals, misguided gods and an unwitting desire to seek solace in the comfort of fear. Through it all, Watkins’ impeccable guitar playing and support from his infinitely talented friends make What to Fear a satisfying listen - and, like all his musical endeavors, yet another testament to the virtue of collaboration.