In 1989, a trio of precocious preteens played their first performance at a local Carlsbad, Calif. pizza parlor, billing themselves as The Nickel Creek Band.
After years on the road and a seven year hiatus – during which Nickel Creek bandmates Chris Thile, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins embarked on a range of solo projects – the band is stronger than ever and looking forward to their July 10 Interlochen show.
The prog-acoustic music trio is a rich combo of Thile’s mandolin, Sara Watkins’ fiddle, and Sean Watkins’ guitar. They broke out in 2000 with a debut album produced by Alison Krauss that hit platinum status.
By 2003, they’d won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
By 2007, they were ready for a break. “We were exhausted,” Sara Watkins said.
“Our musicianship had primarily been Nickel Creek, and we realized we wanted the time to freely pursue other projects without straining the band relationships.”
During their hiatus, Thile found success with Punch Brothers and his Goat Rodeo Sessions. Sean Watkins toured with his band Fiction Family (with Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman), and made a solo record that will hit stores this July.
And Sara Watkins toured with The Decemberists, Jackson Browne, and Prairie Home Companion, and is working on a third solo album of her own.
But the fans missed them – and the trio missed working with each other.
Sara Watkins said that the break was “absolutely a good idea.”
“It was very good and healthy,” she said.
“If you are in one band, you should be in two or three. Diversifying makes you a better musician onstage and off.”
The time away made each band member stronger as individuals, and when they lined back up in the studio and started working out their vocal harmonies, it was even more rewarding than before, she said.
“We like to sing together,” she said. The focus of their reunion became “A Dotted Line,” a new full-length album that the trio recorded with Eric Valentine at his studio in Los Angeles.
“He also produced our previous record, ‘Why Should the Fire Die,’ which was a terrific experience,” Watkins said.
Opening track “Rest of My Life” showcases a more refined Nickel Creek, and sets the tone for the rest of the album, the only diversion being a lighthearted cover of “Hayloft” that briefly adds drums into the mix.
The set clearly shows that this is a band that’s grown, and they’re now back to enjoying their own progress.
Sara Watkins said that the band enjoys playing all of the new material but is “careful” to include plenty of familiar favorites.
“We have been very careful to make sure that each show includes a healthy dose of material from all four records,” she said. “So some songs we just haven’t gotten to during our performances yet.”
That might change with their upcoming show at Interlochen, where all three bandmates have performed both as Nickel Creek, and also as members of other collaborations. It’s the perfect venue to try out new material, she said, as the Interlochen audiences are famously known throughout the musical community for welcoming new sounds, new artists, and experimentation.
“We all love playing Interlochen,” Watkins said. “One particular thing I love about playing there is that the audience is largely made up of musicians, so they pay attention to little details and react when they get excited. I’m looking forward to going back.”
Nickel Creek will be in concert at Interlochen’s Kresge Auditorium on July 10 at 8pm with special guest Sarah Jarosz. For tickets and more, visit tickets.interlochen.org.