You can usually tell when someone’s faking it on an album. Not through studio trickery or anything like that, but by trying to be something they’re not. You don’t get that from Sean Watkins, whether he’s playing with his band Nickel Creek or doing his solo work. His reason for keeping it real is that he doesn’t care for the alternative.
“It would be too exhausting,” he laughs. “I don’t have the energy.”
All jokes aside, Watkins’ latest solo album, All I Do Is Lie, does have him sounding more in control than ever, both musically and in his songwriting. It’s a sign of an artist who feels free enough to experiment, while at the same time staying true to what got him to the dance in the first place. I ask him if he could have made this album ten years ago.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “A lot has changed for me. When I turned 30, I personally felt more confident and more comfortable in my skin. Musically also, and hopefully this reflects that. So no, I couldn’t. Age can help you feel more confident in who you are and you can also get a better handle on who you are as a person and as a musician. I’ve come to a place where I’m not trying to do things that I’m not the best at. I want to be the best verson of who I am instead of trying to do things that other people can do better, which I’ve done in the past. And that can be fun, but I just want to be the best representation of me that I can be. And that feeling is where this record came from for me.”
Released in the middle of last year, Watkins was on tour with Nickel Creek at the time, so he hasn’t been able to take his solo show on the road until now. He admits “The timing’s a little bit strange, but I’m really excited and it’s been fun.”
Friday night he’ll be at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC, arriving just in time to avoid the seemingly never-ending snow storms of 2015. But snow or no, Watkins enjoys being in the Big Apple.
“I love playing New York. It’s always a thrill.”
The Los Angeles product is also enjoying the idea of being on tour with just his name on the t-shirts.
“It’s different, of course, but I’ve spent so much time at different roles over the years,” he said. “I haven’t done solo touring, but I’ve played a lot of solo shows here and there and especially around town in Los Angeles, so it’s always different for me, but it’s mostly just fun and exciting. It doesn’t faze me much. It’s fun to have control of things and it’s fun to be in a band. I think the two really help each other.”
And while having his bandmates in Nickel Creek to fend off any barbs is always good, when you’re on your own, it’s you against the world. Luckily, Watkins not only put out a record that fans and critics have enjoyed, but he’s reached the point in his career where as long as he likes what he’s doing, if anyone else comes along for the ride, that’s a bonus.
“You’re putting yourself out there and you feel a certain amount of vulnerability that comes with it, but I’m fine with it, and I’m happy with it (All I Do Is Lie) no matter how many other people like it or not,” he said. “I think that’s important and also a benefit of being around long enough. I’ve had a certain amount of success and it’s not all riding on this. This isn’t my first and only project. If people don’t like it, that’s fine, I’ll make another one. At this point, I just want to make sure that I’m happy with it and that I can go out and support it in a way that I feel represents the record. That was my main goal, and it’s been great that way since.”
Sean Watkins plays Rockwood Music Hall in NYC on Friday, February 27. For tickets, click here