A Q & A with Sierra Hull

  • January 22, 2016
  • Kelly McCartney
  • Q & A
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com

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When bluegrass giants like Alison Krauss, Ron Block, and Bela Fleck take an artist under their wings, the talent must be off the charts. Such is the case with Sierra Hull, the young roots music phenom who branches out on her fourth record, Weighted Mind, under Fleck's watchful eye. Like many of her contemporaries, Hull is interested in moving the old forms forward, consciously and creatively... and with all due respect. And that's exactly what she does on the new album.

Kelly McCartney: How do you define bluegrass? And how would you like your music defined and talked about? Is there a way to put it in a box without boxing it in?

Sierra Hull: When I think of bluegrass, my traditional way of explaining would be: high energy music played with acoustic instruments -- typically guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright bass with fiddle or Dobro. It's a very instrumentally driven music with a traditional style of harmony singing and improvising. However, the word bluegrass means something different to everyone, and I think that's a good thing! If Mumford & Sons or String Cheese Incident lead someone to Bill Monroe because of their connection to bluegrass -- that's amazing. I'm not a fan of boxing anything in as it never seems to lead to creativity.

When someone asks me what kind of music I play, I usually say something like "a contemporary form of bluegrass music featuring mostly original material." I think I say that because I'll always feel a connection with my roots as a bluegrass musician. I'm proud to have come from the bluegrass community, and I really love that scene. I've had people describe my recent music as jazz, classical, Americana... so I don't know. It's all in the ears of the listener.

The word "prodigy" gets attached to you on a regular basis. How do you accept those sorts of accolades while keeping your focus on the job/music at hand?

I try to not think about it much. I think the word "prodigy" has stuck because I started so young. The older I get, the more I think that particular word will fade and, hopefully, people will just think of me as an artist. It's really encouraging and humbling to receive any accolades at all, though. It makes me want to keep pushing to be a better musician and performer.

When you first started playing, what was the dream you dreamed?

To be like my heroes! I've known since I was eight years old that I wanted to play music for a living more than anything. I wanted to make albums, travel, and perform, and become the best musician that I could.

Is there a way to sum up how it feels to work with folks like Alison Krauss and Bela Fleck?

I feel really blessed to have been able to work so closely with some of my biggest heroes. I'm not sure I'll ever get over the thrill of it. I still love them the way I did as a kid.

It feels like there's a wonderful new wave of young roots musicians on the rise -- you, Mipso, Parker Millsap, Sarah Jarosz, and others. Do you guys get together and compare notes? Are you conscious of creating history as you go along?

I am surrounded by an amazing generation of musicians. Some of my peers, I've known since we were like 12 years old and we've grown up with each other at festivals, etc. I'm really inspired to look around and see what so many of my friends have accomplished. It's an exciting time and I think we're all just trying to find our way... whatever that means.

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Sierra Hull's, Weighted Mind, is out on January 29 via Rounder/Concord Music Group and available at iTunes and Amazon.com.

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