About I'm With Her
A band of extraordinary chemistry and exquisite musicianship, I’m With Her features Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan. Collectively, the multi-Grammy-Award-winners have released seven solo efforts, co-founded two seminal bands (Nickel Creek and Crooked Still), and contributed to critically acclaimed albums from a host of esteemed artists. But from its very first moments, their full-length debut See You Around reveals the commitment to creating a wholly unified band sound. With each track born from close songwriting collaboration, I’m With Her builds an ineffable magic from their finespun narratives and breathtaking harmonies. The result is an album both emotionally raw and intricate, revealing layers of meaning and insight within even the most starkly adorned track.
Co-produced by Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Laura Marling, Paul McCartney) and the band and recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios in a tiny English village near Bath, See You Around delivers a warmly textured yet stripped-down sound that proves both fresh and timeless. To achieve the album’s intimate feel, I’m With Her recorded live in the tight confines of the Wood Room, all three members performing in the same room without monitors or headphones. With its piercingly lyricism, See You Around also finds I’m With Her showing the uncompromising honesty of their songwriting. That intensity is heightened by the band’s effortless harmonizing, which the New York Times has praised as “sweetly ethereal, or as tightly in tandem as country sibling teams like the Everly Brothers, or as hearty as mountain gospel.”
Layered with lush guitar tones and crystalline harmonies, See You Around’s title track opens the album with a breakup ballad of rare nuance (“It’s about coming to the end of a long relationship where you both run in the same circles, and that melancholy feeling of knowing you’re going to have to keep seeing that person again and again,” Jarosz explains). A bittersweet mood endures for songs like “Ain’t That Fine,” a wistful meditation on existential ups and downs that ultimately discovers solace in its reflection and reckoning (sample lyric: “I can’t believe the things I put my mother through/But it’s alright, I guess we all deserve our turn to be a fool”).
From track to track, I’m With Her infuses their sonic palette with so many unexpected and subtly captivating elements: the jagged guitar lines and chanteuse-like delivery of “I-89,” the percussive vocal phrasing of “Game to Lose,” the ghostly harmonies and eerie atmospherics of “Wild One.” At the same time, the band’s finely wrought lyrics gently shift from the darkly charged storytelling of “Pangaea” to the sleepy sensuality of “Ryland (Under the Apple Tree)” to the romantic travel tale of “Overland.” And on the Gillian Welch-penned “Hundred Miles”—a gorgeously understated track, and the album’s only song written outside the band—See You Around closes out with a world-weary but potent message of hope.
All through See You Around, I’m With Her exhibit a refined musicality that reflects their deep musical roots. After years of crossing paths in their intersecting scenes, the three musicians came together by happenstance for an off-the-cuff performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in summer 2014. The very same day, a mutual friend texted them with a last-minute request to open a show that night at the Sheridan Opera House. “We had two hours to prepare for a 30-minute set and we said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s skip margaritas and rehearse,’” O’Donovan recalls. “We worked up six or seven songs in the bathroom, and then went on to this crazy-energetic crowd at one in the morning. I’ll never forget how amazing that felt.”
Later that year, Watkins, O’Donovan, and Jarosz met up in New York to prep for a series of European shows in early 2015, carefully crafting their own arrangements of songs by artists ranging from Jim Croce to Nina Simone. “When you’re arranging a song, you’re communicating in ways that sometimes can be really inefficient,” says Watkins. “But with us it felt like we were all in a similar rhythm.” As their chemistry continued to deepen, the trio soon founded I’m With Her and transformed the project into a fully realized band. “Once you decide it’s a band, you can put it higher on your priority list and give it more attention,” says O’Donovan. “The bar gets raised when something has an air of permanence about it, and that’s definitely been the case for us.”
Although I’m With Her spent most of 2015 performing at festivals around the world, the band also holed up for their first-ever writing session that summer in L.A. “By that point it had started to solidify that we travel well together, play well together, eat well together—it felt like we’d tested our compatibility in all these different zones,” says Watkins. And after just four days of writing, it was clear that their compatibility extended to the art of songcraft. “I loved the songs, we all loved the songs,” says Jarosz of that first batch of tracks penned in L.A. “I think that really sparked the flame for us to make a full record together.”
When it came time to get working on the record, I’m With Her convened at a borrowed farmhouse in Vermont and spent over a week carving out new material, leaving only to replenish their supply of Heady Topper beer. “We were completely on lockdown and didn’t interact with another human being for eight days,” says O’Donovan. “If you can get through that and, at the end, still be so excited about what you’re doing, then that says a lot about the whole creative flow as a band.” Jarosz adds: “A lot of times you approach songwriting as a solitary act, or maybe choose to write with one other person you feel comfortable with. It’s a whole other beast to have three people writing together, juggling all these different ideas and personalities. But somehow for us, all of the songwriting was just so seamless.”
In Vermont, the band settled into their creative stride, but when the additional voice of producer Ethan Johns was added to the process in the studio, they found themselves starting another round of learning and growth. “Going into the recording, there were a lot of unknowns and a lot of questions,” says Jarosz. “It was a challenge for us to figure out how to make our vision and Ethan’s vision come together in a way that worked for everyone, and there was definitely some friction at times, but about halfway through we started to work it out.” With each member playing guitar and handling various aspects of the instrumentation— including fiddle and ukulele for Watkins, mandolin and banjo for Jarosz, piano and synth for O’Donovan—the band cut most of the album live and under exceptionally close-knit conditions. “Ethan had the studio so that we played all in the same room and facing each other,” Jarosz says. “There was really no separation between us at all.”
In looking back on the making of See You Around, I’m With Her note that a sense of unity has sustained in every step—including the moments when one member’s song idea failed to fly with the others. “If an idea doesn’t get accepted, it’s not like, ‘I’m a failure, this will never be heard,’” says Watkins. “You just move on to the next thing and put that idea aside for something else. We don’t have to be as precious with things, which really helps that forward-motion of creativity.” It’s exactly that dynamic spirit that, despite the album’s many moments of graceful restraint, imbues so much of See You Around with a powerful urgency—or, as O’Donovan, puts it: “In this band, there’s no time to get bogged down in what doesn’t happen. It’s all about what is happening.”
ft. Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz & Aoife O'Donovan
JONNY FRITZ. “Sweet Creep” Jonny Fritz is back— with a new album, a new hip, and a new homebase in Los Angeles, California. When last we met our hero, Jonny had just wrapped up the purgative classic, Dad Country, his call to the rising generation for a renewed lyricism in country music, recorded in Jackson Browne’s personal recording studio and released by ATO records.
Now in his newest, Sweet Creep, the lyricism returns, but with a wide hopeful grin. Recorded in Jim James’ makeshift hilltop studio in Montecito Heights, where golden twilight fills up thirsty grass valleys, Sweet Creep reverberates with the same feeling of sunny new vistas. From the empathetic Are You Thirsty? to the summer-crushy Humidifier, Sweet Creep is a freshly-signed lease on life, with the movers downstairs waiting by the truck.
For the couple years prior, Jonny hobbled around the globe on a hip fractured in an ill- advised marathon run. He bounced between Malibu, New Delhi, Houston, Australia, Montana, Tokyo, Mount Hood, London then back again, looking for the right landing for the album, to no avail. He jumped from town to town and house and house, unpacking and packing up, with characteristic restlessness— until one day, the pieces all snapped together.
A doctor looks up from the x-ray and wisely says “son, you need hip surgery.” Jonny finally buckles down in Los Angeles to make music and leatherwork because, as he puts it, “Nashville had gotten too LA for me.” And then with some welcome advice from Jim James, Jonny throws himself into Sweet Creep by stripping things down to the essentials. He gathered up the crew— Nashville’s Joshua Hedley and Dawes’ Taylor and Griffin Goldsmith—and literally recorded the whole album outdoors, in three days, underneath a tent purchased at Home Depot, with half the equipment “borrowed” from Guitar Center. The fresh air, freedom from studio pressures, and strong cups of tea all mix into the music, with ATVs briefly heard in the background and two senior tortoises listening at Hedley’s feet as he fiddles away. If as John Hartford tells us, “style comes from limitation,” Jonny credits Jim James for much of the pared-down and uninhibited sound of Sweet Creep. James encouraged the first takes, the simpler set-up, the outdoors, and the worry-free flow that coasts us from the first to the last of the record.
Born in Montana and raised in Esmont, Virginia, Jonny has passed weeks in nearly every city in the United States, and plenty others overseas, cramming ten lives into one, and half his possessions into the garages of friends and well-wishers. But despite the vitalism and exploits he’s gained a name for, most of his music comes from the smaller moments. He takes a weird little piece of life, unnoticed by most, then steeps it in song until it’s ready for vinyl. The overlooked sorrows of a fellow party goer. The real tedium and pains-in-the-ass of touring life, rather than the mystique. An old residential hotel, once hidden back, but whose uncurtained windows now tell human stories to the drivers-by on a newly built highway. An impromptu songwriting session with a friend’s four-year old daughter that includes the line “I burped in my pants then the party was over” and ends in a cloud of Jonny’s laughter. In contrast to the heartsick Dad Country, the songs of Sweet Creep are, if not always brimming, at least fully accepting of his fortunes. On a song like “I Love Leaving,” Jonny even learns to love his own discontent, surmising “but me I hate talking ‘bout the good old days / I never want go down memory lane / I only want to get into the passing lane, and I’ve always been that way / I guess I love leaving, leaving when I said goodbye.”
Sure enough, for all the anguish it may sometimes bring him, we have this discontent to thank for Jonny’s tremendous creative range— his It’s-a-Fritz leatherwork seen on stars and stages all over, his forays into character acting and hosting his own variety show Who’s That Singin’, his public love of vehicles, country legend, chill animals, and craft of any kind— not to mention the constant stream of deep goofing that turns even his average days into a show well worth watching. Jonny is a torchbearer in that celebrated country music tradition of giant-sized personalities overflowing into song. John Hartford, Roger Miller, Billy Joe Shaver— fans look to these country musicians for more than just music strictly speaking. They look for life, for outrageous legend— for a showmanship on and offstage that Jonny Fritz will never fail to deliver. He might not have shot anybody, or spent any considerable time in prison, but in Sweet Creep, he reminds himself and his fans, that sometimes great lives can also be pretty good ones.