Revivalists," "Acoustic Innovators," "Youthgrass"
are just some of the terms that have been used to describe
Nickel Creek over the past year -- perhaps producer Alison
Krauss says it best with, "It's just Nickel Creek
Regardless of classification, they and their
gold, self-titled debut album have been experiencing the kind of
buzz that is rightly reserved for musicians that bring something
new and fresh to the table.
release two years ago, Nickel Creek has received two Grammy
nominations, held a Top 20 spot on Billboard's Country Album
chart, appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, sold out
countless shows across the country, had three hit videos on CMT
along with a documentary-style special, been named in TIME
Magazine as one of five "Music Innovators for the
Millennium", and been profiled in the prestigious New York
Times with the headline, "Bluegrass That Can Twang And Be
Cool Too..." Most recently, they were honored with two CMA
nominations -- Horizon Award and Vocal Group of the Year.
believe that they have been a band for over a decade - as they
are only just now entering adulthood (Sara Watkins is 20, Chris
Thile is 21 and Sean Watkins, Sara's brother, is 25.) They met,
not surprisingly, through music, when their parents took them to
hear the Southern California band, Bluegrass Etc., at their
regular weekly show at a pizza place. Chris and Sean were
already studying mandolin with the band's John Moore, while
Dennis Caplinger was working with Sara on her fiddling. The
three also worked hard on their educations -- primarily through home schooling.
They formed the band with Chris's father, bassist Scott Thile,
when a bluegrass promoter thought it would be cute to have a
kid's band, which resulted in festival touring for a decade.
Scott Thile left the group and sent the young adults on their
way when the debut album hit the streets.
individual musicians, they are always discovering new ways to
hone their craft. "Musically, this band never stays the
same," says Thile. "We love to grow. There are moments
on stage where I look over and think, 'This is why I've been in
this band since I was eight'... It's so comfortable, and yet
we're all focused on bettering ourselves on a solo level. Sean
and I are writing and pushing each other to come up with better
stuff." In fact, Sean and Chris, the two primary composers
and writers for the group, have each had critically acclaimed
solo records released in the past year.
originally incepted as a bluegrass band, Chris, Sean and Sara
are adamant that they are "a conglomeration of everything
we listen to." Thile further explains, "It's like
having paintbrushes in all different sizes and shapes. Each
brush paints color in a different way. What we're trying to do
is grab a really interesting brush and then blend all the
various colors--of all the genres of music we love."
Indeed, if you were to check the CD collection in their van,
you'll find Elliot Smith, Radiohead, Bela Fleck, Turtle Island
String Quartet, Edgar Meyer, Pat Metheny, Murray Perahia and
Bach to name a few. Their solid instrumental skills -- built
through the speedy, fluent and technical efficiencies of early
bluegrass training -- are now kissed by all their influences.
New York Times writer Terry Teachout describes their sound as
"polystylistic" and elaborates, "The House that
Bill Monroe Built seems to be going through a stylistic
remodeling, and anyone curious about where it's heading next
need only to listen to the postmodern, polystylistic sounds of
three cheerful prodigies who call themselves Nickel Creek."
the most rewarding aspect of the band's success is the diversity
of their fan base, especially the proliferation of younger fans.
"We want to bring the acoustic message to the youth,"
concludes, "Our first ten years together people would
happen to see us because we were part of a large bluegrass
festival. Now, our music is not strictly bluegrass and we're
seeing a lot more people from the college scene. We've really
gone outside our comfort zone and it's amazing how things have
taken off. It's been a gradual increase but I think our
popularity is growing because we've got a strong foundation. It
means more to us to grow slowly because it's not a lot of hype.
People are listening to our music-it's like a groundswell."
touring with Nickel Creek is bassist Derek Jones, who brings
massive chops and great stage presence to the band. His jazz and
acoustic pedigree is impeccable.