Exclusive Q&A with Sierra Hull
Accomplished mandolinist and vocalist, Sierra Hull talks about her Grammy nomination and upcoming Nashville concert.
Written By: Valerie Hammond
There is no direction but up for GRAMMY-nominated mandolinist, Sierra Hull. After a Grand Ole Opry debut at age 11, a Presidential Scholarship to Berklee College of Music, and producing creds on her latest album by banjo-master Bela Fleck—the now 25 year-old vocalist and instrumentalist continues to chart new territory for Americana, Bluegrass, and Roots music. We caught up with Hull before her City Winery show this month to talk about the GRAMMY's, her friendship the Alison Krauss, and what's coming up next.
Nashville Lifestyles (NL): How did you find out about your GRAMMY nomination?
Sierra Hull (SH): Regina my publicist at Rounder [Records], sent me a text message. I forgot they were announcing and I woke up about 8:00 a.m. that morning to see, “Congratulations on your GRAMMY nomination.” I was like “Huh? What for?,” and that’s when she told me for Best Folk Album, I was like, “Wow!”
(NL): Earlier this year you performed at the GRAMMY Museum's Clive Davis Theater (in LA) as part of its Americana Series. Tell us about it.
SH: It was about a 45 minute interview combined with a 30 minute performance. Scott Goldman, who is the vice president of the GRAMMY Museum, and I just sat on two chairs on stage and had an intimate conversation about my career. After the interview they set everything up and Ethan Jodziewicz who tours with me, and I did a mini show. Getting to do that was neat.
That was really a cool thing to get to do. They asked me if I would be interested and I said of course, you know. I honestly wasn’t even aware that they do those kind of programs so I started searching on YouTube and saw really cool interviews/performances. One I particularly thought was cool was Paul Simon. Going out to there is one thing, getting to know some of those folks and see the museum is pretty special. I was honored to get to be part of the series.
(NL): You've worked with big name artists fairly early on in your career—talk about what their influence and guidance have meant to you/done for you.
SH: Well, I would say Alison Krauss and Béla Fleck are are two of my biggest heroes and have been wonderful role models for me. I only got to know Béla, really, through the making of Weighted Mind. I had met him before and played with him a little bit, but we didn’t really have a history of working together in any fashion. Through the making of the album, I just learned so much from him; it was truly one of the highlights of my career thus far.
>>> Exclusive Q&A with Béla Fleck
Of course, Alison, she’s been somebody that I’ve known since I was 11 years-old and was hands down my biggest musical influence as a young person. I became a big big fan of Alison at nine. Only a year after I picked up the mandolin, I got my first Alison CD and was just blown away by her music. When you have somebody like that as a kid, that you look up to, and aspire to learn from, that never really goes away as an adult. I still love and admire her. She’s put out a new record and it’s funny, it’s her first album in about six years or so and there’s something about when your childhood hero releases music—I still get like a little kid again, I’m excited about it!
She’s definitely been somebody who has granted me a lot of wonderful opportunities that I might not have had otherwise. She’s just a wonderful lady. I think a lot of her. Getting to perform with and learn from her—I feel super super blessed to have had that.
NL: You’re on tour right now, what can we expect from your March 24 show in Nashville at City Winery?
SH: We’ll definitely be playing music folks will know from theWeighted Mind album, and we’ve also been working on a few new things here and there to share with people. We do a combo of original music, but then also we might do a classical piece, we might do a jazz swing piece. We have an interest in a lot of different styles of music—I like to tell people you might hear anything from Bach to bluegrass.
One of the first shows we did together after we started playing in this stripped down format was at City Winery. Between that and having the CD release show there a year ago, something about getting to come back there feels like a familiar spot. In some ways a bit of a reunion. I’m excited about that.
NL: What are you listening to these days?
SH: Well, I’ve been listening to all kinds of stuff. One of my go-to’s is Joni Mitchell. I’ve been listening to Beyoncé’s latest album a lot. I’ve been working on a classical piece, not one I’m writing, but one I was asked to be the mandolinist in that I’ve got to be able to perform a month from now. I’ve been listening to this piece a lot! It’s a concertino, like a 25 minute piece, 3 movements, that’s written for mandolin and clarinet and orchestra.
That’s completely foreign to me—I grew up in the bluegrass world and as I sort of branch out, it’s been an aspiration of mine to be able to do something like this, but I’m a little scared...It’s out of my element, but it’s exciting to be a little bit afraid! I don’t read music very well at all, and that was part of the reason I decided to do this. I knew it would be a good motivator for me. It’s easy to put something off when you don’t have a direct way to apply it.
NL: When will we get to hear it?
SH: I’m going to do what they call the piano reduction version—the two soloists and then the piano is playing various things from the orchestral score. It will be performed as a trio at the end of March at Colorado College where the composer teaches. And the piece will actually be performed next year with the Portland Chamber Orchestra in Oregon. We don’t have an exact date for that yet… I’ve got a little time (laughs).
NL: What is it that you love about making music?
SH: I just love that it’s wide open. Music is never ending, there’s always something new to discover, always something new to learn. When you don’t put yourself in a box, which it is easy to do sometimes, if you try to be open minded and let the music come to you in the most natural form—it’s really exciting because you can do anything.
Coffee - Oh I do love coffee. Crema’s probably my favorite coffee place.
Dinner - I love Indian food—it’s my favorite, so I go to Sitar a lot. Have you ever been there? It’s not for everybody, I know. You either love it or you don’t and I love spicy food, so when I’m in town, that’s my happy place.
Catch a Show - I love going to the Station Inn when I can. Being there always ties me back to my bluegrass community and I always end up running into people there that I know. I don’t get to as often as I would like, so it's always fun to me to go.
Nashville’s such a great place with all the greenways we have—when the weather’s good I spend a lot of time out at the parks. Walking, jogging. I love to be outside.
Don't miss Sierra's performace live at City Winery Nashville, March 24 at 8 p.m.