Talent courses through the fingers of mandolin and banjo whiz Sarah Jarosz. By age 12, bluegrass notables like Ricky Skaggs were pulling her into their jam sessions, and by age 16, she had inked a deal with Sugar Hill Records. To cap off high school, she released her debut album, Song Up in Her Head, which led Rolling Stone to call her "Gillian Welch's long-lost daughter." Jarosz performs at the Stoughton Opera House May 15.
These days Jarosz, a 20-year-old Grammy nominee, attends the New England Conservatory of Music, where she juggles gigs with rehearsals, singing lessons and liberal-arts classes. During a recent phone call, she chatted about two of her favorite extracurriculars: recording music and listening to it.
Out of all of the instruments, why did you decide to pick up the mandolin?
When I was 10, a family friend let me borrow their mandolin. I started taking it to a Friday-night bluegrass jam in my hometown near Austin, Texas. Each week, someone would teach me something - a song, a technique - and I'd get to try out their banjo or guitar.
Who were some of your favorite musicians when you were a kid, and how did your parents shape your listening habits?
Jim O'Brien and Gillian Welch are two of my biggest musical heroes and probably always will be. My parents are definitely a big part of the picture as well. They're music lovers who are into all kinds of different genres. I'd say that describes me, too. I love Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell, but I'm also really into bands like the Decemberists and Wilco and Radiohead.
You do a really beautiful cover of Radiohead's "The Tourist" on your 2011 album, Follow Me Down. How did you decide to include it?
Chris Thile and some of the other guys from Punch Brothers turned me into a full-fledged Radiohead fan. Chris started playing that song at a festival, and I couldn't get it out of my head. I went home and learned to sing it. Then, the next time I saw Chris, he invited me to sing it with Punch Brothers. I loved it so much that I put it on the album.