Nickel Creek Biography
“Bluegrass 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 music.”
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.
Since the 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.
Hard to 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.
As 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.
Though 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.”
Perhaps 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,” says Sean.
Sara 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.”
Currently 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.