GUY RAZ, host:
In the past three weeks, Sarah Jarosz has hit some big milestones. She turned 18, she graduated from high school, and her debut album got reviewed in Rolling Stone, which dubbed her a contemporary bluegrass prodigy. But listen to her sing. There's not a lot of twang here.
(Soundbite of song, "Song Up in Her Head")
Ms. SARAH JAROSZ (Singer): (Singing) The Virgin Mary all dressed in blue, (unintelligible) for an audience of two.
RAZ: Sarah Jorosz has been playing mandolin since she was 10. In the years since, she has picked up banjo and guitar, as well, and become a songwriter. Sarah Jarosz joins me from Austin, Texas, where she was born and raised. Hello.
Ms. JAROSZ: Hi, it's great to be with you.
RAZ: Now, Sarah, you wrote 11 of the 13 songs on this CD, including the one we're hearing now, the title track. Could you read to us the lyrics? It almost reads like a poem.
Ms. JAROSZ: Time moves forward and times moves back, like a mixed-up engineer on an endless railroad track. Miles to go from me to you, from a town that gets old to the city that's new…
(Singing) (Unintelligible). Time moves slow, and time moves faster. The future now will soon be past.
RAZ: One thing I really like about this album is that you know, you talk about being young in your songs. You're not, you know, sort of pretending to know it all already. There's that slow, sort of dreamy ballad called "Edge of a Dream," and you talk about laying your soul out on the line and trying to figure life out as a grownup.
Ms. JAROSZ: A lot of the songs on my CD, there's a lot of questions in the lyrics, and I think that is reflective of my age and the curiosity that I have about everything.
RAZ: Now, we've been talking a lot about your words, your lyrics, but of course, for most of your life, you've been focusing on actually playing. And I gather you have some instruments with you, the banjo. Can you play a little bit for us, maybe a bit of a song?
Ms. JAROSZ: Yes, I will play part of "Tell Me True" from my album, which is an original song that I wrote.
(Soundbite of song, "Tell Me True")
Ms. JAROSZ: (Singing) Do you think of me the way I think of you? Do you hope for things most likely won't come true? Do you dream of me like I dream of you? Tell me darling, please, tell me true. Tell me darling, please, tell me true.
RAZ: That's such a beautiful song. And I should remind our listeners that Sarah Jarosz played that live. And Sarah, when I hear you play that - I mean, you're in high school, you just graduated high school. And I can sort of picture you sitting in, you know, in calculus class or something, sort of secretly working out new fingerings or some great new lyric line. Is that what you do?
Ms. JAROSZ: That's actually very funny that you say that because I have had many a time, you know, in high school, when I was sitting in my math class, and I would just get lost and be writing lyrics to a song. So, it definitely - there was a big balancing act all through high school, balancing my music career and my high school and work. And many times, it would feel as if there were two lives going on, but sometimes they would coincide with each other in calculus class, when I would be writing a song while the teacher was lecturing.
RAZ: I know that there are just two songs on this album that you didn't write. One is by The Decembrists, the indie band from Portland, and one is by Tom Waits, the track "Come On Up to the House." Let's hear Tom Waits' version for a few moments, and then we'll hear yours.
Ms. JAROSZ: Okay.
(Soundbite of song, "Come On Up to the House")
Mr. TOM WAITS: Well, the moon is broken and the sky is cracked. Come on up to the house.
Ms. JAROSZ: The only things that you can see is all that you lack. Come on up to the house.
All you're crying don't do you no good. Come on up to the house. Come down off the cross. We can use the wood. Come on up to the house. You got to come on up to the house…
RAZ: Two totally different sounds, but both great in different ways, as well. Why did you pick this Tom Waits track?
Ms. JAROSZ: I picked that track because, well, one, I just think Tom Waits is amazing and such an eclectic artist, and I learned that song from a friend of mine, Aoife O'Donovan, in the band Crooked Still. She was - I was at a camp, a music camp, a few summers ago in California, and she taught that song to me. And I just immediately fell in love with the lyrics, everything about it. It's such a beautifully sculpted song. And I felt like it really blended very well with the rest of my original songs on the album.
RAZ: You know, I was checking out your MySpace page, and you put down, for influences, just this really different range of artists, Doc Watson, of course, because you've been called a bluegrass singer and a folk singer, but then there's Ella Fitzgerald and Death Cab for Cutie.
Ms. JAROSZ: Mm-hmm. I have always grown up listening to as much music as possible in any genre. That's what I try to do with my music is I try to take everything that I have listened to and learned from and loved and been inspired by and kind of mold it in my own, original music.
RAZ: And I've even seen you cover the Gnarls Barkley track "Crazy." I've seen some video clips of that on YouTube.
Ms. JAROSZ: Yes. I actually - I sang that at my high school graduation a couple weeks ago.
(Soundbite of laughter)
RAZ: Did you get a good response?
Ms. JAROSZ: It was a good response. The class loved it, I think.
RAZ: Would you mind playing a bit of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" for us?
Ms. JAROSZ: Oh, let me grab my mandolin. One second.
This is a really loud one, so…
(Soundbite of song, "Crazy")
Ms. JAROSZ: (Singing) I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind. There was something so pleasant about that place. Even your emotions have an echo in so much space. And when you're out there without a care, yeah, I was out of touch, but it wasn't because I didn't know enough. I just knew too much. That made me crazy. That made me crazy. That made me crazy, possibly.
Ms. JAROSZ: Thank you.
RAZ: So, now that you've graduated, what's the plan? What's next for you?
Ms. JAROSZ: In August, I will be moving to Boston, Massachusetts, and attending New England Conservatory of Music.
RAZ: Wow. Well, congratulations. The CD again is called "Song Up in Her Head." Thank you so much for joining us and good luck next year.
Ms. JAROSZ: Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.
RAZ: Sarah Jorosz' first CD, "Song Up in Her Head," comes out on Tuesday. She joined us from member station KUT in Austin.
(Soundbite of song, "Song Up in Her Head")
RAZ: And that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Have a great week.
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