Sierra Hull ‘Used the Studio as an Instrument’ on Forthcoming New Album
It's been almost four years since Sierra Hull released her most recent album, 2016's Weighted Mind. Now, the singer says she's got new music in the works that will showcase her evolution as a songwriter and performer.
"I feel like this next album that I'm working on is kind of a natural progression from my last one, from a songwriting standpoint," Hull told The Boot during AmericanaFest 2019. "As you get older, you learn a little bit more about yourself and get more and more comfortable in your own skin. And I think part of being a songwriter is being okay with being vulnerable and honest with what you're trying to say."
Hull's career has long been a marriage of that songwriter-focused personal artistry with a strong bluegrass foundation and mastery of her primary instrument, the mandolin. While Hull's love for bluegrass hasn't changed, and the genre will always be a big part of her performance style, a greater emphasis on songwriting often leads her down other stylistic avenues.
"The more I lean into my songwriting, the more I feel like it opens up the possibilities of other things and makes me feel less boxed in," she continues excitedly. "And just try to let the songs be what they need to be, rather than saying, 'I need to be this kind of artist, therefore I need to play songs that go like this.'"
In earlier stages of her evolution, Hull thinks she might sometimes have erred on the side of too experimental in the name of setting herself apart. "Sometimes you can put pressure on trying to find something that seems so uniquely you," she admits.
"Being an instrumentalist, especially, I have to be careful sometimes to not have a lot of music I write or record maybe lose sight of some of the things I loved early on," Hull counters. "That's still a huge part of who I am and what I do, too. I don't wanna lose that part of my roots, either."
Hull's new album will showcase some new instrumental moves, too. Last time around, she stripped her record's production down to the bare essentials, focusing primarily on bass, vocals and mandolin.
"There will definitely be more on this record. We really tried to use the studio as an instrument," she relates. "Things are a little bit more produced. I knew I wanted to do a handful of things myself on this record, where I was playing multiple instruments on some of the tracks and singing some of my own harmonies, things like that."
Hull is known primarily as a virtuosic mandolinist; she aligned herself with that instrument early on, partially in order to offer something a little different from the more traditionally singer-songwriter-esque combination of voice and guitar. However, part of creating a larger soundscape with a wider array of instruments involved her returning back to the guitar, an instrument she hadn't played much in recent years.
"There are a lot of guitar singer-songwriters out there. Naturally so. It's a perfect pairing," she explains. "But maybe mandolin and voice is somewhat more unique, and so I was trying to lean a little bit more into that with Weighted Mind, because that's the instrument I claim the most, I guess."
As she began work on her next record, Hull found herself gravitating back toward other instruments -- including the guitar -- in addition to her role as a mandolinist. "It feels like a natural progression to get back to playing a bit more guitar after having sort of laid it down for a few years," she says.
"It's been exciting to come back to that and rediscover my voice on the instrument," Hull notes. "It's not new, completely, to play it onstage, but it's also something I've done less of for a few years -- kind of by design. Now it feels new again."
Another advantage to creating a bigger, more produced sound on her next project? Hull's had the chance to collaborate with some of her favorite musicians. "I was just in the studio with Stuart Duncan and Bryan Sutton just last week," she shares. "Which almost felt like a more throwback to my first two albums in a way, with some of my bluegrass heroes on there, too.
"So yeah. It's like I'm using some heroes, some peers," Hull adds, "so when we get done with the album, it's gonna feel like a full representation of a lot of things that I love."
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