Sean Watkins knew he had enough material to cut a solo album that was worth touring with.
What the Nickel Creek co-founder didn’t know was where he would find the time.
“A few years back I had done a couple of records with my buddy Jon (Foreman, frontman for the Christian alt-rock band Switchfoot) under the band name Fiction Family, and then one with my friend Glen Philips (singer-songwriter for the rock band Toad the Wet Sprocket) in the band WPA,” Watkins said.
“I love collaborating, but it came to a point where I just realized if I wanted to sing my songs right, I needed to go out by myself and do my own thing, just be a solo artist for once.
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“It was my first time really hitting the road solo, although I have played alone around Los Angeles quite a bit because I live there, but I gathered a group of songs that I really liked and that I thought would come across well live. Basically it was just finding a good bunch of songs that I could be proud of that pushed me into it.”
That “good bunch of songs” can be experienced live this Saturday when Watkins takes the stage at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro. He has traveled through this area many times performing with the contemporary folk band he started with his sister Sara in 1989, but this is the first chance that many in the Triangle will have to hear Watkins solo.
His latest album, “All I Do Is Lie,” was released last June, but it has languished from a promotional point of view – primarily due to Watkins’ hectic schedule after Nickel Creek reunited last year after a seven-year hiatus.
“I had the record basically finished before the Nickel Creek reunion came along last year, but then as we got closer to touring and releasing the band’s new album, I realized it would probably be better to release mine afterwards,” he said.
“What ended up happening – and was a total mistake on my part – was we released the album during the middle of the tour. ... I should have just waited until now because I actually have time to tour in support of it.”
Watkins said one of the songs originally on his solo album actually ended up on Nickel Creek’s reunion album (2014’s “A Dotted Line”) instead.
“When we were writing songs for the new album, Chris (Thile) asked if I would mind if we used that song, which I didn’t,” he said.
“I needed to write another song to replace it, though, and that ended up being the title track, ‘All I Do is Lie.’ ”
Watkins’ sound has been evolving since the first time he put pick to guitar. While influenced heavily by bluegrass as a child, some of his earlier solo work has obvious touches of modern pop-rock.
Return to bluegrass
Watkins doesn’t shy away from that, but makes it clear that his newest set of songs will be a return to his earlier bluegrass roots.
“I love old bluegrass, and that’s mostly what I listen to: Flatt & Scruggs, the Louvin Brothers,” he said. “Anything you listen to becomes an influence in one way or another. I’ve made three solo albums previous to this one. The first one was instrumental, more bluegrassy. The second two were more experimental, more pop or rock slanted. This one to me feels more like where I come from with Nickel Creek, what we listen to, what we do.”
Watkins said he wants the new album to be the best example of what he feels he can be. “In the past I’ve tried to do some things that weren’t really my forte, so with this one I’ve tried to do things that were more natural, more in my wheelhouse.”
Finally taking the reins of a long overdue solo career, Watkins is confident that “All I Do Is Lie” is just the beginning of a journey that he has spent decades preparing for.
“I know what needs to happen,” he said. “I have great people around me, folks helping me not forget what I need to remember. It’s great to be able to just get out there on stage and experiment. Some things work, some things don’t, some songs work, some songs don’t. It’s great to just have that freedom to play what you want and see what happens.”