I'm With Her isn't a political act.
It may seem silly to begin a feature on the talented trio with that proclamation, but in today's political climate, and because "I'm With Her" was Hillary Clinton's slogan in her second run for president, it's probably best to say so upfront.
So with that out of the way, let's talk about what the group actually is: a trio featuring three of the biggest names within the roots music world. The fact that it's a group of female singers selling out venues — including some more prolific members of their male-dominated music genre would have trouble booking — gives their name more empowerment than any adoption of a political ad possibly could.
Each member has multiple awards to her name: Sara Watkins as a founding member of bluegrass act Nickel Creek ("This Side"); Sarah Jarosz is still celebrating her recent Grammy win for Best Folk Album; and Aoife O'Donovan for her celebrated vocal work with cellist Yo-Yo Ma on his critically acclaimed "Goat Rodeo Sessions."
Touring behind the strength of their lauded debut album, the recently released "See You Around," the supergroup will take the stage of Saxapahaw's Haw River Ballroom on July 10. The setting is perfect, as their effortless control over music, which melds influences from the past with lyrics reflecting a life from today, will feel right at home within the old cotton mill's dye house.
The News & Observer spoke with O'Donovan during a brief pause in the group's tour to touch on the amazing year they are having. We take a moment to discuss the band name's origins, and if there was any hesitation to invest so much time in a band, when all three of their respective careers were experiencing peaks.
Q: At the time of "See You Around's" release, you guys had to make it clear in multiple interviews that the name of the group wasn't associated with Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Where did the name come from?
A: We were trying to come up with the name of our first tour, which was a tour of Europe in 2015, and Watkins came up with the (name). It was a nod toward camaraderie, shared interests, our excitement over being in a band together. It just stuck.
A little while after that, the campaign slogan was announced, but we thought we'd go ahead and keep it. We had already been using it for a while, and although we're not a political band, some people immediately make that association. You just have to make of it what you will. The name is only supposed to be a nod toward teamwork, and the fact that we are a collective.
Q: What kind of pushback — both online and off — did you three receive, during the election and afterwards? It feels like it doesn't take much to set people off, especially once they see an artist talk politics.
A: I've not been aware of any pushback, although I'm sure there is some. It's not like people are coming up to our faces and saying, "We hate you!" Although, again, maybe I'm just not aware of it. People at this point are more likely to just take it for what it is: our band name. Its been 18 months since the election, and I know it's still fresh in many people's minds for a variety of reasons. We've just been out there doing our own thing.
Q: All three of you were at such strong points in your solo careers when the album's release was coming together. Were there any moments of hesitation from any of the members, maybe considering pushing it back a month or two?
A: Not really. We've been so lucky in that we were able to wait to release this record — it was actually recorded a couple of years ago - knowing that it was just sitting there, ready to be released, while we sort of tied up loose ends and continued our solo careers. Which we definitely plan to continue doing, but it was nice to take time, to have time to release this and properly tour behind it.
It's been super fun to be out on tour with the girls, and it's been great to travel as a band instead of as a solo act. This is actually Sarah Jarosz's first band, as she's never been a member of a band before. She's led her own band before, but she's never been just one member of a band, so its been fun to experience that with her.
Q: There will most likely be a fair percentage of the audience members in Saxapahaw who are much more familiar with you three as solo artists than as a group. What would you tell them to set their minds at ease about what they will hear from the three of you, performing as a whole?
A: If people are familiar with our solo stuff, they are already familiar with the band, because we have all been parts of each other's solo albums. If you heard Sarah Jarosz's Grammy Award-winning album "Undercurrent," you heard Sara Watkins accompany her on the song "Still Life." If you've heard my album "In the Magic Hour," you've heard Sara and Sarah sing together on "Hornets." You've also heard Sarah and I contributing backup vocals on Sara's albums.
If you've heard our solo projects, you have heard our harmonies blend vocally.
Who: I'm With Her
When: 8 p.m., July 10
Where: Haw River Ballroom, 1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw
Cost: $25 to $27
Info: HawRiverBallroom.com or 336-525-2314