13 Songs, 44 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

“This is me going into the studio thinking that I wanted to experiment a little bit more,” says virtuosic mandolinist and singer-songwriter Sierra Hull of her fourth proper album, 25 Trips. “This is definitely the most instruments I've ever played on an album before, the most that I've actually sang my own harmonies.” Hull came up as a prodigy on the bluegrass circuit, her initial focus proving herself alongside some of the finest contemporary pickers. With time, experience, and a conservatory education, her aspirations changed. Her 2016 album Weighted Mind was a far more solitary and introspective statement; 25 Trips, which Hull co-produced with engineer Shani Gandhi, is an enterprising next step, encompassing poetic exploration, improvisation, and simplicity, with some tracks recorded with a lineup of top-flight players and others created by altering and adding to the sounds Hull made on her own. “I think that I'm just in a place of trying to be open to whatever inspiration comes along and hope that something I do will speak to the people listening,” she says, “but also be something that I feel honest about.” Here she talks through each song on the album.

Beautifully Out of Place
“I just remember I was sitting in my office, and my husband was about to go out the door, and I had my instrument in my hand. I was thinking about what the record I was going to make would look like and who I wanted to work with, and just getting frustrated in the process of trying to clear my schedule and have it all figured out in the time that I actually had off the road. I just remember him standing there in the doorway and saying, ‘Sierra, I believe in you so much. At some point you’ve just got to start trusting yourself to do the things that you really believe you're supposed to do musically and stop looking for someone else to tell you that that's okay.’ Then he walked out the door, and then the song just came: ‘You believe in me, but I can't see what you see. How long is it going to take me to trust myself?’”

Middle of the Woods
“I got inspired to write that song after going to a festival out in Portland, Oregon, called Pickathon. I stumbled upon this little pop-up library that the festival had curated, and there's these little shelves that they had put up, and blankets and pillows and stuff all around, and people reading poetry. I got the idea of ‘In the middle of the woods, once upon a time, I read a few pages in a book of rhymes.’ That felt like such a rhythmic phrase to build on and riff without even really knowing what the song would completely sound like.”

How Long
“My first couple of records had people like Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan on them, my bluegrass heroes. That song I felt like really lent itself to the sound of that traditional ensemble without necessarily being a traditional bluegrass track. I realized that it's been a long time since I got to record my own music with that ensemble. Getting to have those guys take a solo on the end felt like exactly what it needed, and it just became one of my favourite tracks on the album as a result.”

25 Trips
“I didn't really know at the beginning how we would go about recording this track or presenting the song, because ‘25 Trips’ is a great example of [a song] written basically through improvisation. I started writing that riff on the mandolin just on a whim, and I happened to have some lyrics that I had jotted down on my computer. Honestly, once I got past those first couple verses, the song wrote itself just through improvising. It turned into this interesting track on the record that we kind of built from the ground up, and definitely one of my favourites, as far as being able to collaborate with Shani on that track and stack a bunch of my own vocals and create certain sounds from the background vocals.”

Ceiling to the Floor
“This song I had written with Kai Welch a few years ago. He told me about how he had recently gotten into rock climbing, and it led to this conversation about me telling him the story about when I was little, my parents recognized that I was scared every time that they would hold me up high. My parents had this low ceiling in our house, so my dad would literally say, ‘Look, I can hold you up here, and you can even touch the ceiling.’ I was probably three or four, and he's trying to get me over this fear. We put the thing that I had just told him [into the lyrics]: ‘I'm a little scared of heights. Been that way all my life. My daddy held me to the ceiling.’ Sometimes there's a lot of power in simplicity. I think we can come up with interesting things all day long or feel like we're trying to push the boundaries and all that. There is really power in just something that's really simple and true.”

The Last Minute
“If I was going to have an instrumental on the record, I wanted it to be something memorable and singable, that you could actually hum. Once we had the session booked to record ‘How Long’ and ‘Poison’ with the core band of Viktor Krauss and Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan and my husband Justin [Moses], I kept thinking, ‘Man, that's such a great band. I have to do an instrumental with these guys.’ So I literally wrote this tune the night before going in the studio and finished it at like midnight or whatever. That's why I called it ‘The Last Minute.’ But man, they played so, so gloriously on it.”

Escape
“The electric that you hear on the recording is actually my five-string baritone electric mandolin. I just really liked the vibe that it took on in playing the electric. The way that track turned out, with all the dreamy, very layered lushness of it, I've always as a listener loved music that sounded like that. But I feel like this track in particular feels different than anything that I’d recorded so far. It felt like something that I always hoped that at some point I would record.”

Poison
“There's a bunch of different ways that we could have approached recording ‘Poison,’ but we felt like it would be really fun for it to almost feel like some kind of pop song cover, but with total bluegrass instrumentation with people soloing. I think it could have easily become a really cheesy song if the approach to it hadn't been with that kind of ensemble. I wrote that with my friend Laura Leigh [Jones], and we kept saying, ‘This is such a silly song in a way, with the Shakespearean twist and all that stuff,’ but it was one we just couldn't get out of our head.”

Waiting
“That song was built around experimenting with a different kind of approach to tuning on the octave mandolin. Usually, you have them tuned in pairs, and so in this case, I have one of the A strings tuned differently and one of the E strings tuned differently and actually picking each of those strings individually, so you get a little bit more of a harp-like approach. It gave me some interesting tonalities that aren't necessarily playable any other way on an instrument.”

Everybody’s Talking
“That one was written very near the end of making the record. We liked the idea of having some tracks like ‘Everybody's Talking’ that would be more simplistic in the way it was recorded. Those tracks were totally just me going in and singing and playing live, and trying to capture what it might feel like if you were sitting in the living room hearing the song played.”

Envy
“That's one of the ones that early on in writing it, I had some ideas about sonically how I wanted to layer things vocally on it. I had done a really basic demo of me stacking a bunch of vocals and stuff at home when I took it to Shani, and then she just expanded on that and helped me really refine all those ideas.”

Less
“Basically, all you hear on the biggest part is just me singing and playing octave mandolin with the split-tuned octave. Then after that, I went ahead and played the basic melody for what the strings ended up playing over, and then we went in the studio and added strings. I knew I wanted it to go from this frustrated longing to something that felt peaceful and beautiful. I know a lot of people might think of the record as an art record in some ways, but if there is a track that's really like our dreamscape, we definitely felt like that was the one.”

Father Time
“I started writing it after being with my husband and his family out in East Tennessee around Christmastime. His grandpa had a stroke, and so Justin and I got to spend an entire week with his grandma, who's been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for many years now. They have this old clock that goes off in their house on the half hour, and that old familiar sound everybody knows. I kept hearing that, and it was almost like I just got to sit back and watch the beauty of my husband and his grandma and how well he loved her. It's almost impossible not to love somebody that loves other people well. I was just really struck by that, just the idea of Father Time and trying to put that behind melody of what that clock sounds like and incorporate all of that into one story.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

“This is me going into the studio thinking that I wanted to experiment a little bit more,” says virtuosic mandolinist and singer-songwriter Sierra Hull of her fourth proper album, 25 Trips. “This is definitely the most instruments I've ever played on an album before, the most that I've actually sang my own harmonies.” Hull came up as a prodigy on the bluegrass circuit, her initial focus proving herself alongside some of the finest contemporary pickers. With time, experience, and a conservatory education, her aspirations changed. Her 2016 album Weighted Mind was a far more solitary and introspective statement; 25 Trips, which Hull co-produced with engineer Shani Gandhi, is an enterprising next step, encompassing poetic exploration, improvisation, and simplicity, with some tracks recorded with a lineup of top-flight players and others created by altering and adding to the sounds Hull made on her own. “I think that I'm just in a place of trying to be open to whatever inspiration comes along and hope that something I do will speak to the people listening,” she says, “but also be something that I feel honest about.” Here she talks through each song on the album.

Beautifully Out of Place
“I just remember I was sitting in my office, and my husband was about to go out the door, and I had my instrument in my hand. I was thinking about what the record I was going to make would look like and who I wanted to work with, and just getting frustrated in the process of trying to clear my schedule and have it all figured out in the time that I actually had off the road. I just remember him standing there in the doorway and saying, ‘Sierra, I believe in you so much. At some point you’ve just got to start trusting yourself to do the things that you really believe you're supposed to do musically and stop looking for someone else to tell you that that's okay.’ Then he walked out the door, and then the song just came: ‘You believe in me, but I can't see what you see. How long is it going to take me to trust myself?’”

Middle of the Woods
“I got inspired to write that song after going to a festival out in Portland, Oregon, called Pickathon. I stumbled upon this little pop-up library that the festival had curated, and there's these little shelves that they had put up, and blankets and pillows and stuff all around, and people reading poetry. I got the idea of ‘In the middle of the woods, once upon a time, I read a few pages in a book of rhymes.’ That felt like such a rhythmic phrase to build on and riff without even really knowing what the song would completely sound like.”

How Long
“My first couple of records had people like Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan on them, my bluegrass heroes. That song I felt like really lent itself to the sound of that traditional ensemble without necessarily being a traditional bluegrass track. I realized that it's been a long time since I got to record my own music with that ensemble. Getting to have those guys take a solo on the end felt like exactly what it needed, and it just became one of my favourite tracks on the album as a result.”

25 Trips
“I didn't really know at the beginning how we would go about recording this track or presenting the song, because ‘25 Trips’ is a great example of [a song] written basically through improvisation. I started writing that riff on the mandolin just on a whim, and I happened to have some lyrics that I had jotted down on my computer. Honestly, once I got past those first couple verses, the song wrote itself just through improvising. It turned into this interesting track on the record that we kind of built from the ground up, and definitely one of my favourites, as far as being able to collaborate with Shani on that track and stack a bunch of my own vocals and create certain sounds from the background vocals.”

Ceiling to the Floor
“This song I had written with Kai Welch a few years ago. He told me about how he had recently gotten into rock climbing, and it led to this conversation about me telling him the story about when I was little, my parents recognized that I was scared every time that they would hold me up high. My parents had this low ceiling in our house, so my dad would literally say, ‘Look, I can hold you up here, and you can even touch the ceiling.’ I was probably three or four, and he's trying to get me over this fear. We put the thing that I had just told him [into the lyrics]: ‘I'm a little scared of heights. Been that way all my life. My daddy held me to the ceiling.’ Sometimes there's a lot of power in simplicity. I think we can come up with interesting things all day long or feel like we're trying to push the boundaries and all that. There is really power in just something that's really simple and true.”

The Last Minute
“If I was going to have an instrumental on the record, I wanted it to be something memorable and singable, that you could actually hum. Once we had the session booked to record ‘How Long’ and ‘Poison’ with the core band of Viktor Krauss and Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan and my husband Justin [Moses], I kept thinking, ‘Man, that's such a great band. I have to do an instrumental with these guys.’ So I literally wrote this tune the night before going in the studio and finished it at like midnight or whatever. That's why I called it ‘The Last Minute.’ But man, they played so, so gloriously on it.”

Escape
“The electric that you hear on the recording is actually my five-string baritone electric mandolin. I just really liked the vibe that it took on in playing the electric. The way that track turned out, with all the dreamy, very layered lushness of it, I've always as a listener loved music that sounded like that. But I feel like this track in particular feels different than anything that I’d recorded so far. It felt like something that I always hoped that at some point I would record.”

Poison
“There's a bunch of different ways that we could have approached recording ‘Poison,’ but we felt like it would be really fun for it to almost feel like some kind of pop song cover, but with total bluegrass instrumentation with people soloing. I think it could have easily become a really cheesy song if the approach to it hadn't been with that kind of ensemble. I wrote that with my friend Laura Leigh [Jones], and we kept saying, ‘This is such a silly song in a way, with the Shakespearean twist and all that stuff,’ but it was one we just couldn't get out of our head.”

Waiting
“That song was built around experimenting with a different kind of approach to tuning on the octave mandolin. Usually, you have them tuned in pairs, and so in this case, I have one of the A strings tuned differently and one of the E strings tuned differently and actually picking each of those strings individually, so you get a little bit more of a harp-like approach. It gave me some interesting tonalities that aren't necessarily playable any other way on an instrument.”

Everybody’s Talking
“That one was written very near the end of making the record. We liked the idea of having some tracks like ‘Everybody's Talking’ that would be more simplistic in the way it was recorded. Those tracks were totally just me going in and singing and playing live, and trying to capture what it might feel like if you were sitting in the living room hearing the song played.”

Envy
“That's one of the ones that early on in writing it, I had some ideas about sonically how I wanted to layer things vocally on it. I had done a really basic demo of me stacking a bunch of vocals and stuff at home when I took it to Shani, and then she just expanded on that and helped me really refine all those ideas.”

Less
“Basically, all you hear on the biggest part is just me singing and playing octave mandolin with the split-tuned octave. Then after that, I went ahead and played the basic melody for what the strings ended up playing over, and then we went in the studio and added strings. I knew I wanted it to go from this frustrated longing to something that felt peaceful and beautiful. I know a lot of people might think of the record as an art record in some ways, but if there is a track that's really like our dreamscape, we definitely felt like that was the one.”

Father Time
“I started writing it after being with my husband and his family out in East Tennessee around Christmastime. His grandpa had a stroke, and so Justin and I got to spend an entire week with his grandma, who's been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for many years now. They have this old clock that goes off in their house on the half hour, and that old familiar sound everybody knows. I kept hearing that, and it was almost like I just got to sit back and watch the beauty of my husband and his grandma and how well he loved her. It's almost impossible not to love somebody that loves other people well. I was just really struck by that, just the idea of Father Time and trying to put that behind melody of what that clock sounds like and incorporate all of that into one story.”

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