Sierra Hull lives to play the mandolin and perform, let's make that clear from the start.
Closing in on two years since the release of her highly acclaimed solo recording Secrets, she's nearing the completion of her first year at Boston's acclaimed Berklee College of Music, attending under a Presidential Scholarship, a grant established to bring the world's best young musicians to study at Berklee.
Not one to slow down for school, Sierra held down a grueling touring schedule on weekends since arriving in Boston and recently completed a new instructional mandolin DVD for AcuTab entitled Sierra Hull - Secrets Songs & Tunes.
While other first-year college students were hitting the beach during Spring Break, Sierra opted for a week in the recording studio in Nashville preparing a new project.
Less than two years since Bill Graham interviewed her for his Mandolin Cafe feature article Beautiful Music: Sierra Just Is, so much has happened to the young star from Tennessee that we thought it was time to catch up with her about life away from home, her new instructional DVD and continuing rise to fame in the bluegrass world.
Mandolin Cafe: Congratulations on your new instructional DVD on AcuTab where you're presenting material from your Secrets recording on Rounder and other favorites of yours.
Sierra Hull: Thanks! I'm so excited that it's finally out. I spent hours when I was younger watching instructional DVDs and learned so much from them. I didn't imagine I'd ever be someone that was asked to actually make one teaching my music, and I'm so honored to think that anyone would want to learn about anything I do as a mandolin player.
Mandolin Cafe: Like a great studio recording, a lot of hours go into the video production of an AcuTab instructional DVD. What was the experience like and how many hours of your own time do you estimate went into the final product?
Sierra Hull: We did put a lot of work in to it, but the process of doing something like this was much different than making a record for me. I was amazed at how quickly we were able to make it. Ron Block and I actually went to Virginia to the AcuTab studio and recorded his banjo DVD and my DVD at the same time. Within the course of 4 days or so, we recorded both.
Mandolin Cafe: After recording Secrets, performing selections from it in concert over the past two years and presenting the information on the DVD, you've spent a lot of time with this material. Do you find yourself looking forward to writing and creating new music as a result?
Sierra Hull: Oh, definitely. I feel like Secrets was made so long ago at this point. I've changed a lot since then. I love that material and have enjoyed performing it since then, but like anything, it's exciting to be working on new music. I've spent a lot of time since then really trying to work on writing new material. Mostly vocals, but some instrumentals as well. Since being at Berklee I have definitely worked on a lot of new things that I probably wouldn't have had the chance to otherwise. It's been great.
Sierra Hull - Secrets Songs & Tunes DVD
Mandolin Cafe: The tone coming out of the Weber mandolin on the instructional DVD is just spectacular. Could you tell us about this instrument, how long you've owned it and how you came to own it?
Sierra Hull: Well, first off, that Weber is a great instrument. One of the best Webers I've heard, and I was really happy when they decided to give me that particular one. They contacted me a few years ago about playing one, and at the time, I was really looking for a new instrument and decided to give it a try and loved it. It's a distressed Fern, and not only does it sound great, but I love the way it looks.
Mandolin Cafe: Do you remember making a conscious effort in your earlier years to work towards the tone you're known for or did it just come naturally?
Sierra Hull: Well, I don't know that I really tried to work on it as much as I have just always known what I think sounds good and have worked to sound that way. Some people have completely different tone, and I can love them both for different reasons. I think every player kinda has to settle in on what best suites their style of playing. That's really all I've tried to do.
Mandolin Cafe: You grew up acknowledging the influence of musicians like Alison Krauss and Chris Thile, yet it seems you've moved to a level where the role is reversed and you're now admired by a lot of young players. Have you spent much time pondering your place as a role model in the concert setting and off-stage?
Sierra Hull: Oh gosh, not really. I mean, it's amazing to me to think that any young person would look up to me. I can't imagine someone admiring me the way I have all of my heroes. Probably because I'm still like a little kid in so many ways when I think of how much I love listening to my heroes play. And I have so many. I'm not sure you ever lose that kind of admiration. It's a sweet thought though and makes me feel good.
Mandolin Cafe: If you were asked to lend advice to one of those young musicians wanting to follow in your footsteps, what would that advice be?
Sierra Hull: I guess my biggest advice would be to keep having fun. I mean, having fun is the only thing that will make you want to continue to get better and better. When a lot of people start playing really young, I think they can find themselves burnt out by the time they are in their late teens. I'd just say, dream big, but take it slow and never let anything get in the way of having fun.
Mandolin Cafe: You're now in your second semester at Berklee School of Music. Boston is a long way from Byrdstown, Tennessee. How has the adjustment of life away from home gone for you?
Sierra Hull: Berklee has been great, and I am happy that I decided to go, but it was definitely a big adjustment moving from little bitty Byrdstown. Luckily, I was on the road a ton with the band during my first semester, so it made settling harder, but somewhat easier if that makes sense :).
Mandolin Cafe: We understand you were in the studio over Spring Break working on a new recording. Any estimated release date or other information you can share about this project for your fans?
Sierra Hull: Yes, actually, I'm in the studio right now as I answer these questions. I'm so happy to be working on a new project. Not sure when it will actually be released, but we are hoping to have it done by the end of April. I've been working with Barry Bales on this project, and it's been a really fun time and great experience. Musicians on the record as of now are the guys in my band: Jacob Eller, Clay Hess, Cory Walker, Christian Ward. And then some of my favorites: Barry Bales, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton and Randy Kohrs. Other expected guests will be Ron Block, Shawn Lane, Alison Krauss and Ronnie Bowman.
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A couple of days without comments on this thread makes me feel obliged to say something.
The new up and coming musicians like Sierra Hull are a treat to watch music devellop even more. The 10 questions provided insight into what is possible for younger musicians to achieve today as opposed to years back (taking alternative music forms to college etc.).
I also like the way musicians like Sierra Hull are starting to carve a niche for their approach to music.
I wish her further luck (and the Lovell Sisters etc.).
William Grant Macdonald
April 08, 2010 02:55 PM
Sierra's comment about having fun seems right on. I remember an interview with Bela Fleck where he said basically the same thing, e.g. do an arpeggio in a way that makes it fun, musical, interesting instead of just a robotic exercise. The "anecdotal" question about late night .treats seemed like a fluffy question. A more insightful question about, say, the interesting people she's met through music would round out Sierra's identity more than rice crispy treats, in my opinion.
April 10, 2010 08:35 PM
Sierra Hull is my new musical 'hero'!
May 09, 2010 05:46 PM
Id like to know what her set up is,,strings,,picks,,string height,,etc.shes a prodigy for sure!!