Sara Watkins’ First Record Since Becoming a Mom Reimagines Childhood Classics in Unexpected Ways

Listening to Sara Watkins’ album Young in All the Wrong Ways (2016, New West Records) takes me back to the late ’90s, to the strains of ethereal vocals and pretty guitars — Belly, the Cranberries, Lush — with spirited folk and bluegrass woven throughout. 

Sara Watkins (photo credit: Jacob Boll)

A lot has happened in the six years since she released that record, most notably, her journey into motherhood. And while songs on her upcoming family record give off a different vibe, they are equally beautiful and nostalgic. The first single, “Pure Imagination,” for example, reimagines the classic track from 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory in a fresh, whimsical way. 

We recently caught up with Sara to chat about her new album Under the Pepper Tree, mom life with a young daughter, and more.

Rockmommy: What’s it been like balancing parenthood, music, and life over the last year? 

Sara Watkins: After a while I found myself in the groove of the pandemic lifestyle, anxiety would be a low hum, but when unexpected things happened, it felt immediately overwhelming because of the challenges the pandemic brings. There were some non-COVID related health issues in my family this year and not being able to just drop everything, go and be together was really, really hard and conflicting. I know I’m not alone in that of course. I have a 3-year-old and am so grateful I got to spend this year with her. The challenge of pandemic-era childcare is a big one, though, so with the exception of the couple weeks in which I was in the studio recording, I mostly just worked at nap time. Man, I am grateful for naps. 

Rockmommy: How did the past year of spending more time at home influence your music and/or creative process?  

Sara Watkins: I feel like most of my creativity has gone into playing with my toddler, and I haven’t had a lot to spare on writing music. Instead, I found myself learning and exploring other people’s songs, many of which I recorded. There is a whole world inside the arrangement and Gene Wilder’s vocal on the original recording of “Pure Imagination” (from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Discovering the right way to approach that song on my record was a delightful challenge. 

Rockmommy: What are you most hopeful for in 2021? 

Sara Watkins: I’m hopeful that new life will begin to grow up in the ashes, and that I will remember the lessons I learned in 2020 and carry them with me. 

Rockmommy: Can you tell us more about your upcoming record? 

Sara Watkins: Yes! My album Under the Pepper Tree will be out in late March and it’s my first children’s record! It will be available digitally of course, but I think the songs and arrangements will really shine and capture kids’ imaginations when they listen to music on vinyl while holding the beautiful artwork by Adam Sniezek. As a parent, I have discovered decision fatigue and it’s so nice to be able to put on a record and know that all the songs will simply come in their order. I can enjoy the ride and when it’s done, it’s done. It’s beautiful. I am hopeful this record will be a calming transition from wild and energetic afternoons to peaceful evenings and bedtimes. 

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.