For nearly three decades, Sean Watkins has built a successful folk career through collaborations with close friends, family members, and fellow musicians. Along with Nickel Creek, he’s teamed up with his sister Sara Watkins to form Watkins Family Hour, joined Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman in Fiction Family, and jammed with a handful of Los Angeles session players as part of the Works Progress Administration.
The way in which Watkins interacts with fellow artists and is able to tap into their internal chemistry plays an important role in his solo career as well. Throughout his own releases — including last year’s All I Do Is Lie, his first in nearly a decade — Watkins’ tells stories by not only being honest about his own life, but by also putting himself in other characters’ shoes. Empathy, sympathy, and a sharp, observant eye have grown to become incredibly vital tools in his songwriting.
His forthcoming album, What To Fear, is no different, as he channels preachers and politicians alike, as well as takes a long, hard look inward and at his past. The latest preview of the record, “Keep Your Promises II”, is a prime example of Watkins’ latter storytelling approach.
The track sees Watkins plead with a loved one over the warm, dusty glow of an acoustic guitar: “Darlin, listen up/ Before we drink this cup/ All I ask is/ That you keep your promises.” According to him, it was born out of his All I Do Is Lie sessions some five years ago. In a statement to Consequence of Sound, he explains further:
“About five years ago, I had the idea to write a song called ‘Keep Your Promises.’ The verses here are more or less what I came up with all that time ago but I couldn’t figure out how the chorus should go. I played what I had written for my pal, Dan Wilson, and he instantly came up with a great chorus melody. Despite Dan’s melody, the song still wasn’t quite finished. At a jam session in L.A. around the same time, Gillian Welch suggested I write lyrics to this beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Midnight On the Water.’ I went home and realized the lyrics I had for “Keep Your Promises” fit perfectly into the melody of that fiddle tune. The ‘fiddle tune’ version of “Keep Your Promises” appeared on my last solo record All I Do Is Lie. Last year, I was listening through some old demos and came across the original demo of ‘Keep Your Promises II’ from 5 years ago and had some ideas to finish it. I tweaked the lyrics a bit, added a bridge and generally polished it up to be what it is on this record. I didn’t touch Dan’s amazing chorus — that’s exactly the same.”
Stream “Keep Your Promises II” below.
And here’s the original “Keep Your Promises”:
What To Fear is due out March 18th through Salsa Bar Records/Thirty Tigers. Pre-order it here.
What To Fear Tracklist:
01. What To Fear
02. Last Time For Everything
03. I Am What You Want
04. Keep Your Promises II
06. Where You Were Living
07. Too Little Too Late
08. Local Honey
10. Back On My Feet
In support of the new LP, Watkins has mapped out a US spring tour.
Sean Watkins 2016 Tour Dates:
03/29 – Northampton, MA @ Parlor Room
03/30 – Cambridge, MA @ Club Passim
03/31 – New York, NY @ City Winery
04/01 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot and Saddle
04/02 – Vienna, VA @ Barns at Wolf Tap
04/03 – Charlotte, NC @ Evening Muse
04/05 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
04/06 – Asheville, NC @ Grey Eagle
04/07 – Athens, GA @ The Foundry
04/08 – Decatur, GA @ Eddie’s Attic
04/09 – Chattanooga, TN @ Barking Legs Theatre
04/10 – Nashville, TN @ Station Inn
04/12 – St. Louis, MO @ Duck Room
04/13 – Chesterfield, MO @ Break Room Concerts
04/14 – Davenport, IA @ Redstone Room
04/15 – Madison, WI @ Frequency
04/16 – Marshfield, WI @ Vox Concert Series
04/17 – Minneapolis, MN @ Dakota
04/19 – Chicago, IL @ City Winery