The Current

Great Music Lives Here ®
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now
Radio Heartland®

Sarah Jarosz plays songs from "Polaroid Lovers" at The Current

Sarah Jarosz plays songs from "Polaroid Lovers" at The Current (music & interview) The Current
  Play Now [18:19]

by Mike Pengra

March 03, 2024

Sarah Jarosz didn’t go into recording what became the album Polaroid Lovers with a specific theme in mind, but after the songs coalesced, the theme emerged. “I realized that each story is a snapshot,” Jarosz explains. “And a lot of the songs are almost sort of dealing with time and the fleeting nature of time … the moment is gone, but the photo lives, and songs are kind of like that.”

Hailed for a fresh new sound that Radio Heartland’s Mike Pengra describes as very “sing-along-able,” Polaroid Lovers also saw Jarosz break new ground in terms of co-writing “in a Nashville sort of way,” as she puts it, working with such artists as Natalie Hemby, Ruston Kelly, Jon Randall and producer Daniel Tashian.

While in town for a concert at the Fine Line in Minneapolis, Jarosz and her band visited The Current studio to play songs from the record, after which time Jarosz sat down with Pengra to talk about the album. Watch and listen to the session above, and read a transcript below.

Interview Transcript

Mike Pengra: Super excited to be in the studio with Sarah Jarosz. Sarah's album, Polaroid Lovers, came out in January and it's doing great, I think, right?

Sarah Jarosz: It feels that way.

Mike Pengra: Sure does. I'm so excited because this is a different sound for you, in a way. And a matter of fact, I was going to tell you that the first song, "Jealous Moon," that you played, when I heard it, I thought, "Has Sarah Jarosz gone Bob Dylan going electric in the 60s? What has happened?" But then the rest of the album came out, and it's gorgeous. 

Sarah Jarosz: Thank you. 

Mike Pengra: Anybody else saying that about the sound of the album?

Sarah Jarosz: Yeah, yeah, it's it's definitely different for me, on especially a song like "Jealous Moon." You know, I think I've always been exploratory in my music, I've always wanted to kind of dip my toes into, you know, new sonic territory. I think this record was sort of jumping all the way in with that sort of thing, and just not being afraid to just go for it and and really try it. And ultimately, it felt like it's what the song wanted. So why would I deny the song that you know?

Mike Pengra: True. Yeah. The title Polaroid Lovers, means, as I read in another interview, snapshots of different love stories throughout the album. Can you talk about the theme of the record a little bit?

Sarah Jarosz: Yeah, I kind of, I realized sometimes themes sort of emerge after the fact for me. I didn't go into it thinking that's what it was necessarily going to be. I mean, it literally, the lyric comes from "When The Lights Go Out," which we played on the show. And, you know, it could be taken literally as two lovers in a Polaroid photo, which I just liked that as a title. But then, yeah, sort of, if you zoom out a little bit, I realized that each story is a snapshot. And a lot of the songs are almost sort of dealing with time and the fleeting nature of time and looking back and looking forward and where we are in time. And I kind of liked a photo, you know, being the thing that sort of captures that. And, you know, the moment is gone, but the photo lives, and songs are kind of like that.

A woman in a suit sits on a floor, leaning on a door
Sarah Jarosz's album, "Polaroid Lovers," released January 26, 2024.
Rounder Records; photo by Shervin Lainez

Mike Pengra: Yeah. You produced this record in Nashville. And you worked with Daniel Tashian on this. 

Sarah Jarosz: Yeah, Daniel Tashian produced the record. Yeah.

Mike Pengra: First time working with Daniel, right?

A man with arms folded standing in front of a brick wall
GRAMMY Award-winning songwriter and producer Daniel Tashian.
courtesy Big Yellow Dog Music

Sarah Jarosz: Yes, exactly. Yeah. So I got together, in the spring of 2022, I decided I wanted to sort of reach out to some writers in Nashville, and really kind of try the co-writing thing in a, I don't know, in a Nashville sort of way. I felt like I was sort of, I knew myself well enough to be able to try that for real. And Daniel was the first person that I got together with. And we just totally hit it off. We wrote a song on the record called "Take The High Road." And it just was incredibly exciting to me, what it could sort of lead to. And so he and I continued to write over the course of the year, and eventually, I just loved working with him so much that I asked him to produce the album.

Mike Pengra: You did a lot of collaborations on this record. "Jealous Moon," many of the songs written with Daniel and some with other writers. Talk about that process. How do you co-write a song?

Sarah Jarosz: Well, you know, I've definitely co-written before, obviously, in my band, I'm With Her with Aoife [O’Donovan] and Sara [Watkins], we write all the songs together. I've written with other musicians, you know, primarily musicians and artists before this, but the writers that I wrote with on this record, I think of primarily as writers, you know? They are just craftspeople. And so it was, I learned a lot in the process of writing with people who, that's what they do every single day.

And I think, you know, I think I had sort of shied away from doing that when I was 17 or 18 and working on my first record, because I thought, “OK, you sit down with someone, and if they're really good at writing, maybe they'll kind of take over and I'll get lost in the mix of that and I won't know what my own voice is.” But, you know, with this record, I just I feel like I kind of know more what I can bring to the table musically and what my musical voice is. And so it felt like there's only something to be gained from that process of sitting down and sharing musical ideas with someone and kind of getting out of your own head a bit. You know, I think you have to leave your ego at the door when you're writing with someone because you there has to be this openness and exchange with them.

Mike Pengra: So you walk in with a basic idea and say, "This is what I got, here's the chords. Here's the verse, here's the chorus." What happens when the other guy looks, or the person listens and says, "I think you need a bridge there," or something?

Sarah Jarosz: I think, you know, like I said, you can be open to that, and honesty is everything. You know, I think there's a lot of just quickly letting go of things that if you kind of hold on too tightly to something, it just stops the whole process from moving forward. But yeah, with this record, it was a mixture of kind of coming to the table with ideas already and having that other person maybe help me get it to the finish line. Other times, we would just come into the room and just kind of start from scratch together. And that's also a really fun process to do it that way.

Mike Pengra: Let's talk about some of the other people you collaborated with on this record besides Daniel. You worked with Natalie Hemby and Jon Randall, Ruston Kelly. What was that like?

Sarah Jarosz: Yeah, it was all of them. I'm just such fans of... Ruston, I've known for a long time. He actually weirdly opened a show for me like forever ago, which seems crazy to say now, and so we had known each other. And Ruston is actually an example of a song that — we wrote "Dying Ember" together — and I had been sitting on that, most of that song for years. I loved the chorus so much, and I could just never get the verses right. And so he really helped me get that one finished.

Natalie Hemby is a great story, because I did actually write with Natalie when I was 18. Sort of in those early days of managers and label people wanting me to co-write and me sort of not being ready for it. But Natalie was so sweet then, and you know, I loved working with her, I just didn't quite feel ready for it. So to be able to kind of have this full-circle moment with her and come back around to getting to be in the room writing with her when I felt ready for it, it was really special, because we had that history. And that song, "Good At What I Do," is an example of a song that she sort of brought to the table and she kind of had the first verse and the idea of "am I good at what I do." And I think she she had kind of been saving it for me. And so we finished that one together.

And then Jon Randall, I've known forever; we have the Texas history in common, and we had never written together, and the first song we wrote was "Runaway Train," and just, I was so, so stoked.

Mike Pengra: I love that song. 

Sarah Jarosz: Thank you.

Mike Pengra: As a matter of fact, the whole record, there's so many sing-along-able tunes, you know, that end up being earworms in my brain for the rest of the day.

Sarah Jarosz: That's awesome.

Mike Pengra: Yeah. So we talked while we were getting ready for this interview about your work with I'm With Her. And you said something is coming perhaps with the three of you?

Sarah Jarosz: Yeah, yeah, I can't, you know, we don't, I don't have any like solid details to share at this point. But we are in the early stages of working on another project, which I'm extremely excited about.

Mike Pengra: Sarah, congratulations on this record. The album is called Polaroid Lovers. It came out in January. Good luck on your tour. And thanks so much for coming in. I really appreciate it.

Sarah Jarosz: Thank you for having me back.

Two people have a conversation in a recording studio
Sarah Jarosz speaks with Radio Heartland's Mike Pengra in The Current studio on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024.
Derek Ramirez | MPR

Video Segments

00:00:00 Jealous Moon
00:04:24 When The Lights Go Out
00:07:45 Runaway Train
00:10:45 Interview with host Mike Pengra

All songs from Sarah Jarosz’s 2024 album, Polaroid Lovers, available on Rounder Records.


Sarah Jarosz – mandolin, vocals
Eric Doob – drums
Michael Rinne – bass
Seth Taylor – guitar, vocals


Guest – Sarah Jarosz
Host/Producer – Mike Pengra
Video – Derek Ramirez, Megan Lundberg
Audio – Evan Clark
Editor – Derek Ramirez
Graphics – Natalia Toledo
Digital Producer – Luke Taylor

Sarah Jarosz – official site