“Less is more? How can that be? That’s impossible. More is more.”
— Yngwie Malmsteen
Malmsteen, a metal guitar hero, is on the other side of the spectrum from where I’m With Her resides. However, the folk supergroup and Malmsteen’s most famous quote connect.
Fiddler Sara Watkins, guitarist Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz on mandolin and banjo each have solo careers. However, what the trio accomplishes with I’m With Her places the act on another level. Their gorgeous harmonies stand out above the pretty melodies.
“We can accomplish something else with each other,” Jarosz said by phone from Ridgefield, Conn. “Obviously the harmonies is something we can’t accomplish by ourselves. What we have is something special. We’re able to achieve more with each other.”
More is more. It all started innocuously enough at the 2014 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“We were all there separately,” Jarosz said. “We were all doing the songwriting workshop. The three of us started working up some songs together and there was spark.”
The following year I’m With Her crafted the single “Crossing Muddy Waters/Be My Husband.”
“It was evident that we had something between us,” Jarosz said. “We agreed that we had to make time for I’m With Her.”
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Each member had solo commitments in 2016, but the next year they wrote and entered the studio with producer Ethan Johns. The result is the album “See You Around,” which dropped last February.
The dozen elegant, earnest songs are often melancholy and gentle. Each was written by the trio, with the exception of Gillian Welch’s moving “Hundred Miles.” The tunes are well-crafted and benefit from plenty of space and tension.
“It’s just incredible how easy it is for us,” Jarosz said. “Everything we do comes naturally.”
What is the extra ingredient that binds and inspires the trio?
“Shopping,” Jarosz said. “We enjoy shopping together. We’ve become such good friends, and I think that helps what we do. When you’re out solo, it’s about you. But when you’re in a group, it’s about everybody. If two out of three of us love a song that we’re writing and the third person doesn’t like it, we find out why, and maybe that song lives or it dies. We’re in this together. We love hanging out together. We enjoy eating, exercising and just spending time with each other.”
Jarosz also believes that it’s beneficial that I’m With Her will take a break from each other after this tour.
“Nothing is in stone yet for what’s next, but we’ll work on other projects next year, but what’s good is that we’ll get back with I’m With Her,” Jarosz said. “We’re not going to just let this wither and die.”
They came up with their band name before Hillary Clinton adopted it for her 2016 presidential bid.
“We had been operating under the title for too long before she decided to use it as her slogan,” Jarosz said. “We weren’t going to abandon it just because Hillary chose to use it. The name of our band is significant, since to us it’s about camaraderie. The name represents an organic coming together of three female musicians. I love being in a band.”
Her favorite part of being part of a group is that she doesn’t have to do all of the heavy lifting.
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“I love that I don’t have to sing every song,” she said. “That’s such a relief. I love just being able to focus on playing the mandolin.”
Jarosz lives in Manhattan, O’Donovan in Brooklyn and Watkins in Los Angeles.
“Sara lives 3,000 miles from us but we make it work,” Jarosz said. “We’re already looking forward to making our next album together. We like the old-fashioned album format. We write songs that fit together and our goal is to take everyone on a musical journey. It’s a lot of fun to go on a musical journey with two good friends.”
WHAT: I’m With Her, with Mipso opening
WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City
WHEN: 8 p.m. Feb. 28
TICKETS: $45, Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org/events
BAND’S WEBSITE: Imwithherband.com