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Sierra Hull reveals her "Secrets"

By John Lupton, May 2008

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The major turning point in her development happened by chance when Nickel Creek's Thile encountered her at a festival jam and was impressed enough to sit down and play with her. Also at the festival was Krauss, to whom Thile introduced her. Hull was a featured performer on the 2004 Great High Mountain Tour, which included an all-star bluegrass lineup, including Krauss, performing songs from the soundtracks of the hit movies "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Cold Mountain."

It took a few years, but at many levels "Secrets" results from the "aftershock" of not only meeting two of her idols, but having them become mentors as well.

Krauss' influence is particularly keen all the way through. Though in no way a clone or slavish imitation, the album resonates with the same exuberance and freshness as when Krauss herself was a teenage sensation and bandleader 20 years ago. Hull agrees she's learned more than just how to play the music.

"I'm sure (Alison) doesn't even realize it, but I've learned so much from her. She's never had to really say anything to me. Just from watching her and observing her, and seeing the way she is, the way she treats others and the way she really is with her band. To me, I really respect the way she's always been towards her band, and I know all of her band would be the first ones to tell you that. You know, it's not all about her. It's about what they do as a whole, and they make all the decisions as a whole, and they come together as a band, as a team, it's not just one person saying, 'you need to do this, you need to do that.' But Alison's kind of the groundwork for it all, to hold it all together...she kind of leads the team, so to speak."

The roster of musicians playing on or writing for "Secrets" (including Ron Block, who co-produced with Hull) features nearly everyone who's ever been in Krauss' band Union Station, and Krauss herself brought some novel ideas to the table when it came time to select songs for the disc.

Exhibit A would have to be "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," a pop classic for Connie Francis way back in 1960. Hull laughs out loud as she agrees that it was a somewhat unexpected choice.

"That was definitely an 'AK' thing. That was Alison. She brought that song to me, and she kind of helped us pick a few of the songs on the album, so she's like, 'What about that old Connie Francis song?'...so Ron and I went to iTunes and bought Connie Francis' version of the song and listened to it and then slowly decided how we wanted to change it to a bluegrass song, and (Alison) kind of suggested the basic outline of it as far as how to do it, then (Ron and I) arranged it...the 'Connie' version was totally different, and I feel like we kept the basic melody of the song and just 'grassed it up a little bit."

And, like Krauss, Hull has been leading her own band for the last couple of years, dubbed Highway 111 for the Tennessee two-lane that runs from Byrdstown down to Nashville. The end of school, she says, means kicking up the touring schedule a notch or two.

"We definitely try to play more in the summer because that's when we can more because I'm out (of school) and more available and free then, but the thing is a lot of times I'll have a parent that goes with me, especially if it's a pretty good trip where we have to fly or really drive a longs ways or be out for a few days. So, usually my mom will go or sometimes my dad."

She's well aware of the late-'80s honky-tonk country band out of California called Highway 101, led by sultry and smoky lead singer Paulette Carlson, and admits it's been kind of fun to encounter the occasional confusion. "I do remember one time somebody actually thinking we were Highway 101 or misreading, so it seems like that has come up...but most of the time people get it straight. They might mess up the introduction and say 'Highway One-One-One', not quite say it right ('one-eleven'), but...I think it was actually close to home, somebody got that messed up and said 'Is Highway 101 gonna be there?'"

The aforementioned movie debut came through her part in the upcoming "Billy: The Early Years," a biopic about the Rev. Billy Graham in which she portrays the evangelist's sister Catherine Graham as a teenager. "I wasn't a huge part of it, so I didn't have to be on set a whole lot, just long enough to do my little part, and then I went and did some recording for the sound track...I'm in a few of the scenes early on, but then I guess she gradually grows up, and so does he."

Wise beyond her years, Hull counts herself fortunate to be playing music for a living before she and her classmates have even walked across the stage to grab that diploma. It's a ton of fun to be 16 and playing on a regular basis with the leading lights of the Nashville crowd, but she's especially proud to prove that when it comes to her vocal and instrumental talents, there are no longer any "Secrets."

"I feel like I was so lucky with making this album, just because there were so many songs on it - we went through a whole bunch of songs in order to pick the 13 that we did, and honestly, there's things about all of them that I just really like. I don't feel like there's a song we put on there just to take up space...I feel like every one we put on there was one I really wanted on there, and one that I enjoyed for different reasons."

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