When Sean Watkins’ new album What to Fear hits stores on March 18th, the election year will already be in full swing.
A lifelong musician who kicked off his career as Nickel Creek’s pre-teen guitarist, Watkins knows what to expect from the days leading up to November 8th. It’ll be a swirl of stump speeches, TV ads and debates, shot through — unfortunately — with a good bit of fear-mongering from America’s 24-hour news outlets.
“Ever since I was a kid, I always thought it was so funny when some news anchor would say something like, ‘Are the shoes you’re wearing giving you cancer? Stay tuned for the answer right after this!’, and then an ad comes on that they get paid for,” says the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, whose recent projects include all-star roots band the Watkins Family Hour. “It’s a pretty simple and genius plan. Basically, the more fear they can conjure up, the more money they make.”
On the album’s title track, Watkins strums his acoustic guitar alongside a makeshift supergroup of drummer Matt Chamberlain, bassist Mike Elizondo and California-based string band the Bee Eaters. The result is an articulate, razor-edged folk song, made up of equal parts melody and message. “There’s no one in this dark world you can trust — except for us,” goes the final line in the chorus, delivered from the point of a TV anchor who wants not only to report the news, but shape it too. (Listen to the song below.)
“Where we get our information is very important,” Watkins tells Rolling Stone Country. “Fear can keep us safe, but it can also cause us to make harsh reactionary decisions that we regret later. This idea is not novel by any means. It’s always been around, but right now, I feel like it is particularly relevant.”