Alison Krauss may be the answer to a trivia question that's bound to stump even the most devout music fan. The golden-haired singer quietly won her 27th GRAMMY at the 54th GRAMMY Awards this past February, tying her with Quincy Jones for the most awards by a nonclassical artist. In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, Krauss and her Union Station bandmates discussed their career trajectory, collaborative spirit and the creative process behind their most recent GRAMMY-winning album, Paper Airplane, among other topics.
"Boy, I don't understand how that happened and I'm sure there's plenty of people who don't understand how it happened either," Krauss says regarding her GRAMMY total. "I never thought this would be where I would end up and that I'd get to do this as a career and enjoy this as much as I have."
How it happened is likely the result of remarkable talent that emerged at a very young age.
Krauss' introduction to music came in the form of piano and classical violin lessons at age 5. She recorded her debut album, 1987's Too Late To Cry, when she was 16. In 1989 Krauss issued Two Highways, the debut album under the Alison Krauss & Union Station banner. She won her first GRAMMY at age 19 at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards in 1991. Interestingly, Krauss netted her highest GRAMMY total in one night (five) for 2007's Raising Sand, a side project with legendary Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.
"The goal when Robert and I got together was to really get out of the way and keep our own gut reactions away from that record so that it would have its own identity away from us," says Krauss.
Other band members also explored side projects. Alison Krauss & Union Station had been on a recording hiatus since 2004 when they convened for Paper Airplane. Released in April 2011, the album is a rich 11-song cycle featuring Krauss' angelic voice weaving between the band's patented bluegrass sonic brew. Dan Tyminski (guitar/mandolin) contributes lead vocals to the up-tempo songs "Dust Bowl Children" and "Bonita And Bill Butler." Pristinely recorded, the album also netted engineers Brad Blackwood, Neal Cappellino and Mike Shipley an award for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical at the 54th GRAMMYs.
A major part of the group's appeal is how Krauss effortlessly bridges gaps between roots music and country, rock and pop. Her vocal touch is spotlighted on such songs as Jackson Browne's "My Opening Farewell," Richard Thompson's "Dimming Of The Day" and the hypnotic "Lie Awake." Written by GRAMMY winner Robert Lee Castleman, the album's melancholy title track features a Krauss vocal for the ages.
"When you're singing things that really appeal to you, you don't really have to get into character," says Krauss. "I think [this album] represents us as a band at this point in our lives."
Paper Airplane also marked an impressive 14th GRAMMY for the collective known as Alison Krauss & Union Station. Ultimately, there is something inexplicably special that draws Krauss (who also plays fiddle), Tyminksi, Barry Bales (bass/vocals), Ron Block (banjo/guitar), and Jerry Douglas (dobro/lap steel/vocals) together.
"The only band I've ever been in and the only group of people that I've ever heard make a sound like this is these five people," says Douglas. "I think that's what keeps us coming back, to make that sound again."