Art & Culture Lifestyle

Interview: Sparkling Pop Duo Sawyer Refocus During the Pandemic

Photo Credit: Daniel Cheny | Words by Stephanie Nardi

Imagine your best friend. Your partner in crime, the person you go to when you need a shoulder to cry on, the one who knows how to make you laugh harder than anyone, and the one you love to pieces. Now imagine that you got to live out your dreams with them by your side every step of the way. Amazing right? Well that’s the reality Sawyer’s Kel Taylor and Emma Harvey are living at this very moment. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, this duo brings a sparkling take on pop music with lyrics that make you feel connected to them and understood. I mean their song Emotional Girls? I think every woman can relate to that on some level. Like with a lot of other artists, the pandemic canceled their tours and left them home bound, but this time has allowed them to slow down, take a breath and focus on what they need.

It’s great to talk to you both again! What have you been doing during quarantine to keep busy?

KT: Sawyer wise, obviously our touring was cancelled, so basically our life was kind of taken away. We’re used to being on the road almost half the year and now this is sort of our first time actually living in Nashville. Pretty much since college we’ve been on the road constantly, so the idea of having a normal consistent life where I go to the same grocery store and buy the same things and see the same people feels totally different. It brings up a lot of really good things about being an adult, and it brings up a lot of mental health issues I had no idea were there. It’s been good, but it’s definitely been a truly new life.

EH: A lot of the same for me. I’ve really really loved slowing down. I moved right at the beginning of quarantine and now have a studio outside of my bedroom, which has been life changing! Being able to just play with recording has been really fun since the pressure of having to make something cool because we leave town in a week isn’t there. I can make something and have it not sound like Sawyer or make something and have it be bad and that’s ok because I can just do it tomorrow. That’s been really fun.

Speaking of Nashville, I think you’ve both said that you feel more at home being in motion and on the road than you do actually in Nashville. How has having to stay in one place during the pandemic affected your thoughts or feelings on this?

KT: I’ve felt like it’s been so needed. We were living, in some ways ,the starving artist stereotype; eating ramen from gas stations and using gas station microwaves to warm up sweet potatoes or something. Now I’m realizing more than ever that I can’t go on with that. When we start touring again, we want to make our career one where we only take the tours that make the most sense. If I was my own mom, I would be a horrible mom. If you look at the last three years, it would look like I just forgot I had a kid. Now taking care of myself as my own mom on this side of things, I was like “oh, I’m a person that needs to be cared for and needs stability”. It’s sort of like the tour life can disguise itself in all the fun because you have all these high highs but then the lows on tour, there’s nothing like them. Now on this side of things, I just feel so much more stable.

EH: Tour started to feel like you were on the run from your own life. It felt so relieving to leave Nashville in a lot of ways because you didn’t have to deal with things or didn’t have to develop the friendships that I wanted. So now, when you’re forced to be home it’s better but also harder. I’m now having to face the things that were hard but ultimately bring so much more satisfaction to my life like relationships. So better and worse at the same time. But mostly better!

With everything going on in the world have you felt creatively blocked or uninspired during all of this? How has it affected your creative process?

EH: For me it’s been both. Very very up and down and maybe down for more of it. I think Since we’re so used to being on the road, I haven’t really developed any sort of morning routine or habits that I do every day, so I think without that structure it’s made creativity a lot harder and just general self confidence and well being. There are some days where I wake up and I just feel like shit and it’s because I haven’t exercised or moved or done anything good for me. So now, I’ve started figuring out what I need and trying to stick to a routine has made creativity easier in the sense that I feel like my tank is consistently more full.

KT: Mine has kind of been the same. I have really bad OCD that I was never diagnosed with until the start of quarantine, so a lot of the experience has been me dealing with mental health. I didn’t know; I thought my brain was normal! I thought it was normal to be really afraid all the time. So creatively, there was a month and half where I didn’t feel like an artist because I hardly felt like a person; I was just hanging in there. I think it all kind of crashed at once because we were moving so much all the time that I never had the time to slow down and actually deal with what was there. We had so much stimulation, so much distraction, and so much fun honestly that we weren’t living in reality in a lot of ways. I was denying a lot of the things that I needed to address, and I just wasn’t willing to do that. So for the first month and a half, yes. I could hardly journal. Then once I started getting treatment and getting better, that’s when I started writing songs and poetry that mean so much to me in this new way. I feel like I’m able to bring my whole self to creativity now whereas when we were on the road there was so much distraction and almost living in this manic lifestyle. Even creatively, we got into the pattern of “and now we write the next song, and we hope it can get this many streams and we’re going to write it this way because that’s what people want”. Even in that way, creativity has reached this place of fitting in the game, and now I think since the music industry is basically dead, it’s sort of liberating. You have the freedom of knowing that nothing is going to be that successful right now anyway so you might as well go ahead and write the shit you actually want to write. Write the thing that your little child artist inside of you is actually wanting to say. In that way, it’s been really freeing and liberating.

I think the way you put that is perfect. So with this standstill, how do you see the music landscape changing?

EH: So you know when you were younger, before you could drive, and you were out of school for the summer and you were able to focus on things more and you were less distracted or there were less opportunities to hang out with friends? That for me was when I played the most guitar and was able to really grow in that area. I think the release of Taylor Swift’s new album, where it has such organic instruments and people with real talent playing instruments, and the combination of quarantine, there’s gonna be a really cool shift towards people playing real instruments rather than having it be so quantized and playing everything on a keyboard and your computer and just editing it.

KT: Yeah I think you’re right. That’s good, I like that. I also think everyone’s art during quarantine is going to be extremely special to them. I’m not saying it’s going to be an age of the best art, but I do think at least for the artists themselves, this music is going to be so special. Even the stuff Emma and I are working on right now already feels that way. You just cannot be where all of us are and try to kid yourself on who you are anymore. If it was working before for anyone, just kidding themselves or trying to distract themselves from their own life, it’s no longer that way. Everyone is having to face the person they love, the person they married, their real family, their real friends, their real self and ask, “Is this what I want?”, “Is this how I want our relationship to work?” “Did I mean for this one to fall through?” “How did I choose these people?” “Are these the people who are helping me become who I want to be or are they actually taking me away from that?” because before you could just go from one fun thing to then next and never really have to ask yourself any of these questions.

So you two started Sawyer after going through your own respective breakups. That feels a lot like fate. Do you believe in that sort of thing?

KT: I’ve never been asked that. Do I believe in fate? I believe in meaning. I do believe in a spiritual world and a greater divine thing going on that we can tap into, but aren’t totally in control of. I don’t know what I believe when it comes to how much that spiritual world makes any kind of decisions for us versus how much we make decisions and then can find the divine there. My experience with Sawyer has felt very connected to a greater sense of God and just an overall beyond connectedness of the whole world, so I’m gonna call that fate. I’m gonna go ahead and say yes there was some amount of magic involved, but I’m kind of a romantic in that way and that’s just how I live my life.

EH: I would agree. I also want to add on and say that the idea of fate can kind of insinuate that we don’t have power in certain situations to make choices and things just happen. While I think there is a lot that is out of our control, we have the power to assign whatever meaning we want to things. To me, that is so important to remember. A bad thing may happen in your life, but you have the power to make it mean something more than just woe is me. I don’t want it to come off as toxic positivity because there is definitely space to mourn and to be sad, but I do think, especially in quarantine, I’ve had to choose joy.

What artists have been major influences on you throughout your career that’s helped shape Sawyer? What is it about them/their music that resonates with you?

KT: Good question. We have a shared love of —

EH: You’re gonna take my answer

KT: Yes, I know! We have a shared love of Coldplay and John Mayer and loved those in highschool and college. Emma introduced me to Young the Giant and that was a huge love in college as well There are still some things that are influenced by all three of those artists. I still subconsciously write like Relient K sometimes, and I also still sometimes write like Taylor Swift and Death Cab for Cutie. Honestly, Death Cab and Relient K are the reason why my lyrics can become really paragraph-y. They don’t sound like songs at all, they sound like someone just started their thesis. I think right now though, some of the artists we both really love are Muna, Japanese House, Caroline Polachek and HAIM obviously. Those are the most influential sound wise.

EH: Muna just as a band too, I love their vibe. I love how authentic they are and they’re very vocal about what they stand for. They create a culture that’s really cool and as a band. We have the capability to create whatever culture you want as an artist, so it’s great to have a role model like that to look to and be like “ok, they’re creating something really cool, how are they doing that?”.

All of those are such great influences! If you had to pick a dream collab, would it be someone from that list?

EH: MUNA!

KT: Muna. 100% it would be Muna. We have some fans that have tweeted at them being like “Muna, collab!!” and we’re desperate for them to see it.

EH: I know, I just think we’d be actual friends too.

KT: Yeah, we could at least have a dope friendship collaboration! We don’t have to get into percentages, just hold onto that friendship.

That would be amazing! We’ll just put that out into the universe for you both. So, as an artist, I’m sure it takes a certain level of trust to be creative and comfortable enough to be vulnerable while you’re making music. Did it take time for that trust to develop or did you two just click instantly when you started?

EH: We were such close friends to begin with that it did feel natural. I will say though, when we started writing at the start of quarantine after touring for a while, we had to take some time to get back in the groove of things and establish ground rules for how to communicate with each other and how to not hurt each other’s feelings. There’s definitely a language you have to establish with anyone, no matter how close you already are, because being creative is different.

KT: It is a language for sure and we’ve created such a safe space. Half of songwriting is being willing to say bad ideas, so having a place where you can say your worst idea is important because you have to say it.

Your EP Less Than More Than was released just a few months shy of a year ago. How do you think you’ve grown since its release?

EH: I think we’ve been able to come back to center with center being what we like and our own opinions of things. Not that we didn’t like Less Than More Than, but I think we’ve always been so easily influenced by people who seem to have authority over our music in one way or another. A&R’s music industry or artists or producers who are further along the road could say something about our music and we would take their word for it and not really trust ourselves. I think this space of writing and writing with a producer/songwriter friend of ours, has really encouraged us to trust ourselves. I’m excited for the new music because I think it’ll just be more us than the last EP was. Again, not that it wasn’t us, but this is just feeling even more so authentic to us.

KT: I feel the same way. I feel like we’re finally willing to make stuff that’s maybe riskier because we like it and not because we feel like it’s what’s popular or it’s the sounds that people are into right now. I don’t think we did much compromising before, I love Less Than More Than, but I think if we could do it again, there are just a few sounds here and there that we would’ve wanted to change. With the liberation with quarantine, we’re just ready to make the shit we want to make!

While the start of quarantine may have been an adjustment, it’s clear Kel and Emma have used this time to their advantage. Being able to create just to create without a deadline has been a breath of fresh air for them and it’s allowed them to hone in on their sound and create art that is authentically themselves. With mention of a few new songs in the works, we’re excited to see what this new era of Sawyer has in store. Keep up with these two on Instagram for all the latest!

 

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