RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AMERICAN ARTIST LEO SAWIKIN
Hi Leo, thanks for joining us today. Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about.
I don’t know if there’s anything about me that would be a huge surprise, but something people may not know about me is that I have always had a passion for food and cooking. Also before I decided I wanted to have a career in music I went to college as a biology major with the intent of becoming a researcher and studying paleoneurology.
I wanted to learn about the evolution of love and personalities in mammals, but realized there was just too much boring stuff I had to read to get to a point where I could actually do that.
What makes you stand out as a band?
I think what makes me stand out is my unique melodic sensibility as a vocalist and style of guitar playing. As a guitar player I’m able to hear unique patterns when I’m strumming through my chord progressions and I’m good at voice leading and knowing which notes to highlight. As a songwriter, I have a pretty unique blend of influences.
I grew up listening to a lot of post-grunge and 90s indie music, which definitely has a huge influence on the notes I choose to sing. More recently I’ve really gotten into Joni Mitchell and Jimmy Page and the sound of their open guitar tunings. For this album, I based the bulk of the music around these tunings. I think these songs stand out because of the textures those tunings create combined with the 90s vibe of the melodies.
I think these songs are unique because harmonically they are very 70s leaning, but melodically they are super 90s.
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it.
This music is very different from the stuff I’ve done in the past. On previous records, I was always trying to pay homage to older music and really leaned into my Brian Wilson/Burt Bacharach/Jimmy Webb influence. I was into writing complex chord progressions with a lot of movement and put a lot more focus into the bass notes of each chord and tried to make the music unique through that route.
With this recent stuff I started using more open tunings and started allowing my songs to be more simple in terms of bass notes and movement, but more specific texture wise. The result is a batch of songs that I think are very accessible, maybe a little less technically impressive, but more enjoyable.
Talk me through the thought process of the new tune/s.
I wrote the bulk of these songs using open guitar tunings that I picked up from Joni Mitchell’s Hejira. For some reason these tunings were the easiest for me to get used to of any I had ever tried out. I found them to be really intuitive, forgiving, and easy in terms of fingering.
The unique textures of these chords made me comfortable writing very very simple 3-4 chord songs. One thing I wasn’t expecting when I started writing in these tunings was how inherently 90s sounding a lot of these chords were.
When I write songs, I usually find a chord progression that I like and just play it over and over and see what melodies come to me. Writing over these chords really accentuated the 90s sensibility I have from all the music I listened to in my early childhood. This led to a very interesting combo of folk and indie-pop/post grunge and really distilled my musical DNA down to its core.
What was the recording process like?
To record this recent batch of songs I went to Seattle to work with Phil Ek, who has produced some pretty legendary records over the last few decades. Unlike previous records where session musicians played the bulk of everything, I played all the parts on these songs other than drums and bass. I think because of that these tracks have a lot more of me in them. It was incredibly challenging to play all these parts the way they needed to be played, but I’m really really proud of the way it all turned out in the end.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
The biggest challenge with these songs was figuring out how to record them while preserving the essence of it all. I realized that to make these songs work I was going to have to completely change the way I recorded and really make my guitar parts a much more present element. In order to do that, I had to really focus on improving my rhythm (which had always been a struggle for me) in a way I never really had before.
It was always something I assumed I would never be able do well, or that I would always be able to find someone who could do a better job than me to play on my songs, but Phil insisted that I be the one to play on this stuff and that it was imperative that I do anything I could to improve my timing. It was honestly a lot easier than I assumed it would be, it was just about playing to a click track consistently.
Would you change anything now that it’s finished?
Of course, but I don’t think it would be good for my art if I was always able to go back and obsess over making it flawless. I think it’s important to let go at a certain point and just let the music exist.
The imperfections are what give it character just like with people.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
I’m going to be releasing more songs this year leading up to a full album.