Just as Mark Twain's classic didactic character Tom Sawyer learns that every action has consequences, local Charlotte alt-folk act Time Sawyer has discovered that every action can have its rewards, too.
Sometimes hard work and happenstance carefully convene. That's been the case for them; since forming in 2011, the band has released five albums and has a sixth in the works that's slated for release later this year. The album is a clear candidate for folks who share the "good things come to those that wait" mantra, as it's a follow-up to the band's 2014 release, Disguise the Limits.
"It's the biggest break in time [between albums] but the time and product is worth it," says Time Sawyer frontman, Sam Tayloe. "We've honed our skills a little more and the band itself, our live shows, are growing even bigger recently."
Time Sawyer headlines at Neighborhood Theatre on Sept. 9. The lineup is different — in addition to longtime Sawyer members Tayloe (lead vocalist and guitarist) and Houston Norris (banjo, harmony vocals), there's Bob Barone (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar) and Joel Woodson (bass) along with musicians Ian Wagoner and Ben Haney, who will be accompanying the group for the NoDa show. The band plans to play songs from throughout their music history, while also incorporating newbies like "There & Back Blues," a song from their upcoming EP.
"It's got a more blues-rock type feel and Bob [Barone], who plays pedal steel, switches over to electric guitar," says Tayloe. He describes the song's thematical elements as dealing with temptations.
"It's about doing things that are not good for you. You're smart enough to know it's not good, but not smart enough to stay away from it."
It's a relatable track, but it's coming from a band that seems to be making one wise decision after another.
For their upcoming album, the group decided to switch things up for the recording process. Instead of recording another album in Gastonia, where all previous albums were produced at Old House Studio under the direction of engineer Chris Garges, they hightailed it to Buncombe County to record at Asheville's prestigious Echo Mountain Studio — which hit its 10 year mark this year — under the direction of producer Mike Ashworth of Steep Canyon Rangers.
"It worked out really well to have somebody [Mike Ashworth] with a Grammy nomination and even further than that, that as a musician he is so much more than just a member of a band. He does a lot of production work and multi-instrumentalist type work."
Several years ago Time Sawyer opened for Steep Canyon Rangers at Ziggy's in Winston-Salem, but that wasn't what forged the work between Sawyer and Ashworth. That, Tayloe credits to the desire to evolve. The band wanted to record somewhere different and a family friend had connections with the studio, which helped for initial communication. And, finally, Ashworth was available to produce tha album, despite his time being somewhat sacred.
"The change was not from a lack of continuity, it was a change because we've done this for five different records. I think it makes sense that we get a different experience to see what that means for creating some else and getting a different feeling because we might have gotten too comfortable, if that makes any sense," says Tayloe.
While in the studio, the band also made some adjustments to song arrangements.
"There is something we seem to do quite a bit. The lyrics of a tune don't necessarily have to fit with the pace or the feel of the song itself. I think sometimes that adds to it. I find myself drawn to slower folk music that really speaks a message and you listen to the lyrics better that way, but I like the ability to give someone a song that someone might view as an upbeat party song but the lyrics will tell a different story," says Tayloe. For the song "How Long," they switched gears, turning the upbeat tune into a softer track.
"In the studio, we did a real 180 and gave it a more subdued, tender approach," Tayloe says. "Mike Ashworth, the producer, and the Echo Mountain team really gave us a great environment that allowed us to throw ourselves into whatever was best for the tunes in front of us."
He says it felt like the entire recording process fell into place, but he adds that it was in part due to the band doing their homework.
Homework also involved asking for help. Without the support of backing from a major record label, the band turned to its fans. They created an Indiegogo-funded project and asked fans to donate money for the upcoming album. With a goal of around $6,500, the band managed to receive around $5,500 in donations. That money went a long way, helping them to record in the acclaimed studio and without the added pressures of major label management.
Tayloe, like the rest of the band, is thankful.
"It's very comforting to say that the bands' fans have helped to raise this money and to know they want this record," he says. "But on the flipside of that coin, it's neat to feel a sense of working for them, too. You feel a sense of urgency to create a good record, the best record you can, because you have this backing of people that are counting on you more than before, in a monetary sense. They have given a piece of what they worked for because they want to see what you can do with it."
- The cover of Time Sawyer's 2014 album, Disguise the Limits. (Photo by LL2 Productions and layout by Frankie Gene)
The band's last album, Disguise the Limits, was one of the band's strongest to date with finger-picking on guitars and banjos, blaring horns, flowing pedal steel and other medleys of instruments coming together for folk-rock tinged in bluegrass and country-fused soul from the heart of the Yadkin Valley.
With roots in Elkin, North Carolina, the band pays homage to their humble upbringings every year during Reevestock Music Festival. The music festival was originally founded to save the historic Reeves Theater, a landmark in the small downtown along Main Street. There were hopes to restore the space and and turn it into a concert venue. Eventually, the building was bought and is slated for revitalization through a state grant. Since that change, the band has shifted the festival's cause to helping with scholarships for two local high schools. The concert, held every August, has gotten larger in recent years, drawing more acts to the roster and bringing more concert-goers in from out of town — many of whom, as Sam notes, commute for the festival from the Charlotte area.
Tayloe credits a solid Q.C. fanbase to the festival's success and to the band's success at large. The band has gone from playing coffee shops, breweries and small Charlotte venues like Evening Muse to bigger venues like Neighborhood Theatre just across the street. Time Sawyer headlines its third show on the big stage at Neighborhood Theatre on Sept. 9.
"Gregg McCraw [of Neighborhood Theatre] took a chance on us. We were in that limbo period. We'd been lucky enough to sell out The Evening Muse the last four times we played there and we love The Muse, but you start looking at it from a business perspective that it's great to play a packed house but if you're letting dollars walk out the door, you're not doing what sometimes is the biggest part of your job, to put growth on your plate there," says Tayloe.
Part of the band's growth comes from strong and steady ties with the community. In June, the band played a special concert, The Time Sawyer Soiree at The Evening Muse. Triple C Brewing Co. created a special beer, dubbed "Time Hop IPA," for the show. At the same show, JJ's Red Hots handed out hotdog cards that could be redeemed for a free hotdog — possibly the specially created Sawyer Weiner — at the shop's Dilworth location. Ink Floyd also designed the band's T-shirts, many of which are inked with owl designs.
"Ink Floyd also is designing some new art for us as we move forward with this new EP. It's really cool stuff," says Tayloe. "Those guys are the best."
That event — just one of many similar ones for the band — was a success that brought benefits to everyone on board. And despite the band's seemingly DIY-approach, community ties have helped to make some of their adventures all the more interesting.
The band's fruitful connections also led them to embarking on a West Coast Avett Brothers afterparty show tour sponsored by Cheerwine. This raises the question: Could Time Sawyer be the next Avett Brothers?
Like Time Sawyer, the Avetts hail from the Concord area. In 2007, when they released their fifth album Emotionalism it turned into a Billboard success, sparking the band on another nationwide tour and pumping up the turnout at Charlotte shows. Now, when they return home they often play to a packed Time Warner Cable Arena.
While Time Sawyer continues to release album after album independently, they aren't opposed to signing to a major record label in the future. They currently get a lot of advice from folks within the music industry and continue to develop positive connections from within the field.
- Time Sawyer performs at Neighborhood Theatre on Sept. 9. (Photo credit: Maddy Mallory)
"We want to do what's best for the band," says Tayloe. "That could eventually be working for management or a booking team, but they'd have to fully believe in what we're doing. We're always trying to add to the stage and to add to the show and to make sure that people are getting what they paid for. The music is at the center of eveything we do."
In regards to the possibility of following in The Avett Brothers' footsteps, Tayloe admits that'd be quite nice.
"We definitely, Houston and I, have loved The Avetts for a very long time and in a sense that could be number one or two on that roadmap — as to really being in love with what they brought, their energy, their lyrics — as we were really starting our music career. At the very forefront, they were definitely a big part of that. We hope that can happen. We've definitely put the work in, so if that's what happens we'd gladly take that."