There’s a certain irony in naming your band Time Sawyer. On the one hand, there’s that undeniable reference to that fictional character invented by Mark Twain, one Tom Sawyer. On the other, there’s that strain of timelessness and tradition infused in the band’s songs, the sound of a band that taps tradition within a contemporary context, all of which culminate in what the band proudly hail as “real people and real songs.”
Since their original formation at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, the band — led by vocalist/guitarist Sam Tayloe and vocalist/banjo player Houston Norris — have learned to excel by creating a sound that rings familiar even on first hearing, an approach that’s joyful, touching and gravitating all at the same time. It’s a rich tapestry that combines rock, folk and their rustic roots with an approach that’s immediately engaging and hard to get out of your head.
The band’s line-up has shifted over the years, but over the course of six albums, including their excellent new offering Wildest Dreams, Time Sawyer have stayed true to their intents by making music that inspires a connection with their fans and followers. That populist bond has broadened over the years, thanks to an impressive cadre of festivals and special appearances, among them, Merlefest, Floydfest, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion, Rhythm n’ Blooms, Carolina in the Fall, IBMA’s Bluegrass First Class and our own Blankfest. And if one is judged by the company one keeps, then here too they boast some powerful credentials, having shared bills with Langhorne Slim, Steep Canyon Rangers, The Wood Brothers, Joe Pug, Holy Ghost Tent Revival, to name a few.
We recently spoke with Sam Tayloe about the band’s roots and regimen.
BLANK : How have you seen your music evolve and change over the course of your 6 albums? What have done differently each time? And how has the songwriting evolved?
Sam Tayloe: This may be a cop out, but I think our music in general has progressed like most others…you look for new avenues for your songs, you become more at home in your craft, and explore new ways to present those as you move through life. I do think I’ve been able to find my words better as I progress. I would say from the beginning I’ve not shy’d away from much. I’ve always wanted to let my songs mean something to somebody, even if that meant letting people know what I had going on, but I’ve been able to better construct that, I hope, as we move forward.
B: Please give me an idea of your early influences?
ST: The Avett Brothers really sparked my ability to want to play and write. Very emotive show experiences there. I somehow made it to 2010 before I started listening to Ryan Adams, but he’s near the top for me. Houston would agree on the Avett Brothers front.
B: I know that the original members of the band met at college, but when and how did you know that you were on the same page musically and that your instincts and tastes were in sync?
ST: Houston and I have been best friends since elementary school, but we never played any music together — or by ourselves — till college, but I think that has helped us continue to better find ways to work together and put the band first. We met the other two original players at UNC Charlotte. We pulled from different genres, but that helped us to better find a starting point for sound, I think.
B: What were you studying at the time?
ST: I studied history and Houston studied Criminal Justice. Not really using those things now, haha.
B: Was it always your intention to grow the band and make it a career? What were the challenges — and what were the early successes?
ST: I think it was for me. It’s always daunting to start anything, especially a band when you’re not very good, haha, but I just want our songs to matter, and I think the more we can put ourselves in front of folks, the better chance I have to connect with other people. They matter to me, but that’s why we all put ourselves out here when we do, to hopefully connect with others going through the same things. So that sparked the career aspirations. Some early successes involved seeing that happen, and that fuelled the fire.
B: You’ve had a few personnel changes. What led to the departure of original players and how did you recruit the current members of the band?
ST: We had just reached a point of divergence in the way we wanted and needed to carry out our careers in the best and most diligent fashion. Those guys are talented folks and we wish the best. I feel certain that they will have avenues to create in the future and continue to show creativity. We played as a duo for a while for some smaller shows — and we still do — to continue to really hone our skills. Playing solo or as a duo really leaves you nothing to hide behind and lets us hopefully showcase a tight sound and our vocal harmonies. We had some friends step in at first for larger shows and have now developed a much firmer hold on full time guys. We’re having a lot of fun with this group and I think it’s showing on our new record and at our live shows.
B: I see that you play a lot of festivals. How were you able to get connected with those events?
ST: I feel we definitely had some luck to start with for sure, and hopefully in the last couple years we have had some recognition and press that has begun to speak positively of the band. Festivals are our favorite things to play, so we hope to keep ’em coming.
B: What kind of reaction have you gotten from your audiences and how has your fan base grown?
ST: Our fan base has grown steadily as we have grown. It’s been really a lot of fun to be a part of. We say a lot that we “have fans that become friends.” Shows become more and more relaxed as people we never knew become the friends we now have. It’s great to see that happen in more and more cities. I think this is a career of attrition — the longer you can build, even at a gradual speed, and survive, the better you’re chances of coming out on the other side.
B: Who writes the songs? You alone, or is it a group effort?
ST: I do the writing. However we all work on how we construct what ends up as our final product. That opens up the ability to adapt songs and work to highlight what is important in all of them as we continue to try and always push for a better all around performance.
Time Sawyer will perform at 10:00PM Friday, May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) at Barley’s Taproom in the Old City. If you see the BLANK crew there, come say hello…we might even buy you a Margarita.