Q&A: Sawyer Fredericks on structuring his life and music

Sawyer Fredericks, third from left, and his band. (Holly Tutor)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Sawyer Fredericks, third from left, and his band. (Holly Tutor)

For much of the past year, singer/songwriter Sawyer Fredericks has been living with his partner in a roughly 700-square-foot apartment near downtown Troy.

“It’s very different from living on a farm. It’s cool. It’s got a lot of character. I’ve enjoyed it,” said Fredericks, who won NBC’s “The Voice” (Season 8) and who grew up on a Montgomery County farm.

Fredericks, 22, says this is the first time he’s lived with someone other than a member of his family, and so far it’s going great. He says he and his partner, whom he met at a rock climbing gym about five years ago while his partner was attending Russell Sage College, divide the chores and household cleaning duties. But, honestly, Fredericks says the tidying is nothing compared to what he’s used to having grown up on a farm.

“We both have our responsibilities of making sure the apartment is clean,” Fredericks said. “I can’t even really call them chores. I’m so used to chores being like ‘you are going to go out to the barn and muck a giant stall.’ So I just sweep the floor? It feels easy.”

Fredericks is back in Troy after a fall tour with The Accidentals, a tour that let him showcase his latest album “Flowers For You,” which was released in May 2020 but hadn’t had a proper tour due to the pandemic. While not on the road, Fredericks, who recently posted on Facebook about never having had an alcoholic drink, says he’s been working on new music and also connecting with fans on social media through Sawyer’s Sunday Socials, which are weekly livestream sessions that are part concert, part Q and A with fans.

Fredericks spoke to The Daily Gazette about how he’s evolved as a musician since winning “The Voice” as a 16-year-old, as well as what it’s been like to be an artist during the pandemic. Here’s an edited transcript of the conversation, beginning with a discussion of Fredericks’ latest album.

Q: How do you describe the album “Flowers For You”?
A: It’s one of the albums that I’m most proud of. I feel like I put a lot of my personality into it, and a lot of the stories are inspired by personal experiences. I’m also very happy that I got to work with my band on it. We actually wrote [some songs] together. We wrote the instrumentation before we wrote the lyrics. I feel that this album really showcases my other band members, where previous albums I feel the focus is much more so on me. So a lot of the instrumentation of my band members gets to shine, which I’m really happy about. One song that they wrote me is called “Call it Good.” That song is about environmental justice as well.

Q: Do you want to be more political or have more of a message in your songwriting now?
A.: I would say with lyrics I do want to get a little more political with environmental stuff. But other than that, not too much. But that’s also something that I don’t completely find political.

Q: At least it shouldn’t be.
A: It shouldn’t be. But mostly I feel like I want to be telling stories. If I am getting political, it is going to be only from personal experiences.

Q: What does the idea of “flowers for you” mean?
A: That is the title track also. That song is inspired by a lot of things, but that song, there is a lyric in it that says, [paraphrasing] ‘why do I grow flowers for you?’ It’s a song about many relationships that this person goes in and out of and is slowly trying to figure out why he’s doing all of these things for this other person. And he’s wanting the relationship to be able to slow down for him to be able to figure out why he’s doing these things. So it’s asking why do I grow flowers for you?

Q: Do you feel like you’ve moved too fast in past relationships?
A: I would say so. … It’s also a self-deprecating song because it is kind of me being frustrated with myself for kind of being swayed by someone’s looks instead of their personality and not really seeing the full picture.

Q: How is “Flowers For You” different than music you were writing as a teenager?
A: Well, some of the songs that I wrote at that time, at least one of the songs, “Not My Girl,” we actually redid it for the “Flowers For You” album. I wrote that song when I was 12 years old. So a lot of this new album is actually inspired by some of the styles that I was doing when I was around 13 or 14 years old. That was trying to show my roots in that sense. But I would say the difference in it is there is a lot more, I guess, technical improvement. Just musically and how the songs are created and the structures of the songs. I feel I’ve also gotten into conveying more emotions in my songs, and I’ve gotten more poetic.

Q: Do you think that’s come with age?
A: And also just time.

Q: What’s something that you’d want to tell the version of yourself who was a contestant on “The Voice”?
A: I would want to tell him to really focus on his original work and try to connect with my fans more to create a community that I can keep working with.

Q: Do you feel like you’ve lost touch with your fans?
A: Not really. I feel I got a lot of fans from “The Voice,” and I feel I’ve kept in touch with a lot of them. But I mean I have nearly 100,000 followers on Instagram [92.1k at time of writing], and I feel like I’m only seeing like maybe 3,000 of them most of the time. I have also seen that a lot of the fans I have are more of “The Voice” fans. So they are following the show more so than the individual artists who are actually on the show. So in that sense I would want to connect more.

Q: What do you think it will take to have your fanbase kind of grow with you?
A: I think a lot of it is what I’m doing now, reaching out on social media so people can see me and create some type of relationship with me. I think that really cultivates that kind of relationship, because people are getting to be around me, at least in a digital sense.

Q: How do you think the pandemic has affected you as an artist?
A: Not being able to tour and having to switch everything onto social media has definitely been a curveball for me. I wouldn’t say I enjoy switching onto social media. I really, really miss performing in front of a live audience, and I realized that more and more as I was doing the ‘lives’ [livestreams]. [The livestreams] helped, but I still missed this kind of connection. And I felt like I performed better when I’m in front of people who are connected to my songs and are able to connect to the emotions of the songs. With these lives, I’m playing to a screen that has my face on it. So it’s very unnatural to me, and I don’t feel I’m connecting to the audience as much, even though I am seeing comments and stuff like that — and hearts. It is still a difficult thing to not hear clapping, hear laughter, hear just all of these things that make a performer realize, oh, I’m performing.

Q: How about songwriting? How has the pandemic affected you there?
A: For a while I felt like it was very difficult for me to write. Recently, I feel like I finally have a bigger picture of that thing I want to create. I’m working on about four songs to create an EP (extended play). I have more songs I’m working on, but I’m trying to do something with that. And it is just allowing me to see an actual structure now. I feel like if I kept touring, I might not have been able to slow down to be able to work on this. So I am excited about that.

Q: When can fans expect the EP?
A: I would think sometime this year? (laughs). For sure this year. I’m pretty sure.

Q: How much time do you spend on the family farm nowadays?
A: I try to get back there basically every other week, just because I miss my family and I miss the farm.

Q: Who’s there?
A: My mom, my dad, my cousin and my two brothers. So everyone that was there besides me.

Q: What do you do when you go back?
A: I try to help out as much as I can if there is work to be done. Most of the time I end up showing up during the nighttime, so I’m out there bringing some hay bales to the cows, feeding the pigs and stuff like that. I’m also playing some games with my brothers. We play a card game called “Magic: The Gathering.”

Q: When do you think you’ll next be out on the road?
A: I would like to give away when we are doing that, but we are still structuring that out. We’re planning on hitting a Texas run but also planning some local shows, but the dates are to be determined. It needs a little more time to structure itself.
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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