North Carolina band Time Sawyer is having a whole lot of fun, and it shows on their seventh studio album, Mountain Howdy (out 9/13). The synergy between the five members is palpable, from the commanding rhythm section of Court Wynter on bass and Jordan Nelson on drums, to Luke Mears’ playful and intuitive guitar solos, to Houston Norris’ versatile banjo picking. The vocal harmonies, honed on tour, are mature and natural on this record.
The instrumentation ably supports Sam Tayloe’s perceptive songwriting, which mines relationships and communication with vivid imagery that brings the listener close, while allowing ample space for interpretation.
The record kicks off with the raucous “All the Time,” followed by six more Sam Tayloe-written songs, and capped off by a bluesy Luke Mears song, “Vinyl Junkie,” fitting since this is the first record the band has released on vinyl.
Glide talked with Sam Tayloe leading up to the release of the album and Glide is also premiering the music video for “Lonely’s a Heartbreaker’s Dream,” (below) one of the standout tracks from Mountain Howdy.
When you were recording your last album, Wildest Dreams, the band was in transition. The personnel at the end of the recording, with the exception of you and Houston, weren’t the same as in the beginning. This is the first record that you’ve made from start to finish with the crew you have now. They’ve got varied backgrounds. Luke is into the blues. Court, I think, has a jazz background.
Everything. Classical. Jazz.
And Jordan is more of a rock guy. How has working with these musicians enabled you to take the band to the next level?
It’s been a huge group effort for sure. We’re writing better songs. I think we’re playing better together. We all really just care about the music and have a really good bond as a group. We all care about what we’re trying to put forward. I think all those genres being mixed together works really well. I think no one’s saying “I’m just a rock drummer.” Jordan’s not saying “That’s all I bring to the table.” Luke’s not saying “We just play the blues.” It’s really caring about what those pieces can bring to the songs and how we can make the best music we can. And that’s something that I’ve not dealt with in a long time.
What’s been special to you about this album?
I think the camaraderie of the group.
Is there one song that really stands out for you on the album?
I think “Lonely’s a Heartbreaker’s Dream” stands out. The idea is that people are always seeming to find people that are in a rebound type situation. And it’s about how we behave when we’re driven by what we think we have to have in love, or what we know we have to have in love.
With that first line “I used to see gold, now I just see silver, ain’t it funny how the heart can take hold,” you change your thought pattern: “Well, my life’s never gonna be the same after what has happened, so I’ll just settle for this.” Silver is now what you think is the top.
Well I used to see gold now I just see silver, ain’t it funny how the heart can take hold.
I’ve always had a boat out on the need more river. That kind of living turns your coffee cold.
It’s hard to peek through when the dark feels blinding. A shadow’s just a ghost grown old.
Down from the depths comes a coal mined diamond, but very few are steady working in a hole.
And what about the line about the coal mined diamond?
It’s hard to look through when the dark is so blinding and when you’re that deep in a hole. But down in that hole is where you can really figure out what you’ve got to get done. A lot of my writing is about how we’re not the strongest of people, and it’s hard to be on the strong side of things.
Songs can change a lot in their life span, and one that stands out to me in that respect is “All the Time.” You sent me an early demo of the song, and it was slow, with a soulful sound to it. On the record, it’s got an upbeat tempo, and a more lighthearted feel. The lyrics are the same, about being committed and available to another person, but now it doesn’t seem to be taking itself as seriously. Were you trying to lighten it up?
I was trying some different things with that song. I would not say it was anywhere close to as good as Aretha Franklin songs, but that was more the feel I thought that other one had, a little more of that bluesy hook. It was really long. And being that slow changed how long that song was.
It’s a little more playful now. It does make it fun.
It just felt a little more natural from my perspective. Something I could deliver better. While I was kind of digging into all these songs, with that one I was like “Well, see if this sounds neat a little quicker,” and it did change the levity of that situation quite a bit.
I think I like the fight sometimes, a healthy fight, between the lyrics and the feel of a song. Someone can listen to it the first time, like, “Oh this sounds neat.” But then as you continue to listen you can take those lyrics in and see them in a different way. I like when there’s kind of a little bit of juxtaposition in how you deliver a song.
Can you talk about Mary Jane? That song is about your grandma, right?
Mary Jane. Where did you go?
See it’s hard to know if you’re here or in the sky.
I’ve seen the way you treat your days.
If there’s a Holy Line well he’d be on your side.
I hope that Hollywood still treats you good.
Hell it seems to me that we’re all doing fine.
I really was writing it to her. I wasn’t worried much about how it came off, but as it kept being put together I think it opened up in a way that other people could relate to without even knowing it was about my grandmother. I think a lot of times that can be very cliché. “It’s a song about my grandma.” Sometimes that will turn me off. Just hearing someone say that. Maybe it’s because most the time when someone says that, the song sounds like that, like it is very topical and I’m like “I know you love your grandma. We all love our grandma.”
I like that I was able to tell a story that was literally just talking to her. This whole song I’m just talking to my grandmother.
Was does the line about Hollywood mean?
Well, Hollywood Cemetery’s where she’s buried in Elkin.
I like the background vocals in the verse about Marianne (note: Sam’s girlfriend.) They’re sort of otherworldly.
Mary Jane. Well I found a love.
You’d thank the Lord above for the girl that’s on my arm.
She’s long and tall, got a phone to call,
and the world outside keeps banging on her door.
Like a touch of gray, oh it hurts to say,
that if y’all get to meet It won’t be on my time.
Yeah. We kind of took a chance with that. I struggle a lot with that. I want things to be replicated, so when someone goes to a show, they’re not missing a lot of what they hear on the record. I’m trying to find a balance, because you shouldn’t lose an option to best encapsulate a song when you have it. I mean, that’s what a studio is for.
We spent some time. We laughed a lot through it for sure, which is good. My grandma probably liked that.
I liked the way it worked out. I was in the booth for a while. We were trying to figure out a way that it was going to sound right, and I also wanted it to sound kind of organic. It’s not the same exact melody each time.
And it’s kind of funny, the second verse is about Marianne but I wrote that before we had gone on our first date together. And it’s kind of funny to me how, speaking of an otherworldly type feeling, it just so happens that those things line up exactly with things that could be characteristics of Marianne.
This verse is about Marianne. But at the time I didn’t know it was Marianne. it was about who I was looking for. I’m telling my grandmother about this woman that I at some point feel pretty confident I will meet.
That song is catching up. My grandmother and I hadn’t talked in a while.
“Whiskey” is probably the prettiest song about a serial killer that I’ve ever heard, especially with that piano part by Jason Atkins. I’m almost afraid to ask, but what led you to write this song?
Pick up my blade and my turpentine. Put on my scarf as I walk outside.
I don’t know who I’ll kill tonight, and it might be you.
Went downtown to the corner of 86th, saw you there with another.
A kid came by and bumped the waiter, you stepped out to clean your dress.
All my toils and all my troubles, and I’ve learned how to take the blame.
If I could learn to drink more whiskey, then I might could tolerate the pain.
This one is really out of nowhere. It wasn’t like I was really thinking about serial killers a lot, or death. I had in my mind this very Willie Nelson feel of a song, which is just pretty much your standard, I mean I’m capoed up playing it, but your G, C, and D, with a D7. These very cowboy chords. Telling a story.
I had the chorus already and I tried to think, what is a way I could push this? What would this chorus — outside the box — relate to? And it was, you know, someone trying not to be the person they are. And it just happened to spill into “All right, we’re really onto something weird.” My sister was at the house when I started writing this and I was in a way laughing with her a little bit about this. “I don’t know what’s making me think about these things.” But also, that’s something I like about songwriting, to be able to transplant something into this whole other world.
Can I make this feel real enough while also giving someone a tale, I guess? And so, it was a little out of my normal. It has very little to do with me personally.
Why did you choose the name Mountain Howdy for the album?
The album was named on our last Northeast tour, not long after finishing the recording process. It was the kind of tour that I think really showed who Time Sawyer is. We’re a group that really cares about the songs, and we’re a group that really likes to get after it and have a good time together, on and off the stage.
Mountain Howdy became a genre descriptor for the band on that tour. Lots of the shows on that run were in cities in and around Upstate New York. The beauty in that area shares a lot of similarity with where we’re from, and that made us feel at home. We lived a few days on that tour at the Cock ‘n Bull in Galway, NY. The photo used for the album cover was taken there. We stayed in an 1850s post and beam barn, played a lot of music, slept minimally, and enjoyed where songs get to take us.
Ultimately, Mountain Howdy is just Time Sawyer’s new record. We hope the songs show what the band is about.