Emerging Headliner

Leo Sawikin on Musical Nostalgia and Going Solo

An over-worldly vibe mixed with nostalgic grunge elements from the ‘90s is what characterises the new song from folk-tinged rock star Leo Sawikin, perhaps best known as the founder and frontman of New York City based folk rock project The Chordaes.

Tapping into tunings inspired by Joni Mitchell with a distinctly Smashing Pumpkins-esque attitude, Row Me Away is a daydream of a song which speaks to wanting to escape somewhere familiar, but simultaneously new.

Speaking to a generation who are somewhat lost in the frenzy of modern living, Sawikin employs sounds which are both nostalgic and new to create a sense of yearning in his music.

Comforting in its companionship, Row Me Away is the sound of someone who draws on the past in order to forge a new path forward into the future, picking up techniques and inspiration from the late and greats such as Brian Wilson, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, and Jimmy Webb to bring about a truly unique sound in his own songwriting.

Speaking of the song, Sawikin says “I was trying to go for a very visual type of song when I wrote this. I wanted to evoke a feeling of blasting away from earth or from our universe in search of something brand new and entirely different.

“Using unique but familiar chord progressions like this is a great way to lay the groundwork for songs that feel nostalgic and brand new at the same time... when most people ‘row away’ somewhere, they’re not just looking for a new world, but ideally a place where the familiar is accessible.”

I’m a singer-songwriter much more than I am rock and roller, so it just felt like going solo made the most sense.

On 14th October, Sawikin will release his debut solo album, Row Me Away. Here he catches up with Headliner about going it alone...

What made you want to embark on a solo project?

I felt like the format of a band wasn’t really working for me. As a songwriter and vocalist I feel like I need more control over the arrangement of everything than a band usually allows. I really wanted to put the focus back on my songwriting and singing, I felt like the noise of the band was diluting my artistry. I missed the sound of the reverb on my voice decaying in open space. At the end of the day, I’m a singer-songwriter much more than I am rock and roller, so it just felt like going solo made the most sense.

You seem like an old soul… where do you draw your influences from?

I feel like I answer this question differently every time someone asks me, but I’d have to say my biggest influences are probably Thom Yorke, Brian Wilson, Joni Mitchell, and Jimmy Webb. I’d say vocally and melodically I’m very influenced by Thom Yorke and my chord changes are usually either inspired by the types of open tunings that Joni Mitchell or the more Tin Pan Alley style Gershwin-esque chords Brian Wilson and Jimmy Webb would use.

It seems like the album tackles the anxieties that come from living in the modern world - can you elaborate on this?

I’d say there is definitely a theme of being in a world that’s bursting at the seams and trying to figure out how to enjoy the moment while we still can. I often find myself questioning whether it’s worth it to put in the effort and make any sort of long-term plans when the future is so uncertain. The album explores our dying world from different perspectives whether it’s wanting to escape from it all, wondering how we got where we are, making hard choices and sacrifices for the greater good, wondering what it means to love when the end is inevitable, and accepting that our lives and our society are all temporary.