Off The Stage: Sawyer Fredericks at The Bowery Ballroom

Sade A Spence

  • Photo: Matt Young/ The Recording Academy
    Sawyer Fredericks backstage at The Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 16.
  • Photo: Matt Young/ The Recording Academy
    Sawyer Fredericks sounchecks at The Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 16.
  • Photo: Matt Young/ The Recording Academy
    Sawyer Fredericks performs at The Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 16.
  • Photo: Matt Young/ The Recording Academy
    Sawyer Fredericks performing at The Bowery Ballroom on Dec. 16.

The soft strums of an acoustic guitar fill Bowery Ballroom followed by the strong bellowing voice of the lone musician with blonde locks and a bowler hat standing center stage, illuminated by purple light.  The impassioned howls and heavy lyrics of Sawyer Frederick’s original song “Early In The Morning” weave in between an acoustic folk-styled set- delivering an impressive performance fit for a musician at least ten years his senior.

Frederick’s began playing guitar at age 11. By 12 he was performing in farmer’s markets, performing original tracks before recording his first independent album, Out My Window. Featuring stories about love, loss, and even suicide, the budding folk musician owes his vivid storytelling to a wild imagination and television. “It’s a lot of my imagination and I watched lot of movies and TV when I was young, so I got a lot of stories and ideas.” The New York native, raised on a farm in Fultonville, was scouted by the nationally syndicated singing competition The Voice to audition in a call back round for Season 8 after hearing Frederick’s powerful pipes on YouTube. The young musician, inspired by Ray LaMontagne, admits he never gave a singing competition much thought. “I was not sure if I wanted to do something like that,” admits Fredericks. “I never considered music as a competition. I think music… you can’t really compare two songs, but I thought of it as a learning experience and that’s why I went with it.” Off to an impressive start, the teenager belted one line of “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow” before three of four judges turned their red chairs in favor of him. Within a few seconds, the fourth turned his. Choosing noted singer and producer Pharrell Williams, Fredericks quickly became an audience favorite. With over 14 songs landing in the iTunes Top 200 in one week, it’s no wonder he was crowned the youngest winner of The Voice, 2015. In November, Fredericks released a four-track self-titled EP featuring a contemporary folk sound with a dash of pop on Republic Records. With the competition behind him, Frederick’s is taking his winning voice on tour with his bowler hat in tow.

Staying true to his roots, Sawyer Fredericks commanded the stage at Bowery Ballroom with just an acoustic guitar. The young singer-songwriter’s set was highlighted by fan favorites including  “Take It All,” his first single which delights in a light pop melody, as well as a darker toe-tapping number marked by syncopated rhythms called “4 Pockets” and the track that made him a household name during his blind audition,  “I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow.” With an audience comprised of young and old, clapping and cheering, Fredericks is sure to be an act to follow.  Before his stellar performance the young talent sat down with Off The Stage Correspondent Sade Spence to talk about his musical inspiration and rise to fame.

You started making music at a young age. You created your first album, Out My Window, before you were on The Voice right?

Yes, a small independent album I made in this guy’s basement. I’ve always been inspired to write music. There are times I get writer’s block, but I really just enjoy it. Recording was really fun because it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. I was not good at going the same tempo, so the tracks were just one whole take.

There are some heavier themes on that album like love and suicide… How were you able to encompass those themes at such a young age?

When I wrote Out My Window my mom was pretty worried about me after that. I mean I guess it’s a lot of my imagination and I watched lot of movies and TV when I was young, so I got a lot of stories and ideas from that.

How did you wind up on The Voice?

They actually scouted me. They found YouTube videos of me performing at a farmer’s market and they invited me to New York City for this call back audition thing.  At first we weren’t sure if I wanted to do something like that. It was national television and I am shy. I never considered music as a competition. I think music… you can’t really compare two songs, but I thought of it as a learning experience and that’s why I went with it. Interviews were the worst for me, the first five-minute interview. They took forever for me. I had to do it twice.

What were some of the lessons you took away from the show after being surrounded by so many artists, both established and emerging?

There were so many. That was my first time being around so many other musicians, which was also inspiring to hear their styles and the music they write.

Is there anything your mentor, Pharrell, told you that you’ve taken with you while you are growing in your career?

The main thing he told me is “stay true to yourself, don’t look at the comments.” The biggest thing was stay true to yourself.

You’ve covered a lot of soul and contemporary folk songs, as your career blossoms and you grow as an artist, will you dabble in any other genres?

I might, but it’s not likely because I sing the kind of music that I like. I enjoy it. But at some point, if I feel like I want to do something like that, I will, but I’ll probably stick to that genre.

Recently, you released your self-titled EP Sawyer Fredericks, what was the creative process like making this album vs your independent one?

Right after the show I went back out to L.A. to start recording and doing co-writes with people, which was a very, very new experience for me because the music I write is very personal to me. Allowing other people to come in and write with me is a little odd, but we got a lot of great songs out of it and I think the EP came out really good. “Take It All” was a little different from my normal style, but I think it will reach a wider audience. So that was a really good choice on the labels part.

There are some pop elements to it, nice and light. The EP also has “Stranger” featuring fellow contestant Mia Z, what was that experience like?

That was a co-write I was doing in L.A. At first when I was writing, I did not think of it that way. Later into the song, I thought it could be a duet. I really wanted Mia on it because I really loved her voice and we were very good friends from the show. Then we got the label to agree on it. We went to Pittsburgh and recorded the track. I already had my vocals down so we got down what she needed recorded and it came out great.

What are some other projects you are working on?

My full album will be coming out in early spring so that’s going to be really fun. I’m doing performances with Langhorne Slim on the West Coast in January and I’m getting my touring band ready, that has been really fun.

Are you still choosing members or are you all assembled?

We are already assembled, rehearsing a lot and working on our sets. We will be doing a performance soon, before I go on tour, so we can get a feel for it to be on stage.

Check out more from Sawyer Fredericks HERE.

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