interviews and write-ups
Making Memories With Music
By Chad Taylor | 04.20.2016 | dsm Magazine
“Why say it when you can sing it?” has been Abbie Sawyer’s mantra for as long as she can remember. But it wasn’t until the Des Moines native was at the University of Iowa that her love of music found its first true outlet, in the form of the legendary Iowa City soul/funk act the Diplomats of Solid Sound.
“The Diplomats were my first band,” says the now-31-year-old Sawyer. “I absolutely fell in love with the experience of performing and bringing that joy to people. People would just lose themselves in dancing. To see people light up like that was addictive for me.”
What was originally meant as a one-off performance in Iowa City’s pedestrian mall turned into a regular spot on the Diplomats’ stage, as Sawyer became hooked on the alchemy of performing for a live audience backed by the Diplomats’ luscious Hammond B3 organs.
“We did a tour in Italy and France together,” she recalls. “It was a thrill. I organized the rest of my life to make that band work. I had a day job and friends, but nights and weekends were band time. I was so in love with that experience of performing. When I had a show at night, that whole day would be on cloud 9. It had an energy all its own.”
Eventually, Sawyer made the difficult decision to leave the Diplomats—and Iowa—as she pursued the opportunity to study for her master’s degree in film and media in New Zealand. The move, which she undertook with Chris LoRang, the man who would become her husband and playing partner in her band, Abbie and the Sawyers, proved to be one of the best decisions of her life. Not only did the experience open her up culturally and intellectually, but it also gave her the opportunity to make the subtle transition from singer to musician.
“We found this house to live in,” she says. “The couple who owned the house also had a recording studio in the basement.”
Sawyer recalls international jam sessions with other students and traveling musicians, stints that might include LoRang on saxophone alongside a French pianist and an Italian guitar player. Sawyer sang backing tracks for a Kiwi hip-hop act. She also learned to play the guitar.
“The thing about playing with the Diplomats was that I always had this incredible backing band,” she says. “When I left, I still had ideas about songs I wanted to write, but now I needed a way to accompany myself.”
Her New Zealand hosts had a guitar among the gear in their recording studio and were happy to help her learn. “I remember sitting in our kitchen,” Sawyer recalls. “The fog’s coming in, and I’ve got this classical guitar that I barely know how to play. My fingers are numb, but I’m strumming away. That’s how I wrote my first songs.”
Now back in her hometown, Sawyer splits her time between two acts: the NOLA Jazz Band, and her own Abbie and the Sawyers, where she is joined by standup bassist Alex Clemons, banjo player Lorin Ditzler and LoRang.
Sawyer and LoRang, a chiropractor who owns Capital Chiropractic in the East Village, have now been together 10 years and married for four. Though they have both always played music in a variety of acts, playing together was not a natural fit.
“When we started collaborating, it was really difficult,” Sawyer admits. “We collaborate really well in every other way, but when you’re making music, it’s a different kind of vulnerability. Neither of us wants to let the other down. It’s brought a whole new level of gentleness and acceptance, playing music with someone you’re so close to.”
That level of vulnerability and acceptance is clear in the band’s music, as Abbie and the Sawyers’ unique blend of backwoods Appalachia and Midwest charm creates a sound that is stunningly intimate. And though she has been around the world playing music and learning along the way, Sawyer knows better than most that there is no place like home.
“There’s nothing like playing a hometown gig,” she says. “People coming out and knowing they’re going to have a good time. I’m not looking to be famous, I’m not looking to be wealthy. I’m looking for that thing that I love most: connecting with an audience.”
“There’s nothing like playing a hometown gig,” she says. “People coming out and knowing they’re going to have a good time. I’m not looking to be famous, I’m not looking to be wealthy. I’m looking for that thing that I love most: connecting with an audience.”dsm Magazine
The rich, meandering life of Abbie Sawyer
By Chad Taylor | 10.15.2014 | CityView Magazine
Abbie Sawyer is a child of music. Raised in church choirs by parents who loved all kinds of sounds, music is as much a part of Sawyer’s DNA as the color of her eyes. Sawyer enrolled in college fully intent on studying music; it seemed the obvious choice.
“But then — and I don’t remember who told me this— someone said, ‘If you’re going to be a musician, you’re going to need something to sing about,’ ” she recalled.
And so, Sawyer, fresh from high school, decided she needed to live.
“I changed my major to something where I’d get to have a lot of different experiences and learn how tell stories,” she said.
For Sawyer, that meant journalism. She enrolled in a study abroad program and spent time in the Dominican Republic, an experience that she credits for making her a tougher, more self-reliant person. After she returned to Iowa, she joined up with her first band, the Iowa City funk group, The Diplomats of Solid Sound. Sawyer loved her time with the Diplomats but left after just a year and a half and moved to New Zealand.
“When I went to New Zealand, I met all these other musical refugees,” she said. “There was this Italian guitar player and this French pianist and an Australian drummer, and we lived in a house with a guy who did electronic music who had a studio in his house.”
Sawyer expanded her musical profile in New Zealand as part of hip-hop and country acts before eventually returning home once again. Sawyer — fresh off her 30th birthday — has seen more of the world than most and came back to Iowa with one clear idea: It’s time to make her own music.
“It’s daunting,” Sawyer said. “(When you’re) part of a band, you kind of share the risk. But when you’re putting your name and your face on a project, if it sucks, it’s because you personally just did this sucky thing.”
Sawyer is not going to try and convince anyone that she’s lived a fuller life than the next person, but she’s done enough and seen enough to have come away confident about the path she’s chosen.
“(When I came back to Iowa), I thought, ‘I am not going to get rich off of this, but the rest of my life will be better if I spend it playing music, even if it’s just on people’s front porches.’ ” CV
“Abbie Sawyer is a child of music. Raised in church choirs by parents who loved all kinds of sounds, music is as much a part of Sawyer’s DNA as the color of her eyes. Sawyer enrolled in college fully intent on studying music; it seemed the obvious choice.”CityView Magazine
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