As the former lead singer of the NYC indie band The Chordaes, Leo Sawikin brought their songs to life. But only now on his debut solo project does he allow the music to strip away the layers of his own life and show the world what an awesome life it is.
Sawikin is an old soul, one who would have thrived in the prime of the Tin Pan Alley days—tirelessly composing beautiful ballads in rooms with open windows for the music publishers whose offices lined West 28th Street in New York City. Although the city still swells with the sounds of ghosts past, the music landscape has drastically changed. Now more than ever, Sawikin finds himself longing for the days that were.
For the past decade, Leo has steadily evolved his sound, spending hours both in the studio and in writing rooms, culminating in Row Me Away—his upcoming fourth album, but the first to be released under his own name. The new record was produced by Grammy-winning producer Marc Swersky and mixed by Tony Black and Seth Von Paulus.
Prior to the pandemic, Sawikin recorded a string of anthems that seem to foreshadow life as we experienced it over the last year. Questioning whether the dystopian future we’ve all been fearing had arrived, the songs chronicle the vastly changing world, a society teetering on the edge, and the transformative power of hindsight. “It’s about letting go of the past to carve out a new future,” says Sawikin.
Like many artists, Sawikin uses his music and songwriting as his primary way to connect with the world. Since very young, he was described as having Non-Verbal Learning Disability. But because it has not yet been included in the DSM and presents in various ways, it is often overlooked and misunderstood. In Sawikin’s case, it affected his ability to receive and interpret non-verbal forms of communication. “I have always had trouble paying attention to people’s non-verbal signals. I understand them as well as anyone, but my thoughts are very scattered so I often miss them.” By the age of 5, he was getting into trouble at school. This was eventually tamed by medications, but they had a numbing effect on his mood and ability to connect with peers. At age 9, he picked up a guitar and by 12 he was immersed in workshops and music camps, where he found that songcraft came naturally. It’s proven to be his greatest strength and has become the catalyst for living his life off medication.
“Music has always been my secret weapon to combat this. It brings me to a place outside of all of my problems, and the dream I have is that when other people listen to it they will be brought to that same place. In that space we all share, none of our differences matter and understanding one another is as effortless as the sound of the music traveling through the air. My goal in life is to bring as many people to that place as possible.”
We were fortunate to feature his music video in our Monday Mashup column back in August. Now that we have had the chance to review the entire album, we stand by our original thoughts: “If the voice behind our first music video of the week sounds familiar, that’s because he was formerly the lead singer for The Chordaes. His name is Leo Sawikin, and his song is entitled “Row me Away.” We adore his voice and wish him well in his solo career. We think it will be incredibly successful.”
Each song on the album is strongly and beautifully constructed, with lyrics that reach down and directly connect the hearts of the listener to the creator. These tunes are enduring and should be heard over and over again until the words sink in. All ten tunes are memorable, but we think that the title track, “A Whole World Waiting,” All Just a Drop,” “You Love Too Much,” and “Tell me There’s an Answer” contain the message that is at the heart of the album – you are not worthless, but of immense worth, so don’t give up until you bring that light within out where the world can see it.
With the release of Row Me Away Sawikin hopes to bring comfort and consolation to listeners as we all witness the unfolding of a new world. We think he has truly succeeded in his quest.
It’s been a crazy month in the retail business, and we apologize for not bringing our weekly column. We hope this special “video only” play list will make it up to you. Check out these amazing videos.
In case you didn’t hear the big announcement, Indie Voice Blog has launched the Indie Voice Music Critic Awards. You can get details by clicking here.
First up is a throwback video with some serious 60s/70s vibes from our favorite Oklahoma couple, The Imaginaries, who are currently on tour. “You Already Know” is authentically staged with a sound that will last for generations, and we really dig this one. Let us know what you think.
Next up is one of Nashville’s hottest new acts, the sister duo known as American Blonde. This song should be their breakthrough tune on country radio and we think we’ll be seeing much more of them. It’s very easy to get lost in the “Quicksand” of this one.
Our third video this week highlights that all important of every morning – “Coffee.” Brought to you by the creative minds of Megan Nash & the Best of Intentions, this one requires repeated plays to fully comprehend the ties between the song and the video. Are you up to the challenge?
Are you feeling overwhelmed by this pandemic? Let the words and images of South Africa’s pop queen Cara Frew lift you up out of the quagmire and “Rise.”
Our Canadian friends Ellevator are back with another great tune, which is garnering critical acclaim world-wide. Check out “Charlie IO” and we think you’ll agree – this band deserves a world-wide audience.
We start off our second five with the latest from one of LA’s most unique bands, the amazing husband and wife duo known as Lovers & Poets. Their new song has a great vibe and beautiful lyrics, so check out “Ready to Fall.”
Next up is an acoustical masterpiece from the sweet songbird known as Sonja Midtune. With the timely title of “October,” this one is perfect all year round.
Video number eight is from a voice that has been bringing great music for more than 40 years. Although best known for his duties as the lead singer for America, Gerry Buckley is an accomplished solo artist as well. Thank you to his wonderful label, Blue Elan Records, for this amazing video collaboration.
Speaking of Blue Elan Records, here is the latest video from another of their amazing artists, The Vegabonds. We think it sums up how a lot of us feel today, “Can’t Deal.”
We close out this week’s article with this beautifully done travel video from our New York sweetheart, Katie Costello. She is truly worth all the “Silver & Gold” in the world.
There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create – some might say, divinely channel – works that perfectly meet the moment in time when we most need their inspiration. Though Oklahoma-based twin sisters and multi-talented singer/songwriters Jacy and Jana Ayers – collectively known as indie pop/rock duo Lavendine – wrote new alt-pop single “Here To You” from a personal empowering experience of breakthrough after a deeply challenging and traumatic time, the infectious, vocal harmony-driven track offers up exactly the hope and optimistic spirit we all need moving forward through and past this anxiety-ridden pandemic era.
We first introduced you to this amazing duo back in September of 2020, and they have only gotten better. They have the most perfect harmonies and their lyrics truly touch the heart in a way that is unheard of in today’s pop music.
Lifting their dreamy, soulful vocals over a jangling guitar vibe and mid-tempo pop/rock groove, Jana and Jacy share what it’s like to open up to the proverbial light after too long in the darkness: “Opened up a window in this heart of mine to see what’s going on outside/I never dreamed I would be so surprised.”
The chorus, which we will no doubt be singing along with for awhile, is the perfect fusion of the duo’s heartfelt personal emotions and a universal call to unshackle the chains of malaise and realize that life can not only be good again, but maybe even better than before. They sing: “It’s time to tell the new day, it’s good to finally see you/It’s time to tell the heartache, you’re not mine, go away/It’s to find the reasons to smile. . .see the good that’s been around me/Don’t you see the change in me…”
“Here To You” follows Lavendine’s impressive success with several singles from their debut album Feel My Way. Their signature song “Rapture” hit both the Mediabase AC Top 25 and BDS/Billboard AC Top 25 and #1 on the Mediabase AC Independent Artist-Song Rankings. The track had 250,000 feature insertions on Adult Pop radio digital streams in multiple major markets across the U.S. Before that, their single “Maybe I Might” hit the Top 30 on the Mediabase AC and BDS/Billboard AC charts, and “You Can’t Change My Mind” reached #36 on the Mediabase AC chart. The national buzz around these tunes also led Lavendine to be featured in the Artist Spotlight on the Jim Brickman national radio show.
As women of deep faith, Jana and Jacy’s lives are inspirational testaments to the power of never giving up on life, love and musical dreams no matter the trials thrown at us. Jana and Jacy wrote “Open Up A Window” to claim a hopeful victory over a traumatic series of extreme health setbacks that might have derailed most people. Not long after releasing Feel My Way, both were deathly ill from the after-effects of root canals, later explained to them as a possible allergic reaction to the metal instruments used. Both felt heavy flu-like symptoms for several years. Attempts at implants were rejected. At one point, the infection got so bad that they went to Baylor University Medical Center to get both jaw joints replaced.
These issues were on top of previous medical problems Jana and Jacy had experienced as they were working as an esthetician (Jana) and hairstylist (Jacy) while working diligently on developing their artistry and overcoming the many obstacles involved in pursuing an indie music career. Having led worship at church for years and being part of ensembles that won prestigious state competitions in middle and high school, they trekked to Nashville in their late teens to pursue their passion – but found that most producers and executives were more concerned with the marketing and creation of the duo rather than allowing them to pursue their own vision.
When Jana began having debilitating migraines, she saw specialists, had test after test done to no avail, until one day when she went to her vocal doctor for a problem with her throat. It wasn’t until he looked in her ear that it was discovered she was experiencing the effects of trauma to her eardrum from back when she was just eleven years old, diving off a high dive. The incident had caused a tumor to grow over time backwards towards her brainstem and she was rushed into emergency surgery. Since then, she has struggled with managing her chronic nerve pain and as well as surprising everyone in the music industry that hears her sing with the fact that she has 80% hearing loss in one ear.
Meanwhile, Jacy spent ten years in and out of emergency rooms due to her own medical troubles, as well as recovering from ten different surgeries, ranging from kidney stones to gall bladder problems. Especially difficult during this time was having an ectopic pregnancy and the emotional recovery that followed.
Jana and Jacy speak like a tag team, complementing each other’s thoughts as they reflect on their intense journey of overcoming obstacles and share the resulting forward-thinking mindset that drives the music and lyrics of Lavendine. “A year and a half ago,” Jana says, “when we were coming out of all this and doubting our path forward in music, our husbands and mom told us, ‘You can’t not do music anymore. Many people in our lives were encouraging us, and deep down, we knew it was what we were called to do. No matter how relentless it felt like there were forces opposing us with one nightmarish situation after another, we wanted our positive messages to get out there.
Jacy adds, “Particularly with ‘Open Up a Window’, there’s an underlying message of hope in our music and we want to give listeners the sense that things may look bleak, but they will get better. Bishop T.D. Jakes has talked about the trap of getting caught up in the hateful middle of a difficult circumstance and not seeing that God can open us up to the end so that we can step into the promise. We don’t always hear people talking about the hope part of it. But Jana and I have kept moving forward and those underlying themes of perseverance come out in our writing.”
Jana continues, “Looking outside the window of your pain helps us see that we might be our own problem, and when we stay positive through all of our struggles with doubt and negativity, God will open us up to change. You can open up to that little glimmer and give yourself one more chance to believe in something good. You can crack that part of your heart open and give yourself a chance to believe in the possibilities of love and dreams again.”
Because of their deep cultural and spiritual roots in church, it would seem that Lavendine’s natural genre in the industry would be in Christian Contemporary Music (CCM). But every time they pursued that route, the doors closed emphatically while others in the secular music world seemed to open. While Jana and Jacy were happily surprised at the mainstream success of a faith-based song like “Rapture,” that seems to be a manifestation of their belief that they were given these outlets for a reason. Rather than preach to the choir, they can share their uplifting mesages with those who need to hear them more – and bring the gospel spirit to recording sessions helmed by secular producers and engineers in their midst.
The creation of “Open Up a Window” offers evidence that the song, as Jacy says, is “God-kissed.” She, Jana and Jacy’s guitarist husband Daniel, one of their co-writers, were in the studio one night just hanging out. Daniel felt prompted to go over to the keyboard in the room, and while he was “dilly-dallying” on it, he started playing a melody. Daniel is not a keyboardist and had never done anything like that. But as he captured that riff, Jacy suddenly said, “open up the window’ and they wrote the first verse in less than ten minutes. After the song was written, every time they asked Daniel to play it on the keys, he said he was unable to replicate what happened in that beautiful moment of inspiration.
“There are so many details Jana and I have struggled with on other songs we have written,” Jacy says. “But on this one, it was as fi we were vessels and God said, ‘Move over, I’m writing this one.’ Just like the title says, it’s opened us up to a new season of creativity and we’re excited about the new songs we’re working on that we plan to release soon. We don’t know the future, but we’re grateful and humbled to be back making music.” We have a feeling they will be around for quite a long time.