Now/It's: An Interview with Sawyer (Emma Harvey, Kel Taylor)

There's really no "set" way of figuring out how to "make it" in life, much less music. If there's one thing that's been learned over the past six months of interviews, it's that everyone is - in one way or another - slowly but surely figuring out the best modus operandi for themselves. But the road is daunting, especially as an individual. So when there's someone else to lean on, things become immensely more manageable, which leads me to this week's feature interview, Sawyer. Comprised of Emma Harvey and Kel Taylor, Sawyer is a duo that's only just begun their journey toward "making it," so to speak. Granted Sawyer has been a group for nearly three years, so it's not a fresh off the cabbage truck scenario, but if there's anything Harvey and Taylor understand at this early juncture is that there's plenty they've learned, and ample more to learn, all the while knowing the other is there to help shoulder the load. But don't let the seemingly dower lede mislead your, Harvey and Taylor still manage to find levity at every turn (as you'll see from the abundant laugh breaks throughout).

Now/It's met with Sawyer at Starbucks in Green Hills, off of Hillsboro Pike. Emma Harvey arrived first, with Kel Taylor arriving shortly thereafter.  

Emma - How are you? How’s your day?

N/I - It’s been good.

Emma - You’re with… Okay…. Now It’s

N/I - Now/It’s: Nashville.

Emma - Now slash It’s….

N/I - That’s right. Now, slash It’s, colon, Nashville.

Emma - Ah. Okay.

N/I - Yeah. A hyper-punctuated title.

Emma - Got it.

N/I - So how long have you been in Nashville?

Emma - I’ve been in Nashville for four years now. I’m originally from Dallas. [sheepishly] I came here for music.

N/I - You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Emma - Well [laughs]....

N/I - It’s a common thing, but it’s nothing to make discount, in my opinion.

Emma - It’s just not a “special” thing [laughs].

N/I - I mean, it’s not a bad thing, either.

Emma - True. I remember my guitar teacher in high school was like, “Do you want to do music?” and I thought, “Well what else am I going to do?” So he told me that you can either go to Los Angeles, Nashville, or New York. And I was just [pauses]....

N/I - Two of those things are slightly more intimidating than the third.

Emma - Yeah! I was just in New York, though, and it was awesome.

N/I - Had you ever been to New York before?

Emma - When I was younger, but not….

N/I - Not as an independent person?

Emma - Right. It was so fun.

N/I - Was it for a show?

Emma - Not quite. My sister had never been either, so we decided just to have a sister trip up there.

N/I - Is your sister younger? Older?

Emma - She’s older. So she got a baby sitter and laid out a list of this is what you’ll eat for her husband. She effectively made a color-coded list of things…

N/I - That basically say “This is how you keep everybody alive.”

Emma - She told me she didn’t realize just how much she did until she started making the list for that [laughs]. Anyways, New York is awesome.

N/I - See, I’m not a huge fan of New York. I just can’t get past how preoccupied everyone seems to be at all times. I was actually just up there…. Actually, I was in Newark for three days, but the last day I was there, I went to the city to visit some friends, and I was in New York City for all of about eight hours, and I think that might be my limit.

Emma - That was enough [laughs]. It is very overwhelming.

N/I - Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, but I’d just prefer not to spend an inordinate amount of time there. I guess if anything, it makes me sound waffle-y, flipping between claiming to dislike and like New York City.  

Emma - No, I understand. Going there for vacation is nice, but if you were to live there, it might be different, because it’s so expensive, and travel is so complicated.

N/I - You can get a salad and a beer, and it’s somehow thirty dollars.

Emma - I budgeted for all my meals, thinking how much each place would cost, while still adding on an extra dollar or two as a buffer, but I was still constantly over budget [laughs].

N/I - Every time. Without fail, it winds up being more expensive than expected.

N/I - If I had to choose an expensive city to live in, I think I would choose LA, just because things are at least a little more spread out, and I don’t mind driving, for now, at least.

Emma - See, I haven’t been there yet. One day.

N/I - No matter the case, I think you made a solid choice in coming to Nashville. There

Emma - I think so, to.

Kel Taylor arrives. 

Kel - Hey! I’m so.....

Emma - I ordered you an americano. It’s probably ready, if you want to go over there.

Kel - I’m so sorry! I didn’t even know… Well, I should have known, that traffic would be bad.

N/I - Well, traffic in Green Hills at almost any given point in the day will take you ten to fifteen minutes just to get started going somewhere, so it’s all good.

Kel - Sometimes we’ll have this type of stuff on the calendar, and then I’ll forget to check the calendar.

N/I - I do the same thing. I’ll wind up with five things in a day and then totally forget about three of them.

Kel - I know! I’m just so sorry!

N/I - It’s all good!

Kel - I do recognize you, though, have we met before? Or are you just around a lot?

N/I - My guess would be the latter? I assume you went to Belmont, as well? I went to Belmont, too. I graduated in 2015. Did you guys graduate the same year?

Kel - In 2017, yeah.

N/I - Okay. So there would have been some overlap. It’s not like I was big man on campus or anything, but I am tall, so I’m hard to miss at times.

[Both laugh]

Kel - You are in fact, tall. Well maybe that’s it.

Emma - He wanted to be a basketball player.

Kel - So did Emma!

[Both laugh]

Emma - That would have been back in my big time junior league days [laughs].

Kel - Anyway, cool. Good job for going to Belmont.

N/I - [Laughs] Thank you. Good job to the two of you, too, I suppose.

Kel - We did it [laughs].

N/I - Thank goodness. All that hilarity aside, what have you guys been up to? Is there a “slow-down” at this point in the year…

Both - It moves….

Kel - [To Emma] What were you going to say?

Emma - I was going to say “no.”

[Kel looks quizzically]

Emma - What? It’s a break? I mean, we’re both going to go to our respective hometowns in a little while, which will be very nice. But today, we’re cramming in a bunch of practices and this interview, because we have a show on December 4th.

N/I - Right. With Stephen Day? At Exit/In?

Emma - Yes!

N/I - I’ve been known to do a little bit of research.

Kel - Nice!

Emma - So we’re just getting ready for that, which makes it feel a little crammed….

Kel - Well, I think the thing is that when we’re touring…. So we have this one on December 4th, which is our last Nashville show for 2017, but we still have three or four more shows, they’re just in Virginia and Colorado. And our show is just the two of us, so that’s all we take on the road, for the most part, but when we’re here, we want to do full band, if we can.

[Emma laughs]

Emma Harvey

Emma Harvey

Kel - [To Emma] What?

Emma - I’m just realizing we really have to work on that show….

Kel - It’s full band, but we’re not here that often, so when we are, it’s almost impossible to get all six people as one band. The band is the best. The best. It’s funny, because Stephen [Day] is now using our drummer and bassist, and we have the same manager. So it’ll be fun, because Stephen’s whole crew and our whole crew are kind of one now.

N/I - Which would probably make potential touring setups a little easier.

Kel - Yes. It will make it very easy.

Emma - Wow. And then they would get paid bank [laughs].

Kel - So true.

Emma - Assuming they get the two in one thing, anyways.

Kel - But all that to be said, it feels like a slow down, just because we’re packing up the year, but it picks back up in January and February. I was looking at the calendar, and we’re gone pretty much every weekend. So that will be busier, which is great.

N/I - Definitely a good thing.

Kel - It should be celebrated - which we are - but at the same time, it is hard when there’s so much movement, because in trying to learn where your feet are winds up being tougher than thought. So when you get back to Nashville, you think “Technically, this is home, but it doesn’t feel like it, because I’m never here.”

Emma - Yeah. That’s when the car becomes home. It’s like, “Oh, it’s nice to be back here.”

Kel - [Laughs] That sweet Honda CR-V. Mmmm.

N/I - Does that mean you two have gotten used to that? I assume you have, in a certain sense, if being in the car on the road feels more like home than elsewhere.

Emma - Yeah? Yeah, I’d say so. I like the feeling.

Kel - Being in transit, in general, feels a little bit more like home, at least the constant motion does. I don’t know if it’s because we are touring all the time, or if it’s just because both of us enjoy it?

N/I - Do you think it forces you to be a little bit more alert? Or something to that effect?

Kel - Maybe.

Emma - It feels more purposeful, I think, because we’re performing the music that we worked so hard on. And then we’re meeting and connecting with people, and also making money doing something we love, so that makes it very purposeful. But when you get back, and you’re doing your side jobs, that’s when it feels like “What are we doing?”

Kel - You wake up and then you realize you have all these rehearsals, and then writing, but at the same time, you find yourself second guessing everything. Like “Am I going anywhere?”

N/I - Sure. It’s the stuff that doesn’t necessarily have an immediate return - i.e.: money - can warp the perspective, especially when you’re doing something that does have the immediate monetary return, but not serve the dream.

Kel - It is kind of weird.

Emma - We’re trying to quit our second jobs right now.

N/I - So does that mean you guys do most of your touring on weekends, then?

Kel - It’s pretty much all weekends.

N/I - Is that because of the other side gigs?

Emma - Yeah… Kind of. We have a great fanbase in the Pacific Northwest, and solid one in Knoxville, and Texas. But outside of that, we don’t really have any driveable audiences that are really strong.

N/I - Like an Atlanta? Or a Memphis?

Emma - Yeah. We’re trying to build those, at the moment. So until those audiences are strong, we have to do the whole work and music balance.

Kel - Once we can get fifteen Seattles, we’ll be alright.

N/I - So why are places like the Pacific Northwest and Knoxville so strong? Especially if you’re from Texas, and you’re from….

Kel - I’m from Indiana.

N/I - So how does that work out then?

Emma - Are you familiar with Young Life at all?

N/I - Vaguely.

Emma - Okay. So we’ve been the musicians for a couple of Young Life camps, or actually, several Young Life camps. We’ve done the past three summer camps. So there’s a camp in Oregon that we’ve played at, and that’s gotten us the Pacific Northwest as those kids grow older.

Kel - In a way, it’s like inverse touring. It’s like 800 kids to you each week, and kids that are super into your music. Then they turn into college students, so they tell their college friends, and then you’re playing the colleges there.

Emma - And that’s where you hand out stickers and all that.

Kel - And when you go to Seattle again, you see your stickers, everywhere.

[Both laugh]

Kel - It’s so weird.

Emma - And then we did one in Colorado, so that’s how we got the Knoxville spot.

N/I - Okay. So connecting the dots of Young Life camps. But how do you get involved with Young Life initially?

Emma - That’s a weird one.

Kel - It kind of felt like a miracle.

Emma - You basically had to know somebody…. So a musician fell through, and they had to scramble looking for other artists on their list, and on a certain point, it fell to us.

Kel - What’s cool about it is that they are so serious about music, and not just getting musicians, but also getting artists, because every single night…. So it’s a seven day camp, and every night, we play a Sawyer song, and tell the story behind it. I think they just want something to make teenagers feel like they can connect outside of themselves. I think us being girls has been big there, too, because for so many years, Young Life has had only male musicians, so I think we’ve gotten more gigs there just because camp directors like having female artists to even that count out. I really have no idea how we got it, though. It was so random.

N/I - Someone at Young Life had heard you guys, and liked you enough to put you on the list for consideration, and lo and behold, you got the call.

Kel - And Stephen [Day] does the same thing. He does more southern camps.

Sawyer at Sevier Park

Sawyer at Sevier Park

N/I - So I would imagine [Young Life camps] weren’t a thing the two of you had anticipated becoming a steady gig. I would imagine it’s a pretty sweet deal to play for 800 people every night while being a relatively young group.

Emma - And they fly us to Alaska.

Kel - Oh my gosh, they fly us everywhere!

N/I - Seriously?

Kel - Isn’t that insane?

N/I - So you guys have played in Alaska?

Kel - Yeah!

N/I - That’s one of those things where I can almost guarantee you that the majority of musicians probably never have played Alaska. The only other person I can think of off the top of my head when it comes to playing Alaska is Pitbull. And I think that was kind of a joke.

[Both laugh]

Kel - And there’s a good chance they might fly us to Scotland in the Spring.

N/I - Really?

Emma - I know. Fingers crossed.

Kel - We’re really trying to get that one. It’s honestly just so refreshing, because I think Young Life is all about excellence in general, so they consider music as essential to what they do, which is make teenagers feel meaningful. I think because they see artists as essential, they have a thing in Alaska and there has to be an artist there. It’s kind of nice, especially in Nashville, because everyone is an artist, in one way or another.

N/I - It can seem rather ubiquitous.

Emma - You know what I think? I was talking to Katie about this….

Kel - Katie’s our roommate.

Emma - I think in Nashville, music feels lucrative. It’s just a lucrative thing. But outside of it, music is an art, it’s a gift, it’s something you receive.

Kel - It’s a treat. It’s special. Not to speak against Nashville. I’m very thankful for Nashville.

Emma - Yes!

Kel - We’re not trying to say it’s watered down the meaning.

N/I - I think I get what you’re saying - like any big city, there are plenty of people here that make it apparent that music is a get rich quick scheme, or a get famous quick scheme. And that can hurt all artists as a whole. But there are plenty of people, like you guys, who seem to have a genuine and innate need to create. Granted, making big money off of it would make a lot of unrelated things easier.

Kel - Sure. It provides more stability.

N/I - But it can be difficult to delineate one from the other.

Kel - That is a good point. People come to Nashville and they’re like “Holy shit! There’s so much music everywhere. It’s so amazing!” and I’m like, “You’re right!”

Emma - Yeah! When you do stop and think about it, our friend group are some of the most talented people.

Kel - Katie Kirby! The girl that we live with, is a great example! She is my favorite female artist.

Emma - Me too.

Kel - And she’s our roommate. Even Nick Johnston and so many other people. All the while, I’m sure it’s the same thing for you, but with a different group of people.

N/I - Oh yeah! It’s crazy seeing people open for bands that I always thought of as “famous” bands, or playing Red Rocks, or the Ryman. It’s wild.

Kel - It really is.

N/I - And every community within Nashville, or group of friends has their own version of that. Everybody is so talented, then you look over here or over there and it’s like “Oh man, so are they!”

Emma - It’s funny.

N/I - It can be funny. I’d imagine it can also be a little daunting at times. Do you guys ever run into - I guess as a two piece - do you find yourselves relishing the opportunity to lean on each other as opposed to balancing four or five personalities?

Both - Yes [laugh].

Kel - I have found that two is a dream. It’s such a dream. It’s not five and it’s not one. Because we both did the solo artist thing. We came into town as solo.

N/I - Well that’s kind of what everybody does, more or less.

Emma - True.

Kel - And some people do that so well. But something about promoting my own name and being the sole decision maker, the visionary, the source of making this thing happen felt so isolating and almost purposeless, because the only collaboration I was having was with people that were just trying to help me. Even if there was equality in that interaction, they’re still trying to help me be a somebody, if that makes sense. But then Emma and I started writing together. We wanted to call - and this is still our dream name - ourselves “Team.”

Emma - Team.

Kel - But, it was taken. I do think that having two is so helpful. Not just on a creative level and being able to bring different things to the table, but as a whole, because our strengths are really different. Even in my own personhood, having someone else constantly keep me in check as far as things like the “artist life.” Like being interviewed, or having different people come and tell you how your music has changed them, and there’s so much opportunity to say something….

Emma - Ridiculous.

Kel - Exactly! And having someone else to….

Emma - Deflate you….

Kel - Right! It’s just….

Emma - Well, actually, bring you back down.

Kel - But it’s true! We have to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing.

N/I - It’s always good to have someone level you.

Kel - To bring you down [laughs]. To have someone really just squish me.

Emma - To have a regular discouraging sentence just really does the mind right.

[Both laugh]

Kel - Anyway, all that to be said, the two thing is great.

[Both laugh]

Kel Taylor

Kel Taylor

N/I - So what do you two feel like your unique, respective roles are within Sawyer?

Emma - What year is this?

Kel - Three!

Emma - Or will it be three in March?

Kel - … Yes…..

Emma - So it’ll be three in March, but within all that time, we’ve naturally developed roles in the things we’re good at. As far as the “business of Sawyer….”

Kel - Mmmm….

Emma - [Laughs] I do finances.

Kel - She does everything organized.

Emma - Logistical organizing. Lists. Packing. All that stuff.

Kel - Merch.

Emma - Inventory. Setting up merch. While Kel is like the…. You took a test. What was your aptitude test? [Laughs]

Kel - Oh. I think it was….

N/I - Was this a Myers-Briggs type test?

Kel - It was ideaphoria. Something like that.

Emma - Yeah, so “ideaphoria.” Which basically means she’s really good at coming up with ideas. So she does our social media….

Kel - [Mockingly] So I put that into social media!

Emma - Captions….

Kel - Our captions are sublime.

[Both laugh]

Kel - But it is nice to have. Because I’m horribly unorganized. I wish I was more Type-A, but Emma knows how to pack a car, and I can do emails, and talk to people back and forth.

Emma - So you’re like PR, marketing….

N/I - You’re basically the communications team, and Emma is the logistics and finance team.

Kel - Right. So it’s fun, because when we have to think of branding…. Like for “Easy Now,” the egg. I remember being like “Okay.”

[Both laugh]

N/I - Well yeah. I saw that cover, and wondered what led to that becoming the cover art.

Emma - We love eggs, for starts.

Kel - Yes. I don’t know if I had seen it somewhere, but I just knew I liked how it looked - an egg on blue. I think I just liked how that looked. It was sort of following the COIN trend of minimalist, household items that are somehow….

Emma - Made pretty.

Kel - Yes. They’re somehow pretty. Not even pretty, but….

N/I - It’s just presented in a light that you wouldn’t expect.

Kel - Right. In a new way. Anyway, I remember sending Emma a billion pictures of eggs on blue backgrounds.

Emma - And they all said “How about this?”

Kel - It’s cool, but it’s also an over-easy egg, so it’s kind of a pun, but not too much. But after the fact, I found out it was actually a sunny-side up egg, but that was after we had printed a thousand flyers, but that’s beside the point….

N/I - Plus, that’s a detail that would only be known by true egg connoisseurs.

Both - That’s right.

Kel - But I think something else, creatively, within Sawyer, Emma is naturally…. She thinks in melody? In sound?

Emma - I emote through.

Kel - Yeah. It’s so true.

Emma - Sometimes more so than words.

Kel - If Emma has a hard time explaining why she’s sad, or what is going on, we’ll talk for a while and kind of get somewhere, but mostly get nowhere, and then she’ll go in her room and make some song that sounds - even if it’s just like a thirty second lick that she plays over and over again - but I will understand what she’s trying to say better…

Emma - Awww…

Kel - Because she puts emotion into sounds so well. Not to say she doesn’t also have amazing lyrics, but I have always been that.

Emma - Right.

Kel - Music has always been second, while poetry has always been natural and lyrics and words have been really quick. I think that’s why we started writing together at first, and have kept writing together so much ever since.

Emma - I felt like it was… I’m trying to think of the metaphor here, but I don’t have a guitar to help [laughs]. But it’s like we just made so much more, faster, because our two strengths are colliding. I wasn’t slowed down by lyrics, and she wasn’t slowed down by music.

Kel - And it’s still fun. Even when we write together now, it’s still exciting, because I feel like Emma still provides so much that I wouldn’t have thought of.

Emma - Same. To you. The same to you [laughs]. She actually wrote this little tidbit yesterday….

Kel - It was literally fifteen seconds long.

Emma - It was. But she sent it to me while I was at work, and the title was “Seesaw,” and I was like “What?”

[Both laugh]

Emma - And I was like “What is this going to mean?” but the lyrics were “I talked in the mirror, just so I could see what you saw….” and I was like, “Oh my!” So that’s just a little taste.

Kel - And it is fun. Like when I was in Scotland, I would send her something like that, and then she would send a recording of her playing it in her room with her playing something on top of it, so it’s like co-writing…. Abroad. Well, across.