“Saturday morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young, the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom, and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above, it was green with vegetation, and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
There is something intriguing about the process of naming a band. While some musicians choose to use their surnames, others find inspiration in art, literature, or everyday events. Such is true for the up-and-coming band out of Elkin, North Carolina named Time Sawyer. This folk-rock band, which consists of Sam Tayloe (vocals, guitar), Kurt Layell (lead guitar), Houston Norris (banjo), and Clay Stirewalt (drums), came together a few years ago to make “real music” with a grassroots feel matched with high energy. It was out of this common mission that they started to lay a foundation and grow a loyal fan base. Beyond bringing their own music to the people, Time Sawyer founded Reevestock Music Festival. Now in its third year, Reevestock not only boasts a great line-up for a smaller, more intimate festival, but also remains true to its local roots by benefiting the restoration of Elkin’s last theater, The Reeves.
I recently caught up with Time Sawyer’s Sam Tayloe to learn a bit more about the band’s name, their story, songwriting, and how they are building a music empire in their rural hometown.
Evolution of a Fan: Can you give me a brief explanation of where the band name “Time Sawyer” came from?
ST: Kurt and I started the band in 2010 and we were looking for something to connect where we are from to where we are headed.
“Time Sawyer” let us do that by pulling from the character Tom Sawyer to represent the rural area that we came from (Elkin, NC) while also being used as a grassroots character, in touch with [his] craft.
We chose “Time” because, in songwriting, I don’t think there is anything you can write about that doesn’t have time involved. Truly in life I don’t think you can either. But in songwriting, you can be writing about how much you love how great something is and you want time to stop dead in its tracks, keeping you in the moment, or, you could be doing all you possibly can to escape from some hard times, relationship or otherwise, so you want time to move along. It just seemed to fit with time being such a constant with anything you are involved in.
EOAF: How did the current band come to be? How did you all meet?
ST: The current band is the only band, which has been really neat. Kurt and I started working together a bit earlier after being introduced by a mutual friend. It just kinda worked out that we got to add some really great supporting pieces without much work, as Houston was my best friend in high school and Clay, Kurt’s. We also have a 5th member that we love as an original–Mr. Bob Barone plays pedal steel with us anytime we can have him.
EOAF: It looks like you guys have turned out a lot of albums in a short amount of time. Who is the primary songwriter and what is the process like for the band? Is it a collaborative effort, or does the primary songwriter just come with the song and arrangements?
ST: Yeah, we try to keep our nose on the grindstone. Kurt and I are the primary songwriters. It’s been really fun to watch the operation grow as it has. Kurt is writing some amazing songs right now, and I’m really excited to work on this new record we are planning for later this year. Collectively we have written about 20 so far for it. When we write songs, usually Kurt or I will finish one entirely, show the other, get feedback, then bring it to the band to help with what else we should add to it, and form a direction for the song. Houston and Clay really bring a lot to helping with songs when they get to them. Recently however, Kurt and I have written some together, or had a song that was half way done but needed or chorus or bridge, etc and we would help the other. It really seems to be working well as we grow.
EOAF: What do you think makes a “real” song?
ST: I think that is a very loaded question (haha). Real can be a lot of things, but I think genuine is the only thing that has to be constant. I feel like–and hope others see it the same way–being honest and genuine is something you can see/feel. There are times that you get duped, but those situations can be turned into genuine songs themselves.
EOAF: From where do you pull your musical inspiration (other artists, personal experiences, observing others)?
ST: Most of what gives us the fuel to write is our own experiences. I have begun some now to write a few “story” type songs where I don’t have to completely use all me, but usually am still personally connected to the song. Other musicians help to give us ideas as well. Kurt and I both have a few of the same favorite artist that help to inspire for sure.
EOAF: Talk a little bit about how the idea for Reevestock came about. I know you are in your third year and that it continues to grow. How did you come to decide to put on this festival, and why is it important to you/band?
ST: Reevestock is a festival that is really 3-fold. I started thinking about bringing some more music and activities to our hometown than I had when I lived there as a kid. Some of my favorite events to attend are music festivals so I figured I’d look into that option. After some research, it seemed like a feasible option. Choosing The Reeves Theater became more of a symbol than anything. The whole event is a benefit for The Reeves, but it’s also an event with purpose to benefit the whole town of Elkin and our musical needs. Maybe need is a bit far, but I’ll leave it. We do continue to grow and that really helps me to feel like we’re doing this right. We will continue to grow, have fun, and help benefit as many people as we can.
EOAF: What are you most excited about for this year’s Reevestock?
ST: All of it. Most (kinda) of the work is already done, so I’m eager to get the music going! It’s really a fun time.
EOAF: What does The Reeves Theater mean to you personally? Do you have childhood memories of going there to hear music/plays/movies? If so, would you share a few?
ST: Honestly, I don’t have any memories of the Reeves as a kid. I believe I was taken by my mom to see the Lion King and a few other movies there, but I have no recollection of it. As I said before, it helps to serve as a symbol of just keeping music alive.
EOAF: What do you think is special or unique about Yadkin Valley music. Why is its preservation so important?
ST: I think music is special. No matter what people go through, people find music to connect with. Our area is rich in bluegrass heritage and is really known for that. Besides our bluegrass though, we don’t have much of a musical touch, so that is what I’m looking to change.
EOAF: On your webpage, whoever writes the blog entries often says “Hootie Hoooo” or calls your fans “Owlets”…This made me laugh when I read it. Where did that come from? What’s the significance of the owl references?
ST: Kurt brought the owl into the Time Sawyer world and we’ve had a wooden figurine of one since our very early shows. Since then we have made it our power animal, ha. We started “hooting” at fans on Facebook post a while back, but Kurt’s brother, Justin Layell actually coined “Owlets” for us while writing for us on tour this past spring.
EOAF: How do your songs typically evolve from studio to stage?
ST: We build and play songs for a while before the studio, even play lots of them live, so most of what you hear on a record as been tested. We do find different ways to add some zest or change a song up here or there after we have played them for a long time post-record. It’s always fun to throw in a surprise.
EOAF: What is one or a few of your favorite things about performing live shows in different venues (coffee houses, house shows, clubs, festivals). How does the audience affect your performance?
ST: All of those places bring so much to the table if you’re willing to take what is given. House shows offer you a very intimate and open-eared crowd. Those are really fun because of that. Jody Mace puts on Common Chord House Concerts, in Charlotte, NC. It’s a really great group. Festivals and venues give you that crowd interaction that may talk through some of [your set], but also give you that “let’s dance” vibe, too. You can take something good from any show. We want to make friends that become our fans. We are really close with our growing fan base.
EOAF: Finally, what do you want to leave behind as your musical legacy? What do you think fans/listeners will remember about Time Sawyer in the future?
ST: We want to make sure people remember Time Sawyer first, but we are making large strides to do that. We feel very confident in our growth and what our music stands for. That being said, I think we’d like to be remembered for our honesty and ability to connect with fans. Being genuine like we talked about. Being remembered as the most badass band of all-time works, too.
Time Sawyer will be performing at Reevestock along with The Dirty Guv’nahs, The David Mayfield Parade, Joe Pug, A Great Disaster, Owen Poteat, Luke Mears, and The Jon Linker Band. The festival runs from Friday, August 2nd (at The Liberty) through Saturday, August 3rd (at Elkin’s Hidden Amphitheater). Single and two-day tickets are still available, so get out there and check out some amazing musicians, all while supporting the restoration of a historical landmark that captures the essence of the good old days in a small country town. Does it get any better than that!?
“In the common walks of life, with what delightful emotions does the youthful mind look forward to some anticipated scene of festivity!”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
**Thank you to Sam Tayloe for his time and enthusiasm, and Jody Mace for constantly spreading the word about great music!**