Leo Sawikin is a New York City-based singer/songwriter whose 2021 debut solo album Row Me Away produced two tracks, “A Whole World Waiting” and “Born Too Late,” that scored indie radio spins in the U.S. and UK. The album’s first single, the ethereal rock ballad “Golden Days,” earned a prominent spot in the influential American Songwriter, which wrote, “We’re in contemplative times, and old soul Leo Sawikin followed the path paved by pop music’s classic songwriters, effectively capturing the longing for the simplicity of the past.” Leo sees the lockdown era as a creative dividing line between Row Me Away and the exciting new material he’s been writing for the last two years. The music on the previous album was steeped in a sense of anxiety and dread, while the new songs are about learning to live and find peace in the moment, even in the face of an uncertain future.
When the opportunity arose to work with legendary Seattle-based producer Phil Ek–whose resume includes breakthrough albums by Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, The Shins, and Fleet Foxes—Leo jumped. The two have already recorded seven tracks at Studio Litho in Seattle, an independent facility owned by Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard.
Leo will be releasing singles throughout 2023 (leading up to the release of a full collection) reflecting a new aesthetic he describes as “sort of indie folk-pop with a dreamy shimmer.” It’s a guitar-driven vibe that evokes bands like The Sundays and Sixpence None the Richer, as well as Leo’s previous indie-pop group, The Chordaes.
The first single, dropping on May 5, is “Hold On,” an uplifting mid-tempo song, grounded in a message of hope, that Leo wrote with Nashville based singer-songwriter Lucy Isabel. The planned follow-up is the infectious “Till You’re Somebody Else,” a showcase for the singer’s sparkling guitar work and soulful vocal passion. It’s a track, Leo says, that grew out of experimenting with the same tuning as Joni Mitchell’s folk-rock-jazz classic “Coyote” but transformed into a shot of up-tempo power pop. “I’m always trying to grow and develop and explore new musical possibilities for myself,” Leo says. “Listening back to earlier songs, I started thinking about what I could do differently; how could I do what I wanted to musically without too much embellishment? For one, I wanted to do a record that showcased my chord voicings in a way that was much more upfront than what I had done in the past. And on previous recordings, I worked with a full backing band, but this time Phil encouraged me to do all the guitar parts myself and to come up with and play all the keyboard parts as well. It was quite a challenge, but I feel like there’s a lot more of me on these new tracks, and that we really were able to distill the songs to their essence. Now, I’m just looking forward to seeing how people respond!”