Written by Julie Hoffman
I recently sat down to chat with the extremely talented NYC native singer / songwriter Leo Sawikin right after his new single “New York I’m Coming Home” was released and before he leaves to join Jon McLaughlin (and Bobbie Lee Stamper) on a 10-city 2023 Holiday Tour (beginning December 4th in Atlanta, GA). Tour dates/ cities below.
Leo’s “New York I’m Coming Home” is the fourth single off his upcoming summer 2024 album release recorded at Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho in Seattle with producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Modest Mouse, The Shins).
Talking about how he came up with the song “New York I’m Coming Home”-
Leo was on a trip through the Mediterranean traveling and thinking about NY in a different way. He was on a train from Rome to Barcelona, stopping at cities along the way. Towards the end of the trip Leo was thinking about going back to NYC after these new experience’s.
“When you go away from NY, you appreciate things about it a little more… Thinking about how happy I was going to be when I got home…
We live here for a while (NYC), and it can get overwhelming, but coming back to it, everything seems so amazing again.”
Leo’s new song is notably different from his past work. When he wrote the music for “New York I’m Coming Home,” he was not trying to necessarily make something. With the other songs he tried creating very unique sounding chord progression and tried making it sound more complex. With this song, he was trying to focus on keeping the melody as visceral as possible without altering it to make it seem more complex. He was not trying to show off chord wise. He wanted to prove to himself could do a song like that.
Leo explains that the creative process for “New York I’m Coming Home” had the music written in a day, melody in a few weeks, and the lyrics took longer (several months). For Leo, the music or melodies always comes to him first.
Leo started The Chordaes band with his best friends Ethan Glenn and Jesse Serrano (Jesse still plays with him at a lot of shows). He also had keyboard player Max Ventura.
In 2016, they released one album together. After 2016 his producer at the time helped to get him a new five-piece group of guys (from NJ). They stayed together until 2019. Leo went solo after that. He explains it made more sense for his music. He was inspired at the time by Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson and he was aspiring to have music that sounded like that. His first solo record was made right before the pandemic. Before they could put it out, everything shut down. He decided he would start working with more open tunings, making everything more straight forward and would be more about the essence of the songs. That is when he found a producer, Phil Ek, producer of Fleet Foxes (he loves how he captures the vocal sound) –
“He has an amazing way of capturing vocals… and felt needed someone who could capture my singing very very naturally.”
He reached out to Phil and he agreed and started working with him about a year ago.
Leo is traveling with several guitars on tour. His go to is an acoustic Martin – and it is used on most of his songs. There are some electric guitars in the mix, with his favorite being the telecaster guitars. He likes the telecaster’s clean sounding and not too crunchy sound, while still having some bite to it.
Leo first picked up the guitar when he was 10 years old. He progressed to chord progressions at 11, and was writing songs by 12.
It’s hard to have a conversation with Leo and not bring up food. Leo love’s cooking and Italian food is what he knows the best. By following Frank Prisinzano on social media and growing up in New York City, Leo became very familiar with what authentic Italian food is.
Leo explained that during the pandemic Frank posted all these methods, walking you through how to cook all these different dishes and allowed you to make inferences on how other things could be made in Italian food. Talking about techniques instead of walking through specific amounts. This gave Leo the ability to infer how a certain type of Italian food is made. His most favorite thing to make? Rigatoni all’Amatriciana.
Leo is looking forward (if he can find the time) to also being a tourist on this tour and enjoying each of the cities unique food selections. He is especially looking forward to sampling the Italian food (and pizza) when in Chicago.
Madison Square Garden – where he saw first concert (Coldplay) at 9 years old.
He would be happy for any arena or high capacity venue and would also like to go back to Europe and do some shows there.
Dream show to open for (other than Jon McLaughlin)?
“Boy Genius or Dora Jar (she just opened for 1975), Baylen, Lemon Twigs, Fleet Foxes… list goes on and on, lots of people.”
If your music was ice cream… what flavor would it be and why?-
“Vanilla chocolate chip – because vanilla chocolate chip is not super out there and in your face, it’s simple, but also has interesting nuggets in it.”
When people go to your show, what would you hope they walk away with?
He’d want people to remember him and think he was really good and want to stream his music.
“Hope they come away from it feeling like I really care about making my music interesting and making songs that don’t really sound like a lot of what’s out there… From a more messaging point of view, the whole concept of a lot of the songs are about death and rebirth. If anyone is in a bad space, I’d want them to listen to a song like “The Same Mistakes” and realize we are all very fallible and imperfect, but also that nothing is permanent and if in a specific state of mind at one moment, it’s not going to last. Who we are isn’t going to last. In all of human existence, it’s a very small sliver of time in the universe. I want people to walk away with the feeling of nothing is permanent… to cherish the time we have here but not feel like we are going to be stuck in the same set of circumstances for all of eternity.”
Leo Sawikin Tour Dates (all with Jon McLaughlin):
MON, Dec 4 at City Winery in Atlanta, GA
TUE, Dec 5 at The Franklin Theatre in Franklin, TN
SAT, Dec 9 at City Winery in St. Louis, MO (2 Shows: Matinee + Night)
SUN, Dec 10 at City Winery in Chicago, IL (2 Shows: Matinee + Night)
TUE, Dec 12 at City Winery in Pittsburgh, PA
WED, Dec 13 at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA
FRI, Dec 15 at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, MD
SUN, Dec 17 at City Winery in Philadelphia, PA
MON, Dec 18 at City Winery in New York, NY
TUE, Dec 19 at City Winery in Boston, MA