Ryan Sawyer on Drums, Voices, and the Bar Ritual
Ryan Sawyer Photo By Mara McKevitt
Ryan Sawyer is one of those people you don't remember meeting. They are just there one day and your friendship with them is natural and unquestionable. Over the past ten years, I have learned to trust Ryan's musical and personal decisions, and to respect the way in which he approaches living his life.
One trend that has made it self clear in this issue, is that many people view ritual as a way of providing a space in which a person or group of people can feel a specific way. That may be a socio-political space, such as the protests featured in Noriko Manabe's article, or religious spaces like those found in Vincent Moon's films. In each of the examples given in SA11 something has happened to charge a room; charge a people with energy. Ritual creates this energy through tradition or rules; through the intellect or a group emotion. It happens in churches, synagogues, concert halls, and street protests. This is ritual with a capital R.
But what about ritual with a small r? In our day to day lives we are existing in daily moments that are charge with a ritual energy, but how often do we recognize it? Something as banal as making coffee becomes an intimate ritual. Battling a line at a food truck for lunch is nothing if not a charged space. There are people that roam freely within these moments that we recognize as having "something special"; people that change a room. I like to think of these people as "shamans" of the everyday (not to take any special power out of the word shaman). Ryan Sawyer is one of those people.
In this interview we talk about two of the most tangible and outwardly affecting rituals in his daily life: his solo drum and voice performances as Lone Wolf and his day jobs as bartender and DJ in Brooklyn. While Lone Wolf may fit more neatly into the ritual in music box that's been set up in this issue, the "night culture" that Ryan talks about in this issue is even more fascinating as an insight into the rituals of relaxation, sex, and alcohol that take places thousands of times under the watch of the person setting the scene or charging the space.
We recorded at Ryan's Williamsburg apartment in the middle of a crazy Saturday afternoon. The interstitial music is from his upcoming solo recording, One Day Your Heart Will Be Your Skin, and includes (in order) a Mbuti Pygmy song, Kathy Leisen's I Don't Want To Be Friends, and Norma Tanega's You're Dead.
Photo of Ryan Sawyer by Yuco Nakamara
Cover Photo of Sawyer and Wooley by C. Spencer Yeh
Ryan Sawyer was born in San Antonio, Texas, and started playing drums at the age of 11. Drawn not only to rock and jazz, but the colloquial conjunto, zydeco and punk rock music of his hometown, by the age of 19 he had recorded with the influential band At The Drive-In. In 1997 Sawyer moved to New York to further pursue his interest in improvised music.
Since then, he has been leading a life balanced between composed and improvised performance. He has supported and collaborated with such diverse names as Rhys Chatham, Charles Gayle, TV on the Radio, Boredoms, Thurston Moore, Nik Zinner, Kid Millions, Fiery Furnaces, Trevor Dunn, Gang Gang Dance, Mekons and Zeena Parkins, to name a few. While this list is always growing, Sawyer has been cultivating a tight group of peers to deepen collaborative possibilities.
His current new projects include Lonewolf & Cub (drum trapeze duo), Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band, and Oso Blanco (Colin Stetson, C. Spencer Yeh, Nate Wooley). Sawyer is finishing his soon-to-be-released solo record, One Day Your Heart Will Be Your Skin, out this fall.