Leading up to Upstream Music Fest + Summit, the regionally focused festival happening in Pioneer Square June 1-3 with over 200 acts, KEXP will highlight a series of local artists every week with a short feature on the artist and a few tracks to start with if you're unfamiliar with their work. This week spotlights Sound Off! 2018 winner Micaiah Sawyer, who will be playing Saturday, June 2nd at 9pm.
Olympia-based singer/songwriter Micaiah Sawyer has the kind of voice that could make buildings crumble and weep. She sings of weary souls and the salvation of love with a goosebump-inducing amount of conviction, which is part of what won her this year’s Sound Off! Competition. You can feel her pain and resignation, her joy and boundless love, her longshot optimism.
In advance of her Upstream Music Fest set,, we caught up with Sawyer to chat about her experience winning Sound Off!, writing her first song, and what to expect if you’ve yet to see her live.
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KEXP: How old were you when you wrote your first song? Is it something you'd be proud of today as a more experienced songwriter or is it something stored under heavy lock and key, never to be heard by anyone's ears other than yours?
Micaiah Sawyer: I wrote my first song when I was about 10 or 11 years old. It was called "One Little Change," written on piano, and my sister and I sang it together. I still have the original copy of the lyrics somewhere and remember the whole melody because it was extremely simple, but as cute as it was I'll likely keep it locked away forever. Still, I'm proud of little me for starting me off and not giving up!
Is there any specific sort of headspace you have to enter in order to write a song, or do you just sit down and let it flow? Is the experience different for different songs?
It depends on the song. Sometimes I'll be wildly inspired and write a song in 30 minutes on a car ride to a meeting, and sometimes I'll need a few hours to a full day to process and definitely no distractions. It's always different!
Tell us about your experience competing in this year's Sound Off!. Were you nervous, were you pretty confident you would win? Was it a mixture of both?
At first, I didn't even realize how big of a deal it would be, but after some research I thought "yeah, it would be nice to be in this thing." So when I got the call that I made the top 12, my heart started beating pretty fast and I was jumping around. From there on it was hard to tell because everyone was so good!
I had some confidence that I would make it to the finals because I really wanted it and I'd done plenty of practicing and praying, but I certainly had my doubts. On the day of the finals, I was crazy nervous. I have no clue how the judges made up their mind, because I certainly could have seen any one of us winning.
You put out a wonderful EP last year, do you have any recordings in the works right now?
Thank you! Yes, we're going to start pre-production soon to record and release a full length album this summer. Also, as part of the prize for winning Sound Off!, I was awarded time at The Vera Project in Seattle. This time will be used to record a single, to be released very soon.
For those who have never seen you perform live, what can they expect from your Upstream Music Fest set?
I'll be joined by a band of six outstanding musicians, so attendees can expect a group of music-loving nerds having some seriously contagious fun on stage. It'll be a party!
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