Portraits of Sawyer is a two-man rock band consisting of Ben Wiggins (lead vocals, keys, guitar) and Adam Garcia (guitars, vocals, percussion). Adam and Ben started the band in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in 2008. They’ve both been hailing from Vermont since 2017.
How did you meet and how did your collaboration come about?
AHG: “We met in college and tried playing together then. It wasn’t until we later lived
together in Brooklyn that we had the time to do things more seriously. We took our time with the mixes and the recording. While the setting was ramshackle as fuck, our intention and enjoyment were both at a high level.”
BW: “When I moved back to New York after trying to get somewhere in Seattle, I asked Adam to help me record something – the first song I was able to stand behind, after a lot of attempts at writing. I knew that he had a good ear, and he was an experienced film editor, so I knew he could produce audio. Plus, we were friends and liked a lot of the same bands. Before my song was finished, we had written a couple new ones together, and we were having a lot of fun writing and playing them, and soon producing them – pretty solidly, considering we were using GarageBand at the time. That was the Superdestroyer 10-track, we mailed it to like three people. And that first song still isn’t finished.”
You released an EP ‘The Superdestroyer’ in 2008. Is that where your Twitter handle @superdestroyer comes from? I assume you changed your name to Portraits of Sawyer later?
BW: “Soon after releasing that first album, we decided that due to the demo quality of a lot of it, we would trim it down to 5 songs and put it on iTunes etc in that format – that’s the Superdestroyer EP. There’s a song on Superdestroyer called Portraits of Sawyer. The chorus is “Portraits of Sawyer / Superdestroyer,” so I feel like they go together, plus I think it looks good. I think I was also psyched that a word like superdestroyer was still available, but Twitter was still relatively early days. The name itself was a joke that came out of a bullshit session one night. We thought it sounded right. Plus, our initials are P.O.S. – so we’ve kind of built things in that might prevent us from ever taking it too seriously.”
You mentioned you recorded the first EP with Garageband. Are you still using Garageband or have you moved to a different DAW?
AHG: “We have used GarageBand and Logic. And then handed mixes to Billy Bowers and got the fuck out of his way.”
BW: “Final mixes were done in Logic Pro, that’s basically all I’m personally using right now. The studios we used were using Pro Tools and Logic, I think – we just went home with the takes. I like Fission for certain kinds of single-track edits.”
You recorded parts of your album ‘Whatever You May Say‘ at Meadowlark Studios in Vermont. Do you have any recording facilities at home?
AHG: “I do. Basic mic in a nearly soundproof basement space. Nothing to write home about, but a very respectable setup to flush out ideas, record demos or simple songs.”
BW: “We recorded the song ‘Whatever You May Say’ at Meadowlark, and final vocals for ‘Mullet Action’ and most of ‘Strawberry Moon’ there – and a couple other things – but we also recorded elsewhere, Robot Dog Studios for ‘Roll My Number’ and the guitars on ‘Gene.’ ‘Busey’ was mostly a home recording.”
“Meadowlark was a really beautiful place to record, and we had great engineers. They closed their doors recently.”
“I have a basic setup at home. Hard to compete with the gear in a proper studio. I record a lot of ideas into my phone.”
Your single ‘Whatever You May Say’ is currently holding the top spot in our chart. What can you tell me about that song?
AHG: “Nada. Ben wrote the whole thing and played it and crushed it. For Ben Wiggins of
Burlington Vermont, opportunity knocks! (George Harrison reference)”
BW: “Hmm…. I had just gotten out of the shower one day, back in I think 2011, and I heard the chorus in my head, like the sound of a crowd singing it. I recorded the idea and figured out the basic structure – it probably didn’t really come together until I tried it on piano. Tapped into a couple personal things to get the lyrics moving.”
“When I think I have a really good song idea, I usually send it to Adam. He was into it I think from the beginning, so it made the list for this record. And we both thought it made a good album title.”
Do you both write lyrics or is Ben the one that usually writes them? What inspires your lyrics?
AHG: “Ben writes the lyrics. I have added a thought here and there that might make it’s way onto the lyric sheet, but Ben’s the writer.”
BW: “Adam has written some of the key lyrics, and a lot of stuff we haven’t put out yet. Plus, he’s a solo artist – lots of great lyrics on his albums. When I’m really lucky, I will dream a tune, and a lyric. It’s great because then I don’t even really feel responsible for it – usually those are ideas I would never come up with consciously. The rest of the time, it depends. I’ve written sad songs about breakups and stuff like that, but one of our strengths seems to be writing songs about what we think is funny, like ‘Mr. New York’, ‘Busey’, ‘Gene’ and ‘Mullet Action’. One of the songs we’re going to record next is about the episode of Family Feud that had the WWF on as the competing families.”
Do you continually write music?
AHG: “Always. I don’t know how to stop. Can’t stop, won’t stop.”
BW: “Pretty much. For new ideas, sometimes there are gaps on my voice memos for several months, but so far it keeps coming back, usually when I’m messing around on the guitar. At this point there are so many in progress, it really is continual.”
What can you tell me about your creative process?
AHG: “Sometimes I bring Ben a pretty finished piece of music and he adds lyrics and melody. Sometimes it’s all Ben. And sometimes we work together, bouncing ideas back and forth until we create ‘Mullet Action’.”
BW: “Thank god we finally created ‘Mullet Action’. It’s being released ten years after Adam first sent me the basic track – that tells you something about our creative process. You can chalk a lot of that up to living in different cities, and life, but the good part about it is that we do stick with the ideas that we like, work on them until we think they’re realized. Now we’re starting to finish a bunch of them.”
Who made your artwork – the drawings that you used for the album and the singles?
BW: “Alana LaPoint, a visual artist based in Vermont. She’s done some international shows, and keeps exploring different styles and forms – a real artist, we lucked out that she was able to make these drawings for the album. Adam and I designed the finished album and single covers, tried to incorporate the drawings as well as we could.”
In the Release Talk for your album ‘Whatever You May Say’ you mentioned the band is about
the love of music, especially the Beatles. What’s your favourite song by the Beatles?
AHG: “Sheeeeeeeit. Can’t pick one. Favorite album by them is ‘The White Album’. If someone was like “I will toss you off this cliff if you don’t tell me your fav Beatles song right now!” I would say ‘I Am the Walrus’. And then I would run away from the person threatening to throw me off the cliff.”
BW: “I’m Only Sleeping.”
Just a tongue-in-cheek question: Are the Beatles better than the Rolling Stones?
AHG: “My not tongue-in-cheek answer: Yes.”
BW: “I’m glad that you know it’s a tongue-in-cheek question – so many people don’t! There’s no way to compare them. The Stones were the baddest mfers the world has ever seen, and you can make the case that they were more Rock and Roll, but anyway – the short answer is yes. The Beatles were and are just too huge, inventive and important for anyone else to claim the top, ever. We still have two Beatles walking the Earth, thank God. We should be having parades for them in different cities every fucking day.”
Charlie Watts recently passed, which brings me to the next question: if you could bring one musician back from the dead, who would it be?
BW: “Such a huge loss. Interesting question… Weezer? If it can’t be a whole band, Chris
AHG: “Elliott Smith. Don’t even have to think about it. If I do think about it for a beat longer, probably John Lennon.”
You’ve recently released your album. What’s next?
AHG: “Live shows, a small tour would be great, but the state of the world is making that seem less attainable. Recording more music, for sure. Would love to fund two weeks of recording at a specific location where music is the full focus. Ain’t that the dream?”
BW: “Well, we’re peddling the album now that it’s out, hopefully some of these songs will have a bigger life – thank you so much for giving ‘Whatever You May Say’ some love. We’re putting together the live set again, so we can get back out there, writing new stuff, trying to find a great record label that gets what we’re doing.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?
AHG: “Ellis Meek – Rain. I love the vocal, especially the semi isolated quality of it at the start of the song. Lots of heart there. And the way the song builds is very compelling to me.”
BW: “Red Skies by Sophie Dorsten is great, really strong vocals and great atmosphere. I guess there’s some of that magical sibling thing happening with her and her brother Alex. I’m really liking bones by HOL too.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
BW: “I just recently found out about PACKS, this amazing band from Toronto. The band’s founder Madeline Link is doing really interesting stuff musically, and has some true badass vibes. So I’d like to add PACKS – ‘Two Hands.’ It’s great. Plus, it feels complete at two minutes, something pretty cool to pull off.”
Official website: https://portraitsofsawyer.com
(All photographs were taken by Jude Domski.)