‘The Voice’ winner Sawyer Fredericks brings new album to Belly Up
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
Who: Sawyer Fredericks
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, May 11, 8 p.m.
How much: $8/advance; $10/day-of
Tickets: Belly Up box office; http://www.bellyupaspen.com
Singer-songwriter Sawyer Fredericks returned to “The Voice” last week and played the new song “4 Pockets” from his forthcoming album. Playing to the night’s studio audience and 8.4 million viewers in primetime on NBC is familiar territory by now for the 17-year-old, who won the eighth season of the singing competition program in 2015.
Less familiar are the small venues and music clubs where Fredericks is playing this spring, on a tour that brings him to Belly Up Aspen on today, following a sold-out show at Denver’s Soiled Dove Underground.
“I’m super excited about touring and going on the road with a band and being in a van and going up on stage,” Fredericks said from Los Angeles last week before his guest performance on “The Voice.” “It’s going to be really cool.”
Fredericks emerged as a fully formed performer in his first appearance on the program last year playing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” With his long blonde hair and his bowler hat, the then-15-year-old Fredericks had an old soul of a voice that ranged from a growl into an elastic croon, stretching notes in the song with a vibrato touch and making the folk standard his own. In a vote of confidence that presaged his success in the competition, all four judges turned around and offered to coach him through the competition.
“That took me to another time,” judge and super-producer Pharrell Williams told him. “This is your destiny.”
Williams became his coach, mentoring him through the winning season and performances of classics such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Seen the Rain,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man” and Neil Young’s “Old Man.”
Working with Williams — the biggest hit-maker of the moment and the guy behind “Happy” and “Get Lucky” — proved valuable for Fredericks.
“He’s just an amazing producer, and to be around him — he’s just a really chill guy and working with him in the studio was phenomenal,” Fredericks said. “He had a lot of great tips and gave me a lot of advice and allowed me to stay true to myself.”
Immediately after winning “The Voice,” Fredericks began writing and co-writing songs for an album (the competition’s prize includes a record contract with Republic). He worked with a handful of producers on the record, “A Good Storm,” which comes out Friday. Fredericks honed his singing chops busking around upstate New York as a kid and playing open mics. So collaborating on songwriting was a new experience.
“The co-writing was difficult, just because it’s sharing something that’s personal to me,” he said. “It was a little out of my comfort zone.”
His dexterous voice and his throwback acoustic blues style lend themselves to the kinds of hard-bitten Americana songs that helped Fredericks distinguish himself on “The Voice.” And the new single “4 Pockets” follows suit. At 17, he hasn’t gone through much of the heartbreak and hard times that those songs tend to narrate, but a creative empathy brings him into them.
“I’m not able to relate to them in that I’ve experienced all that stuff,” Fredericks said. “I haven’t. I’m too young. But I can connect with them through imagination and feeling what this kind of person would be going through.”
As he’s adjusting to the touring musician’s life on his solo tour, Fredericks is playing all 10 songs from the new album in a mixed set of solo acoustic numbers and songs with a three-man backing band. His “Voice” competitor, sometime duet partner and Pharrell teammate Mia Z will open the Belly Up show. She also guests on the song “Stranger” on the new album.
While the relatively new age of singing competition shows has shifted the pop music paradigm and thrown some performers — and listeners — off-kilter, it’s the way it’s always been for Fredericks. He was three when “American Idol” premiered in 2002. The talented teenager doesn’t view his emergence onto the global music scene through TV as so unlike the old ways of doing things.
“I don’t consider it very different, whether people are coming out of shows or not,” he said. “They’re just artists and they’re trying to make a living off of their music.”
And as he looks at begins the next phase of his post-“Voice” career, he’s keeping his artistic goals pretty simple: “I really just want to be able to share my music and keep writing and expand a little more and just enjoy it.”