“Bittersweet, Pre-Dystopian, Longing”: Inside Leo Sawikin’s Dramatic Solo Debut, ‘Row Me Away’

Row Me Away - Leo Sawikin
Row Me Away - Leo Sawikin
Anxious, urgent and vulnerable, Leo Sawikin’s solo debut ‘Row Me Away’ reflects on life through an intimate lens of existential dread: It’s an indie rock fervor burning with melancholy and pain, with just the slightest touch of hope.
Stream: “Born Too Late” – Leo Sawikin

The record is about living in a world that’s crumbling beneath our feet and trying to figure out how to live day by day.

It’s safe to say that, by and large, we’re all learning how to live again: Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re discovering, at various paces, out how to operate in a familiar space with changing rules and variable risks. Even before that, our world was changing – and fast. Between a chaotic and often toxic news and political media environment, a content-hungry social media multiverse, a nonstop barrage of push notifications from companies tracking our every online mouse movement, life has been increasingly complicated – and felt increasingly overwhelming – for quite some time.

The game as we knew it has changed, and the learning curve is steep – or as singer/songwriter Leo Sawikin sings in his debut album’s title track, “Can’t you see that it burns, burns, burns, ’cause we never learn when the world turns.” Anxious, urgent and vulnerable, Sawikin’s solo debut Row Me Away reflects on life through an intimate lens of existential dread. It’s an indie rock fervor burning with melancholy and pain, with the slightest tinge of hope creeping up not through Sawikin’s lyrics, but through his warm and wondrous music.

Row Me Away - Leo Sawikin
Row Me Away – Leo Sawikin
Throwing myself into the wind
Tryin’ to break out of my skin
As the nightfall rushes in
People are changing all around
All their faces and their sounds
As I hide here underground
Oooh, try to figure it out
Oooh, tell me what it’s about
Everywhere I go, nobody seems to know what to do
Everyone is lost, too broke to pay the cost of the blues
There are some days that it gets too cold to cry
There are some days that I feel like I was born too late
But still too soon to die

Released October 22, 2021 via Riverine Music, Row Me Away arrives this fall as Leo Sawikin’s dynamic, heart-on-sleeve debut album. Already a familiar presence as the frontman of New York City-based folk rock band The Chordaes, who have been active throughout the past five years, Sawikin is a cinematic singer/songwriter with a captivating presence. His first record is a thought-provoking reckoning in more ways than one, with songs that dive deep into questions of purpose and meaning, surviving and thriving.

Leo Sawikin
Leo Sawikin

“The record is about living in a world that’s crumbling beneath our feet and trying to figure out how to live day by day,” Sawikin tells Atwood Magazine. “It’s about wondering whether it’s worth it to invest in the future when everything is so uncertain. Each song looks at that world from a different perspective whether it’s wanting to escape from it, wondering how things went so wrong, wishing we had savored the good times, making tough decisions and sacrifices for the greater good, wondering what it means to be in love when nothing in the world seems to be truly permanent, and accepting that our existence in the universe is fleeting.”

“I didn’t really have a vision going into this record,” he says. “I just had a bunch of songs that I wanted to get out there. Me and my producer wanted to record them in a way that was more minimalist than my previous records. After we had recorded them, I started to realize that there were some common themes in all the songs. Even though all the songs are all about different things, they were all set in the same pre-dystopian world. The pandemic made this even more clear.”

The album’s title perfectly captures this underlying, permeating sense of existential dread. “I would have called it ‘Born Too Late,’ but I felt like there are a million other records with the word born in the title. I think Row Me Away was just the best way to sum up the emotion of the album,” Sawikin sighs.

The desire to escape this reality we find ourselves in is definitely a common theme running through this album.

Leo Sawikin
Leo Sawikin

Sawikin’s folk background blends neatly into an electric guitar and vocals-driven album brimming with energy and charisma. His songs call to mind the charm of classic rock artists like Billy Joel, as well as contemporary pop-leaning indie rock bands like COIN and Bad Suns. Just like these artists, Sawikin gives his album its own recognizable identity – with songs that can easily exist individually outside the full-length format, but seem to thrive when listened to against their neighbors.

From start to finish, Row Me Away is an emotional journey and a cathartic, catchy soundtrack.

Opener “Born Too Late” and title track “Row Me Away” set the scene with vivid lyrics, radiant melodies and strong beats. Sawikin paints a bleak yet relatable perspective, injecting feelings of helplessness and uncertainty, yearning and desire over his moody, often lush and harmony-rich sonics. His music opens up further as the album progresses through the intimately expansive “Golden Days (Far Out At Sea),” the tender and comforting “A Whole World Waiting,” and the aching, sweeping “If I Stayed.” Moments of beauty balance out the melancholia, allowing us to dwell in Sawikin’s visceral depths without drowning. Whether he’s serenading us as on the bittersweet “Wasting My Whole Life,” or basking in the warm, smoky saxophone breaths and ethereal surrender of closer “Take What You Want,” Sawikin ensures we come out of Row Me Away feeling refreshed and renewed, rather than downtrodden and unsure about our individual and collective futures.

Even if deep down, Sawikin himself still feels a little downtrodden and unsure about our individual and collective futures.

As far as he’s concerned though, this album shines on its own accord as a work of musical magic and sentimental reflection. “My favorite songs on this record are probably ‘Golden Days,’ ‘If I Stayed,’ and ‘Wasting My Whole Life,'” the singer/songwriter notes. “I’m very proud of what I achieved harmonically and melodically on those songs. I think they are the most unique tracks on the album.”

When it comes to talking about the lyrics, however, Sawikin is a little more ambiguous and reticent. “I often don’t know how I feel about my own lyrics,” he admits. “I think my favorite song lyrically on this record is probably ‘Wasting My Whole Life.'”

“Wasting My Whole Life” is an easy standout, with an emotive piano chords and stirring strings accompanying Sawikin’s front-and-center vocals. His performance captures a moment of intense truth: He spills himself into lines full of passion, pain, recognition, and appreciation:

Oh, six years of my life,
From 19 to 25, I’ve been lost in your eyes
Change comes about in waves, the lines run down my face
But my heart stays in place
Kingdoms may rise and fall and
People will die and ascend,
My heart is a stone weighing down on me
I’m wasting my whole life
I’m wasting my whole life on you
Girl, the way you walk on by
Like beauty is a lie
You never have to try
How does it come to pass, that my love is all that lasts
It all happens so fast
The ocean will creep in closer
Till it has taken over
Washing my heart way out to sea
No matter where it takes me, I’ll never let it break me
I’ll find the time to ease your mind
I’m wasting my whole life, I’m wasting my whole life on you

Row Me Away is the calm and the tempest at once: A truly cinematic world unto itself, with compelling, immersive textures and intense themes keeping listeners hooked to Sawikin’s every utterance.

He soars high and swings low, crooning and crying up to the bitter end – and indeed, it does get quite a little bitter: “Is life just a cancer?” he roars into the darkness on the appropriately-titled “Tell Me There’s an Answer.” A great swell of strings and percussion reach their boiling point and pour searing emotion over the audience’s ears as Sawikin seeks a deeper understanding to our existence and more: “Tell me there’s an answer to the pain. Tell me there’s an answer… the earth used to spin faster, soon it will be shattered…

Is life just a cancer?
Tell me there’s an answer to explain

Two songs later in the album’s grande finale, he’s still searching for meaning as the music fades to black.

“I think what I’d like people to take away from the album is that even though the future seems so uncertain, we still have to figure out a way to live day to day, survive and be happy and struggle with this idea of meaning,” Sawikin shares. “That is what I’ve taken away from it.”

You’ll likely come away from this music with more questions than answers, but hopefully a deeper part of you will feel fulfilled. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Leo Sawikin’s Row Me Away with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter goes track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut album!

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:: stream/purchase Row Me Away here ::
Stream: ‘Row Me Away’ – Leo Sawikin

:: Inside Row Me Away ::

Row Me Away - Leo Sawikin

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Born Too Late

Born Too Late is about the feeling a lot of people around my age have, that we’re just sort of waiting around for the end of the world at this point. Sometimes it feels like there’s no point in building a life because the ground that we walk on could be underwater by the time we’ve built something. Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s the world seemed very rosy and filled with endless possibilities. There was just an unspoken assumption that the world would always be stable, that my world was indestructible. Growing up like that, there’s so much pressure to leave some sort of legacy behind, we grow up learning about all the great people who have existed throughout history and we’re bombarded with the idea that life is about reaching a goal. That mentality is so deeply internalized for some of us, and it is tough to see the world coming apart at the seams when you’ve grown up thinking you have a purpose to fulfill. It makes you feel small. I guess I’m saying I wish I had been born early enough to create a legacy, or after it was more evident that the world was in dire straits so my mind wasn’t tainted with hope. I think it would be easier to just take it one day at a time and be thankful for individual experiences and the journey of life itself, not being attached to a specific vision of what a meaningful life should look like.

Row Me Away

I wrote Row Me Away in fall of 2019 right before the pandemic began, it was the last song I wrote for my upcoming record of the same title. That was a moment where it really felt like we were all so occupied with our own lives, that we weren’t paying attention to the way the world was unraveling. I wanted to write something about escaping from that apathetic and mundane reality. This song is about wanting to escape the comfort of everyday life to search for adventure and new meaning. It’s about the push and pull between wanting to have certainty and knowing there’s so much out there to see in the world.

Golden Days

Golden Days about taking times of stability for granted. The tragedy of humanity is that our brains are wired to never be fully satisfied. Many of us get desensitized to things that make us happy overtime and we’re always looking for something new while the things we need rot around us. A lot of our best memories are from times that seem better in retrospect than when we were living them.

A Whole World Waiting

I wrote A Whole World Waiting about a hypothetical situation where someone’s romantic partner or friend is a bad person and the importance of breaking free from the self-deception and cognitive dissonance that overtakes people when their partners do bad things. The inspiration for this song was actually George and Kellyanne Conway. It just blew my mind that she could be so morally reprehensible and he knew it but still decided to stay with her. It’s amazing the way people can deceive themselves sometimes.

If I Stayed

If I Stayed, lyrically is like my version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. It’s about being with someone, making yourself vulnerable and wondering how they really feel/what they want from you? Do they love you for you, or are they using you for something selfish? I think that’s a question most of us ask ourselves whenever we open our hearts to someone new.

All Just a Drop

All Just A Drop is about having an adventure to try and escape from your feelings. Travel is often a great way to help forget about someone you’ve been having trouble removing from your mind. When we travel we gain perspective and realize how insignificant our little slice of life is. Everyone you know, every moment you live, it’s all just a drop of rain in a cloud that never ends and there will always be people that have it worse than you do. If you’re sad because you can’t have something you desire, I feel traveling really helps us to be thankful for the things we often take for granted. Just being able to go for a walk and take in the world as a human being is an incredible gift.

You Love Too Much

I first got the idea for You Love Too Much watching The Sopranos. There is a tragic character named Gloria Atrillo on the show, who has serious struggles with romantic relationships. Without spoiling the show for those who haven’t seen it, she becomes very infatuated with Tony Soprano and completely loses herself in her love for him, until she scares him away. I wrote this song to give comfort to people who struggle to find balance in their relationships and have a toxic addiction to the high of being in love.

Tell Me There’s an Answer

Tell Me There’s An Answer is about asking the question of what life really is. Why are we here? Do we have a purpose? Is life just a disease of the earth, or is there objective good in it? In this day and age it feels like humanity and any type of intelligent life is a sickness. I often wonder if humanity is destined to go extinct or if we have some sort of spiritual purpose for being alive. Is all life just random, or are we as humans living out some sort of story with a happy ending?

Wasting My Whole Life

Wasting My Whole Life is about what it means to be in love in a world that is bursting at the seams. It’s about asserting that love is a force outside of ourselves that can live on after our material bodies are gone, traverse any distance, travel faster than the speed of light etc. It’s about saying to someone that you will love them even when your body is a rock at the bottom of the ocean years after the extinction of humanity. Sometimes it feels like love is something that can travel across different lifetimes, something that is 4 dimensional for lack of better words.

Take What You Want

Take What You Want is about the inescapable moment when we have to let go and allow ourselves to be consumed by the elements. It’s about the certainty of death and our connection to the uncontrollable forces of the universe but through a lens of a toxic relationship where someone is powerless not to give themselves away to a partner who is taking advantage of them and only cares about themselves.

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:: stream/purchase Row Me Away here ::

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Row Me Away - Leo Sawikin

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