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Q&A: Sawyer Brown

Originally a country-pop band that deepened its repertoire with rich ballads, Sawyer Brown continues its successful run as the original “American Idols.”

G.K. Hizer
September 28, 2019

With televised reality and talent competition shows like The Voice and American Idol having produced stars like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry, and Adam Lambert, it’s easy to forget that it’s an old concept. In 1984, a band from Florida won Star Search, which launched the group’s nearly 40-year career in country music.

As times have changed, so have record labels, distribution, and how bands reach the fans, but it’s all part of the same equation for Sawyer Brown. The group has had a couple of membership changes over the years, but they continue to tour and bring back loyal fans while winning over new ones.

Sawyer Brown has released over 20 studio albums and has charted over 50 times on the Hot Country Songs charts, including three No. 1 singles: “Step That Step” (1985), “Some Girls Do” (1992), and “Thank God for You” (1993).

With Sawyer Brown’s current tour bringing the group to the Skyline Event Center Oct. 12, keyboardist Gregg “Hobie” Hubbard discussed the band’s history, what keeps them going, and what’s in the foreseeable future.

Q. Do you ever think about how winning Star Search changed your lives?
A. You know, we have such great memories from our time on the show, even now. Maybe it was different because almost everyone on the show was already working in their field; the actors were acting, the models were modeling, and the musicians were already playing. We were looking for a way to make that next step. But it was cool meeting a group of people who were roughly the same age and in a similar set of circumstances.

We had zero ideas about what could happen to us by going on the show. We only wanted the video package from our audition to use to pitch the band. That’s as far as we thought it would go.

The one enormous difference was when we won, we knew we wanted a record deal. But Nashville was very suspect of television and anything that came from it. They weren’t sure what to do with us.

Q. Did sounding different from most country acts at the time present challenges for the band?
A. Oh, for sure. What we were doing was very different. When we played Star Search, we had already showcased every label in Nashville. After we got on Star Search, the Los Angeles labels were calling their Nashville offices and asking, “Why haven’t we seen these guys yet?”

They weren’t sure what to do with our sound, but we knew it would sell because we played live constantly and knew there was an audience for it. Now, we laugh at what gets on the radio and what we caught grief for, but at the time, what we were doing was new to country radio, and we had a hard time finding our place. Even so, we knew our fans loved what we were doing, so we kept at it and stayed true to ourselves.

Q. How much influence do you think your music had on changing the country sound?
A. I do think the boundaries started to expand, but I haven’t thought about us changing that at all. I think listeners are probably more open and accepting now than they were then, but the market has changed. Now you’re freer to make the music you’re comfortable with and let people find it. As a listener, that’s a great thing. Back then, you only heard new music by listening to the radio and what they would play. With streaming and digital music, you can find new music so much easier, and I think the listeners determine what radio plays a bit more now.

Q. Have recent changes in the music industry worked for or against you?
A. It’s worked fine for us. In 1983 or ‘84 you had to have a label, publicist, and booking agent to do anything. Now, you can make your music and get it out to the fans and it kind of goes from there. Anything that puts the control back in the hands of the fans is a good thing in my book. I tell people to buy the music that you like — that’s how you support the artists. It’s about finding what and who you like and then supporting those people.

Q. How important is the concert experience to Sawyer Brown?
A. I love when you see bands work and play shows to build an audience, then put out music. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve done over 5,000 shows. Sure, the financial aspect is critical as well, but getting out there playing and connecting with the audience is what it’s all about. Now, playing live is the key to keeping the lights on, but it’s important to make sure to give people a reason to see you and a reason to return. That’s what we always try to do.

Q. Sawyer Brown has had a successful recording career, but it seems like you’re constantly touring.
A. It’s a big deal for us, but that’s also because we’re all music fans. I still see live music, even when I’m not on tour because I love the collective experience. It draws people together and makes a connection. It’s kind of funny to me, because I’ve played a lot of shows, but it’s hard for me to process sometimes that people buy and listen to our music, just like I’ve always listened to other artists. I know that when I go to see my favorite bands, I get stoked beforehand and I have goosebumps when they play, so it’s kind of funny to think that our fans have that same kind of experience with what we do.

Q. Is there new music on the way?
A. We just finished up a new album, or record, or whatever you want to call it these days. We’ll probably get it out early next year. We waited until the songs felt strong enough and we had enough material to put together something we’re proud of. We’re making this one for the sake of making music and doing what we love.

Sawyer Brown
Skyline Event Center | Osage Casino Hotel
951 W. 36th St. N. | Tulsa
Oct. 12: 7 p.m.
Must be 18 or older to attend