MUSICAL GENRES were invented so that record stores could categorize things for their shoppers and music journalists could put things in boxes for their readers. In the grand scheme of things, though, music that's heaped in originality doesn't fit snugly within established parameters. Sawyer Family is a band that has yet to find the right-shaped box for their music. Not even Zack Shafer, upright bass player and vocalist for the Eugene-based band, can explain what kind of music they make.
"Nobody can tell me," Shafer says. "It's still rock 'n' roll in my mind. It just has elements of all kinds of stuff."
Sawyer Family has been around for well over a decade, and in their early days the band had a horror-based, more traditional rockabilly sound. The music was creepy and dark, and Shafer played a stand-up bass. Naturally, they were labeled a psychobilly band at the time.
"When people were calling us a psychobilly band, we didn't agree with that," says Shafer. "I don't know any psychobilly bands that drop the bow on the bass or do three-part harmonies."
If that genre category was never an exact match, Sawyer Family's sound—as it is now—exists in completely uncharted territory. Their recently self-released, self-titled record still shows the band has a traditional rock backbone, but they comfortably and competently let the music go in all kinds of directions on top of that. Shafer's bowed bass playing adds a classical quality to some songs, while others have a carnival waltz sound to them. Yet another track might have spooky, spine-tingling guitar work, while the next has oohs and ahhs and a stomping Queens of the Stone Age riff. For Shafer, originality in songwriting always trumps skill or genre boundaries.
"The power isn't in playing well," he says. "The power is in writing something no one else could've written."
The lack of categorization hasn't stopped the Sawyer Family. They're a hard-touring bunch that have gone around the States many times, and have spent several weeks touring Europe as well. Shafer claims they've played 150 to 200 shows a year since 2009. Their busy schedule recently paid off when the band was spotted last year in Richmond, Virginia, by Gwar's Beefcake the Mighty. Beefcake enjoyed them so much that he handpicked the Sawyer Family to appear at this year's Gwar B-Q show. Shafer says the lifestyle is tough, but he wouldn't have it any other way.
"When you love music, you've devoted your life to doing it, and you feel like you're good at it, what else are you gonna do?" he asks. "There is no more music industry. The only people left doing this are either delusional or they really love music—or in my case, both."