Daily Discovery: Secondhand Sound Recall Rowdy House Show With “Knievel”

A Nashville transplant, Sawyer John Estok knows a thing or two about the live music community, particularly those “house shows that are really just house parties with a three or four band lineup,” he says. With his band Secondhand Sound’s new song “Knievel,” Estok reframes one of those house shows as a thematic base for a story of unexpected romance.

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“‘Knievel’ is a simple song about having a crush on someone. I can only hope it will soundtrack situations similar to the one it’s about,” the lead singer and guitarist tells American Songwriter. “There is no real important message for this song; it’s just here to inspire a good time or maybe even some memories of one.”

When Estok began dating the song’s central figure, she drove him around her small southern hometown, and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” blasted through the speakers. “She told me when she was in high school she had a huge crush on the quarterback. She casually continued─all she wanted to do was get in the car and drive around and listen to The Cure with him because that’s what she thought love was,” recalls Estok. “In that moment, I was like, ‘So that’s what the Cure is all about,’ and I soon set out to try my hand at writing a Cure song.”

Estok fused a new-found Robert Smith influence, his usual songwriting style, and a Phil Lynott (frontman of Thin Lizzy) “narrative voice,” he describes. “Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ is some of the best writing I’ve ever heard. The way Phil sets the scene as if he’s catching up with you in some bar over a ‘pint’ kills me. Over the course of your conversation, he reveals more and more about the town, band and even you as the listener within the confines of the story through casual, descriptive, conversational language. In short, ‘Knievel’ is my attempt to write a song that sounded a little like The Cure covering a Thin Lizzy song.”

In his optimal songwriting state, Etsok makes sure he’s “living life to the fullest. As cheesy as that sounds, my real experiences are what inspires my writing. Every song Secondhand Sound has put out is a true story. I also for some reason get my best ideas while I haven’t really eaten much and am drinking coffee in the middle of the night. I’ve gone through phases where I’ll go home to my parents house in Maryland and light a candle in the bathroom at 2 am and sit in the bathroom and see what comes to me. Those situations always kind of yield something interesting.”

It’s songwriting’s innate “storytelling aspect” that grabs him most. Throughout his work with Secondhand Sound─also composed of musicians Collin Plank (drums), Cameron Schmidt (guitar, keyboard), and Teagan Proctor (bass)─Estok finds that “a good song feels like a campfire story,” he reflects. “The fact that you can pour your heart and soul into a poem with music and someone from across the world can DM you on Instagram and tell you they know exactly what you mean is a good feeling. A good song makes people feel seen and heard. They are a way out for the listener from everyday life, and for me, they’re a way out of a normal life. A good song has the potential of gathering 100,000 people to a field where they all know the story and will sing it with you and back to you. There are few things in this world that gather that many people in a field peacefully. It is a feat every time it happens. I hope to write a song that proves that it’s still possible and will be for a long time.“

His creative process frequently begins with “a little phrasing idea or a conceptual idea, sometimes maybe just a title,” and later, he’ll pick up a guitar alone and riff for a bit before finding something that’s like puzzle pieces falling into place. He’ll then “record voice memos of them,” and “once I’ve compiled enough of both lyric/song ideas and music ideas, I’ll put phrases over chords until I find a good melody. Eventually there comes a point where I have to ask myself, ‘What am I trying to say?’ Once I decide exactly what the point of the song is, the work part comes where I’ve gotta tell a story that has the feeling I’m going for in the confines of a song structure. That process sometimes takes a year and sometimes takes 30 minutes. Never a predictable experience.”

Listen to “Knievel” below.

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