Singer/songwriter Glade Sowards recently received just about the best present a musician can get. In July 2009, a CD release party for local musician David Williams turned into an unexpected record release for Sowards. Unbeknownst to him, well-meaning friends had copied song files from his computer and pressed the material into physical albums with cover art taken from his Facebook fan page. “It was a really sweet thing, but also terrifying,” he recalls.
Some of the songs on Glade date back to 2005—a typical backlog for Sowards, whose work takes time to marinate and, hopefully, age well. Sowards prefers to ruminate on his output until it’s ready for the rest of the world to hear. On the rare occasion a song comes to him while, say, waiting in line at the coffee shop, he’ll record it and try to find words that fit later. “I try to pretend I’m making a call as I sing it into my phone,” he laughs.
A longtime fixture on Utah’s acoustic-folk scene, the Vernal-born Sowards maintains a balance between stripped-down sound and modern digital means to document his aural fixations. He might write songs like “Sound of Yesterday,” but he insists his interests lie in present-tense musical technology.
Glade reflects, though, a vested interest in the past.
Strains of Uncle Tupelo, Big Star, R.E.M., Neil Young and The Replacements surface throughout the record, which demonstrates his skill on acoustic guitar and bass. Like many Utah artists, Sowards bounced around the country before returning home to plant roots, pursuing higher education first in Southern California, and later at Iowa’s Grinnell College. He moved back in ’98 to care for a sick loved one and embraced SLC’s music community as his second family.
I first saw Sowards play about 10 years ago at defunct record shop Salt City CDs, and noted his comfortable, personable musical style. He produced a short run of albums back then, and has since amassed two records worth of material, but didn’t feel it merited exposure. Glade was recorded with musical backing from David Williams, with whom Sowards performs in The Black Hens, and Jeremi Hansen (Band of Annuals, Blue Sunshine Soul).
Sowards has discovered that, for him, waiting is a significant part of his creative process. “I used to get worried when I’d go six months without writing any songs,” he explains, “but then I realized that’s part of the process, too, living life experiences and absorbing them.” The genesis of the song “Beautiful Night” came when he was walking home from the bar; the evening light struck something within him, and he flipped open his phone and sang the melody that had come into his head.
The song “Koosharem” came after the songs on Glade were recorded, but can be heard on his Facebook fan page and on MySpace. It’s intriguing, because it points to a common ambivalence of Utah artists and musicians towards their home state, naming off small towns like Henryville, Loa and Kanarraville, but most pointedly aims at Salt Lake City: “Salt Lake, Salt Lake, why are you so mean?” he asks.
“Salt Lake is big small town, and for a long time, people were self-conscious about living here, but it’s changing now. People are proud of making a scene and a community,” he says. “I love it, but sometimes I have to decompress.” To this aim, he lived in Torrey with David Williams for a few years, and found the slower-paced life there so refreshing it was hard to come back. They brought some big city music there, such as The Black Hens and Band of Annuals opening for the Magnolia Electric Co. last summer. Blitzen Trapper, Laura Gibson and Horse Feathers have also made the trek.
Music has always been a release for him, and he’s constantly hunting for opportunities to expose people to his music. Later this year, Glade will be available for download on Conor Oberst’s new online label Team Love. Sowards, whose day job is energy program coordinator with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, has two lives, in a way. “In the day, I’m in a suit at the Capitol, then after work, I’m at Urban Lounge.”
Urban Lounge featured him and nine other singers, playing three songs each on Jan. 10. He hopes to debut new material at his next performance, and release another album later this year. “My friends jarred me into realizing I wanted to share this stuff.”
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