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At a lanky 6-foot-3, Shane Sayers has a decent post game on the basketball court -- but he's also got game as a singer-songwriter. A few months ago, Sayers sat down with his acoustic guitar at Café Diem for Style Weekly's open-mic night and proceeded to captivate the small crowd with his pretty, heartfelt folk material, at once personal and universal. Take the road-wizened country folk of Townes Van Zandt mixed with the melancholy, wounded balladry of Elliott Smith, then toss in country rockers The Band and you get a rough picture of his influences.
Gathering material: Sayers, 29, grew up in small-town Greenfield, Mass., as the son of a well-known local musician mother (from Jacob's Reunion) and a theatrical father, who now writes plays and acts in New York. He later attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina for two years before dropping out and "bouncing around" the East Coast, living the life of an itinerant musician. In 2004, Sayers moved to Richmond with his girlfriend and their three children and bought a house in Fulton Hill. At the end of October, he'll release a solo CD titled "Light Sleepers," a moody acoustic folk album filled with dreamy but earnest lyrics and quietly lilting, hummable melodies -- haunting, midnight campfire kind of stuff.
Working through the past: Sayers has written stories since he was a kid and says story-writing comes naturally to him. "I wrote a 100-page novel when I was seven about two detectives," he says. "One was a happy-go-lucky, good-natured guy, and the other was a cynical, hard-natured type. Looking back, I can see they were two distinctive parts of who I am."
Sayers started writing songs about 10 years ago and has since penned countless tunes, occasionally running over the lyrics with his father. Some lyrics, which he says are the most important part of the process for him, are slightly reminiscent of early Bob Dylan material, such as these from "Delilah": "The lies she tells are buried underground/The incandescent smile of her clothes/the unforgiving fury of her bones/Behind the radiator where she moans/lonely, naked laughter of her ghost."
Mood music: Sayers says he's been battling with himself throughout his 20s, trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life. "In my early 20s, I was kind of a lost soul," he says. "Playing guitar and writing songs really helped -- guitar is so travel-friendly."
The bulk of his material was recorded during rough times, he says, but he still doesn't consider his work depressing fare, and actually hears a lot of hope shining through the newer stuff.
Off the road again: Sayers says that ideally he'd like to start selling his songs to bigger artists so he can stay home, take care of his children and keep cranking out songs. From the mature sound of these imagistic tunes, such as the lovely moon- and red-leaf-filled "Daughter" (written for his daughter), he may just have a chance.
"I'm not enthralled with being on the road anymore," he says. "I think ultimately what I really want to do is move people.
I'm trying to work myself out of the tortured artist thing. I don't buy that anymore, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Shane Sayers performs at an album release party Oct. 26 at Harrison Street Coffee Shop at 8 p.m. Free. 359-8060.