Interview: A Chat with SG Lewis

Monday, July 30, 2018

SG Lewis has just left our shores after playing a few shows down our east coast in celebration of the release of Dusk.  It is part one of a trilogy, soon to be followed up with Dark and Dawn.  We were lucky enough to catch him between shows and have a chat about this project, his process and his fan Pharrell.

Hey Sam, how are ya going?

Yeah good thanks, how are you?

Not too bad thanks.  Thanks for chatting with me today. 

Yeah not at all.  Not at all.

Congrats on the release of Dusk, which is part 1 of 3 parts isn’t it? 

Yeah that’s right.  Thank you so much!  Yeah, I’m sort of doing this three-part concept project.  I’m kind of amazed that they’re letting me doing it.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.

So you’ll have Dusk, then Dark and then Dawn.  What made you decide to chop it up into 3 parts and not pull a Drake here and just release it all in one marathon session?

I think there’s kind of a few factors.  One is that I think in order to have people’s attention span to listen to like 18 tracks worth of music on a first album, you kind of have to be… um... Drake or someone similar (laughs).  I think that people’s attention spans for new artists aren’t quite as large.  The other more probably realistic reason is that it kind of gave me time to finish all three parts (laughs).  But then also just the concept itself, the three parts of the album are fairly separate in terms of… I want the project to be considered as one collection/one body of work but at the same time, the whole reason for the concept is the kind of different stages of the night out and the different purposes of those different types of music.  So I wanted to separate those parts just so that people can digest them separately, at the same time.

So am I to assume that your next project will be ‘Day’ (laughs).

(Laughs) Maybe!  Maybe we could be like, ‘Lunch’, ‘Brunch’, ‘Dinner’ (laughs).  Or something like that.  Um, no I think, to be honest, I’ve already started thinking beyond this project and stuff.  I haven’t made any firm decisions yet but I think moving forward, maybe the next single might be a more traditional format or something but I just felt that I wanted to do something different for my first full project.  I just felt that with the way that people are consuming music and it’s changing so rapidly with like streaming and stuff, once I had the idea for this concept it just seemed like the most exciting thing to do, to have a go at doing something completely different to what everyone else is doing.

For sure, and I mean I guess Day would be heavily focused on a hangover and no one wants to think about that!

(Laughs) Yeah! Day, I’m not sure Day would be quite as much fun!  It’d be a bit like, “Ah my head hurts”, like hungover.  “I’ve got bills to pay.”  I don’t know if they’re quite as exciting, music wise.

Speaking of how people are consuming music, do you have that in mind while you’re in the middle of the creation process at all?  Like do you envision people on a dance floor or at a party or maybe with headphones in riding the train? 

Yeah definitely!  I mean it’s definitely something I think about a lot.  People digest music in different ways and you have to think about when people are cooking or if people are about to go out or people coming back from a night out, or people with a loved one; the strongest connection that people have with music is when it’s tied to something that they’ve experienced.  I think that, especially with this concept, that’s what has been so fun about making this three-part album is that, that has definitely been in my mind during the process so each part of the album, [has] been like building kind of a puzzle.  And if I have pieces of that puzzle, I know what’s missing from that puzzle because of the different kind of feelings that I wanted to evoke in the different parts of the album.

For sure.  Now I read that you mentioned that it only took Clairo 20 minutes to write the topline for ‘Better’, which is obviously quite a talent.  Have you ever teamed up with a lyricist or someone who has just totally missed the brief or misinterpreted your tune at all? 

(Laughs) Yeah for sure.  I mean Clairo is amazing and the great thing about that tune is that she had a say in the production and I had a say in the lyrics and it was a really like, natural process in terms of it being back and forth and the creative process was just very fluid and that’s why it was so quick.  But I mean for every good session I’ve had, definitely I’ve had my fair share of people that have missed the mark or you know.  Sometimes it’s not even their fault, sometimes it’s all your fault. Sometimes you’re just two people with different visions for the music and if those things don’t fit, sometimes it can be awkward because you’re stuck in a room together for the next 8 hours.  But yeah, it’s all part of the creative process and if it happened every day then it would be really easy, you know.

Can you give me an exclusive fact about this project that you think people will find interesting, that no one has asked about yet or that you haven’t mentioned to anyone yet?

(Laughs) Um something sprang to mind but I’m gonna keep that fact.  Ummm… (laughs).

Noooooo!

Exclusive fact... ummm.  I think that really it was inspired by my first festival experiences, maybe like the first time I went to a festival in the UK and just the arc of a night out.  I don’t think that’s really something anyone’s asked me about, in terms of what the direct influence is but it was kind of like my experiences in those nights out.  I’m fascinated by the music that’s around the club, as well as directly in the club.  So it’s like the start of the night, middle of the night, end of the night.  That’s kind of the direct influence.  It comes from personal experience definitely.

Is that lazy journalism?  I’m basically getting you to write your own question and then answer it (laughs).

No, no, no.  It's great.  We had a drink or two just with lunch so...

Awesome (laughs).

There was another answer that came to mind but… anyway…

Feel free to spring it on us!  It sounds like a good fact!

(Laughs) Yeah, oh it’s great!  It’s great!

Oh why you do dis Sam?!


(Laughs)

Where do you begin with conceptualising a song?  Like are you out and about and a tune pops into your head? 

Yeah, it all kind of comes from the notes on my phone.  So like, I think if you try and force a song concept, it’s really hard.  On the spot/on the day to come up with something, like really great just on the spot is pretty hard to do, so really it just comes from living your life and when you have like, occasional thoughts that every now and then you’ll just say something in conversation or you’ll think something and you’ll think, “Oh wow! That could be a great song title!”  So I’m writing down song titles the whole time.  So for instance, ‘Aura’ with J Warner, I had the chorus line written down and I sort of had the instrumental and I basically threw the concept to J, like, “Hey!  I had this idea for a song, I kind of want it to sound like this…”, and then he went on the mic and just sang a bunch of melodies.  That was another one that was super quick and came naturally to me.  So a lot of it just comes from one line terms or sometimes it’s a cool word or something.  It kind of varies but always comes from experience.

Oh that’s cool, so it sort of starts with the words and the title more often?

Yeah definitely.  I mean, I think that’s a common thing with my music as well, a lot of the songs are one word, like, ‘Warm’, ‘Yours’ or even a phrase like, ‘No Less’.  So I’m constantly writing down phrases in my notes like that.  I think once you have the concept of the song in the title, even if it’s something as simple as, ‘Yours’, even though it’s one word it can say so much.  So I like to have those concepts before I go into writing. 

It’s probably hard to come up with a beat and be like, “Hey Siri, take down a note, the beat’s gonna go, dun dun dun tis”.

Well actually if you were to go through my iPhone it’s literally full of my voice notes.  [If] I think I have a great idea on the train for a beat in my head and I’ll be like *beatboxes pretty decently* like beatboxing into the phone.  I’ll be like, “Oh my God” I’ve gotta go into the studio later and tape it”, and I get to the studio later and listen to the voicemail and be like, “What the fuck was that? That was terrible.”  Every now and then there’ll be a great idea or a melody or something but 9 times out of 10 it’s just gibberish in my voice notes.

Do you ever worry or have to check somehow whether a song you’ve created is too similar in sound to something else out there?  Like it could be purely coincidental…

Yeah definitely!  There’s so much music being made nowadays and there is now so much popular music that has been made that that’s always a danger.  And I’ve done some work for other people in terms of like writing camps and stuff and that’s a big thing with pop music.  I went on this like, pop music writing camp where in that scenario I’m writing for other people rather than for my project but everyone on that camp is like constantly checking for similarities with other songs because if you write a big pop song for another artist and then it becomes a huge song, then if it had any similarity with any other song then you’re gonna get sued nowadays.  So yeah it’s definitely a consideration. 

Definitely.  Now I’ve seen footage of you performing ‘Aura’ live on stage at Electric Brixton.


Ah ha, yes!

And you’re up there with a guitar and a full band.  I don’t see any laptops at all.  I mean you fiddle with your synth here and there but it all appears to be coming from the instruments.  What’s your reasoning behind this approach as opposed to doing a set-up like... say... Flume for example?


Right.  So I just found that when I started out I was DJing and I still love DJing and the DJing and the live stuff I see as two different entities.  It basically came from [when] I was doing these DJ sets and a lot of my music is downtempo in nature and so I’d be playing these sets in these clubs or festivals and I’d be playing this house music and stuff and I’d have a group of fans at the front who were like, “Play ‘No Less’!”, and I’d be like, “I can’t play ‘No Less’ here!”.  So it came from wanting to really create that music in a live context, as true to the music as I could.  So then I found that it wouldn’t be an exciting show for me to be playing a bunch of these heartfelt/emotive, down-tempo tunes with a light show.  Also, I’m a multi-instrumentalist – I play a couple of instruments and stuff so I just kind of took a decision to build it as a band set up as opposed to an electronic show.  I’m a big fan of like, Caribou, James Blake and Bonobo – and these are all shows that I’ve seen and been blown away by so I kind of decided early on to go down that route instead of the electronic set-up, really.

Well, it looks like heaps of fun!

Well yeah!  It’s something to be proud of, hopefully, you’ll get to see it sometime!

Yeah for sure.  Speaking of Flume, do you get many Aussie artists popping up on your radar as potential feature artists?

Yeah definitely!  I’m always listening to new music and you know, I’m always looking to collaborate.  I think something that is a strength of mine is collaboration and working with other vocalists.  As much as I like pushing myself to sing on some songs, I still will always love to collaborate with vocalists.  So I’m constantly listening to stuff and any collaboration always comes from being a fan of that artist.

Awesome, well make sure you listen to triple j while you’re in Oz!

SGL: Yeah, I definitely want to check it out!  I’m such a fan of the station and everything triple j does, so it’s cool to be in the country of triple j, because you know, even over in London I feel its influence; so it’s kind of crazy.   



QUICK SIX: 

1) If you had to choose between your latest tune ‘Better’ going to number 1 on the Billboard Chart or England winning the World Cup, which would you choose?

Oh my God! Wow!  That is savage!  (Laughs) Um, England winning the World Cup. 

So you’ve gone the non-selfish route.

Honestly, like, London when we were in the semi-finals and stuff I’ve never seen London like that.  I couldn’t even begin to imagine if we could win the World Cup.  Like London would’ve been a carnival.  I couldn’t be that selfish, so yeah, England winning the World Cup.

You guys got way too cocky too early, “Oh we’re bringing it home!”

Yeah. Yeah.  Yeah we got a bit excited but I think we got humbled at the playoffs and stuff so, you know, we’ve gotta re-group, recollect and go again in four years.

2) Have you ever met one of your heroes? 

I have!  I met Pharrell, actually, who is my like, out and out, number 1 hero in this universe, so that was a crazy experience. 

And he had a massive compliment for you as well, what did he call you?  A white boy with soul or something? (Laughs)

(Laughs) Yeah!  Basically Scott Vener who does ‘OTHERtone’ (on Beats 1) with him, basically put my song ‘Warm’ in his… he does the music scene for ‘Ballers’ (TV show – and he was also music supervisor for Entourage) he like programs the music.  So that was kind of my first big exposure that I got.  So he does a Beats 1 show with Pharrell so he invited me down to the studio and I met Pharrell down there and he had some lovely things to say.  I very rarely lose my cool, I feel but like, I was just a mess.  I could hardly speak.  You know, it’s crazy.

3) I noticed on Insta that you're dating the beautiful Rosie Amanda Viva who happens to be a model.  I'm just wondering if you ever find yourself in the category of 'boyfriend of Instagram', like you’re the dude who has to take heaps of pics from different angles in order to get the perfect shot of your GF for the socials?

(Laughs).  I mean, it’s funny, Rosie, you know, she’s a model for a living but of anyone I’ve ever met she hates having her photo taken!  But it’s only when the girls are together, then there'd be like a boyfriend duty to take photos of the group or whatever but I think everyone in that group is well trained in that definitely. 

4) Can you name all of the Kardashians and if so, can you do it in order? 

Uuummmm Kim, Kendall, Kylie, Rob, Caitlin (laughs) that's all I've got.

(Laughs) You did well.  

That's kind of good.

It's definitely not in order.

I've never seen ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’. Just through 'Complex' and stuff but that'll have to do.

So you don't keep up with the Kardashians?

I'm afraid I don't.

What’s the best film clip of all time?

Ooh.  The speech in Fight Club where he's like, "We all thought we were gonna be rock stars.  But we're not and we're pissed about it." Or, I don't know the exact words.  Oh! Cancel that, it's Good Will Hunting! It's when Robin Williams is speaking to Matt Damon and he's like, "You can tell me every fact about The Louvre, but you've never smelt the... []", yeah it like this huge emotional speech about why he's a little shit.  And that's the best.

(I mean it was a bit misquoted but yeah, what a scene):


6.  Do you have any phobias?

Spiders!  Fucking hate spiders.  I'm not here for them.  I know you've got some big ones in Australia so spiders, if you're listening to this or reading this, "Fuck you!" (Laughs)

(Laughs) Dude you've angered them now!  Down here they'll kill you!

(Laughs) Aaah no!  They're gonna come for me.  They're gonna fuck me up.

What are you doing?  They will chase the shit out of you!

Oh fuck!


Well that's about all I have for you!
Thank you so much, that was a lot of fun, thank you.

Have fun in Australia man!


Written by Kate Carnell (@Kate_Carnell)


You can purchase SG Lewis' Dusk here or stream it via Apple Music 

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