In a musical era laden with egos from the likes of Kanye West, there really isn’t anything more refreshing than finding out one of your favorite artists is as humble as he or she is talented.
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the UK’s rising stars, Sam Lewis (aka SG Lewis) – and am more than pleased to report the Liverpool-based artist is as genuine as you could hope for. We had the chance to chat about his recent inspiring encounters with fans and totally nerd out about our shared love of Bon Iver – a heartfelt conversation I couldn’t imagine having with many producers.
From the release of his debut EP Shivers to a career altering Pharrell shout out, Lewis is coming off a crazy successful 2015. The young 21-year-old producer isn’t stopping there though – he’s got a whole slew of new projects to look forward to in 2016 (including a 4-track EP expected this summer). I was able to finagle a few cryptic details about his future collaborations and I recommend hanging off every Facebook/Instagram/SoundCloud post for the sign of a new release (special shout out to my hip-hop fans on that).
Oh, and did I mention I caught his live show afterwards and it was fucking fantastic? Because it was.
If you’re already a fan of SG Lewis, prepare to fall in love with him just a little more. And if you’re not? Go listen to his music, stat (then come back here for the rest of this interview).
So you’re just coming off two weekends of Yuma tent performances at Coachella – can you talk a little bit about what was that experience like?
Yeah, sure. It was absolutely insane, you know? We had two options, we were either going to play quite early on the Gobi stage or later on in the Yuma tent. The Yuma tent is typically known as this techno and deep house spot and they were like, "If you go and DJ in there and do your thing, we think it could work,” and I was like, “Yeah! Cool! Lets do it!” We played and I kinda presumed it would be a crowd of people there just to dance, you know? So then a couple of songs into my set I dropped the vocals from No Less and all of the sudden the whole tent just went, “Aahhhhh” and I was like, “Holy shit, they’re here to hear my music!” Honestly, it sounds stupid, but I wasn’t expecting that at all. So I finished with Warm and they sang every word, which was just incredible. It’s been amazing to do these shows in different cities that I’ve never been to.
Was this your first experience in the United States?
I have been before but when I was much younger. I was 11 when I last went to New York and I’ve been to LA once, but apart from that, not really. The reactions here – you meet the fans and they’re like, real fans! I live in London and everyone’s a bit too cool to really get into it.
Ha! Well that’s definitely not me – I go all super fangirl and get way too into the music.
No – I’m the same way! There’s nothing wrong with being a fan of someone. I’ve met some properly amazing people just trying to hang out for a bit after the show. I met these three fans in Chicago that knew I was only there for 24 hours and they took me to a viewpoint that was an amazing view of the Chicago skyline. I was like, wow, the fact that they would go out of their way to show me that. It was incredible - properly humbling and has made me so excited to come back in the future.
Awesome, that’s great to hear, we can’t wait for you to come back! So, after all these huge performances and sold out shows, where do you feel you’re most at home – when you’re behind your instruments and computer producing or out in front of all your fans performing?
This is the thing that’s changing. The live show is a work in progress and it always will be. Like tonight, we’re playing a solo live show set up, which is stripped back to what we do in the UK, so naturally, I thought I’d be more at home in the studio producing. It's very easy when you’re at home to see figures like X amount of plays or a million SoundCloud hits and you’re just like, “Ah, that’s cool,” but when you see people in the flesh singing the songs with an emotional connection, that’s what’s incredible. It’s fast becoming my favorite thing in the world. There was this couple that came up to me after a show and told me that Warm was going to be the song for their first dance at their wedding and I grabbed them and was like, “We have to take a photo (see below)!” When people are able to tell you about how a song has affected them or the memory they associate with it, that is just incredible.
This is just a side note, but from the research I’ve done, I’ve noticed you’re a huge fan of Bon Iver – their music is my ultimate emotional connection. Justin Vernon is an inspiration to me and for some reason, the connection I have to Bon Iver’s music is unparalleled, they’re the one artist that can make me smile and cry all within one song.
I just think he [Justin Vernon] has the most honest voice and it’s not about him being an amazing signer or trying to do runs or show off his voice – when he sings you’re just like, “Holy shit” you’re like, “Who has hurt you?!”
Yes, exactly! Also wanted to quickly go off that and talk about something you’ve been doing at these shows – singing! I’m really looking forward to seeing that tonight. How long have you known you’ve had a voice and can we expect some tracks with your vocals any time soon?
So I’ve always been in the background. I’ve used my voice as stacked reverbs and stuff - I use it as a textural thing. Basically, I write songs, it’s part of what I do, and when I work with people I want to create songs instead of just making beats. I was in session and people were saying, “You should sing!” I’m by no means ever going to be a guy that’s got a – weird comparison but – Mariah Carey talent or even just an incredible technical vocal ability. I just felt if I could deliver that emotion and sentiment it helps the music to be slightly more personal to me. I was reading an interview with Pharrell and how he stumbled into singing – he’s a producer and he showed it’s more about finding a way to deliver to vocals rather than trying to blow everyone away with vocal runs.
Want to talk a little bit about your style of music. What you’ve been producing is this melodic, almost ethereal sound that many producers can’t seem to master. Will your new music capture a similar vibe or do you see yourself taking a departure from what you’ve produced in the past?
I think the only aim is to try and make something that connects with people in a really intense way. Whether that’s making them smile or making them cry, it’s just trying to get the most expressive form of that emotion. I think I’m naturally drawn to those ethereal elements, but even recently, and something you’ll hear of the next EP is – I’ve been listening to loads of Neptunes productions – so you’ll hear an influence from that period of music. That’s a period where pop music was just unbelievable, the beats were incredible and the vocals were soulful and I’m just focusing on that at the moment. I’m studying what made that such good pop music as opposed to this boring brash and soulless music. I’ll always be drawn to melodic, beautiful chords and those elements, but I think you may start to hear a slight shift in sound.
That’s great, it’s always good to evolve and change, but I still love that sound you’ve been able to capture.
The next track I’m putting out is a track called Yours and I think if anyone is a fan of that sound they’ll really like that track.
note: he was totally right – he played it at the end of his set and it was absolutely massive, get ready for some serious vibes on this one
You recently released a collaboration with Dornik – someone you had been keen to work with for some time. Who’s your next collaboration with?
I’m working with some people I’m super excited about, but I have to do that whole I-can’t-tell-you thing for right now.
I get it, we’ll know soon enough! But working on a label (PMR Records) like you’re on, you’re exposed to so many amazing artists – like Disclosure for instance.
Yeah! I was with Guy and Howard last night – we were in Vegas together. They’ve just really supported me and I’m a massive fan of what they do, and have been for a while. As much as they’ve been an influence musically, they give me advice and have already been through so much for guys of their age so they’re really amazing people to have support me.
I’ve noticed you’re pretty into hip-hop it seems. You’ve got your Electric Relaxation playlist and have praised UK hip-hop artist like Jay Price – would you be open to working with a rapper on one of your tracks?
Absolutely! I can’t really say right now, but it’s already happened – I’ve always wanted to do it but didn’t have the access to people that I loved and thought were amazing. I wanted to wait until I could really work with people I felt were really incredible rappers. So I’ve been really lucky at this point to be in touch with some people that I’m a massive fan of.
I can't wait. Okay, just one last thing – I’m going to ask you to - hm I guess you could say play a game? I’ll give you two options and you just tell me your preference. Okay here goes…
Headlining a major music festival or heading back to your place for an intimate after house set with friends?
I can’t lie – the headlining does sound great. So I’m going to be a bad person and say headline just coz I’ve never done it – but my friends are always up for having a party.
Spotify or SoundCloud?
Spotify. I’ve given up on SoundCloud. It’s gotten really frustrating to be on SoundCloud just because of my label deal or if my tracks aren’t available. I don’t know what happened, but some deal happened, and it meant that I couldn’t edit my own tracks anymore.
It’s just so unfortunate because I think it’s such a good idea and has a great community. It’s how I consume most of my music – I found you through SoundCloud!
Yeah, you’re so right. I hope that someone saves it and something gets done because right now a lot of people are jumping ship. The thing about SoundCloud is that we had creative control and all of the sudden on my own profile I can’t edit my own tracks and then all of the sudden I can’t change the bio or can’t give someone the full track. It’s really changed for us [the artists] and I hope that it gets fixed.
Absolutely, I completely agree. So this kinda goes off that - streaming music or listening to a record?
Records. Any day. It sounds corny and kinda cliché, but for me, if you stream the music you never own the record. If you have the physical vinyl in your hand then in 10 years time you can pull it out and go, “Shit, this is a record from that point in my life.” Streaming’s amazing but it makes music disposable and it’s so much more valuable than that. Like for instance – Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever ago – those are the records that change your life.
Discovering new music or listening to classics?
That’s a really good question – recently classics. I’ve been on tour recently so I’ve had loads of time to do that. Discovering new music is amazing and sometimes you have a week where you have 5 artists that you love and a week where you don’t discover a single thing. That’s what I find fascinating about the Neptunes - I’m now going back to this music that I grew up on and now it's fresh and it’s exciting and I’m trying to figure out what makes it so timeless.
All right, last one, I know you’re a pizza fan so - thick or thin crust?
Oooh I think probably thick? Just coz like, ah pizza though, it depends on my mood. Like if you’re hung-over and you’re dying you want thick carbohydrates just to soak up the badness from the night before but then again, I’ve got love for all kinds of pizza.
Hah, fantastic way to end things, thank you Sam!