“It’s really hard to collaborate with someone if I’m not already a fan of their music, because then you’re starting from two completely different zones.”
From being a resident DJ at Chibuku Club in 2014 to taking off on tour after a string of festival shows in 2018, it’s an understatement to say the last four years for Sam Lewis, aka SG Lewis, have been a rollercoaster.
The Reading native has linked up with talents from around the world such as Clairo, AlunaGeorge, and Bishop Nehru and after releasing ‘Dusk’ in April, the first of a three-part album, Lewis plans to put out ‘Dark’ and ’Dawn’ in the coming months to complete the trilogy. He’s also taking his captivating live set across the world on the ‘Dark’ tour.
After seeing Lewis live at Forbidden Fruit in June, I had the opportunity to catch up with him and talk about his mindset going into the next few months of touring and releasing more music.
You’ve been on tour for most of the year doing festivals and shows around the world, how has it been?
It was crazy because it was so different to any other festival season that I’ve done before in that we really focused on shows outside of England and the UK. We played a lot in Europe, we played in Asia and Australia which was a crazy experience. It was really amazing because when you start making music the last place you think about touring around is Asia and Australia. It was a nice moment to reflect on that and be like, ‘Oh shit, the music has travelled this far!’.
Do lengthy tours inspire or motivate you to create?
I think playing the live shows, or if you’re DJing, they both inspire making different kinds of music. If you’re playing a bunch of live shows, you can almost consciously observe the pieces of the puzzle that are missing from the show… That part of you wants to make music that’s informed for the live environment. It can definitely change the music you’re making, that can be a positive thing or a negative thing. The travel is also a huge source of inspiration for me, I feel it in the different places you get to see.
How has the jump been from playing at your residency to going on tour?
Yeah, the thing is, even though a lot of people are hearing my music for the first time, I’ve been super lucky that it’s been a really gradual build. I’ve been given the last few years to grow into it. Before, I didn’t really play keys, and I only started playing keys as a result of touring. I was always primarily a guitarist, but all of a sudden I had all of these songs I programmed in piano and I didn’t know how to play, I was just using my ear. It was like reverse engineering at that point, teaching myself to play keys. I was lucky I had the time to acquire those skills and grow as a musician. It’s definitely something that takes time, when we started the live shows, I can openly say some of them shows were bad. We were lucky none of them were in front of thousands of people.
You’ve collaborated with the likes of Clairo, AlunaGeorge, Bishop Nehru… How do you feel about working with artists on other tracks?
Really, a lot of the time it all stems from being a fan. It’s really hard to collaborate with someone if I’m not already a fan of their music, because then you’re starting from two completely different zones. If I’m going in the studio with someone, there are things about their music that I’m already in love with; in order for a collaboration to be successful and work, it has to have elements of both artists involved in it.
You couldn’t take Clairo and put her on some heavy trap beat. With the Clairo track, it’s about listening to her music and taking parts I like and seeing what we can combine with my music and see what comes out.
Who’s your dream collab?
My idol is Pharrell. Pharrell is like my god. He’s my number one, he’s the dude I get weird about, I’m obsessed with him!
You’re currently one third deep into your latest project with ‘Dusk’, and you’ve got ‘Dark’ coming out soon. 18 tracks is a big undertaking, but you’ve managed to keep a consistent flow, how difficult was it to achieve that?
When I came up with the idea, I was trying to find a purpose for this debut record, and I started on a traditional album format. I just felt like I was making a bunch of songs with different artists and collaborators and it had no running theme. It just felt like beats and features and my heart wasn’t really in it.
So I came up with this idea in order to narrate it and I was like, ‘It would be really cool if it was in three parts’. So in order for me to feel like I could actually showcase each different part of the album and tick every box that I needed to tick, it needed to be the size that it is. I think the separate releases gives people time to digest each part separately and it gives me time to finish it. If I dropped an 18-track start-to-finish debut record, the truth is that not many artists have earned the attention span for that. If Drake dropped an 18-tracker, then everybody is going to listen to every track; if you’re a new artist, you’ve got a very short window of opportunity to convert someone. If your best track is track eight on an 18-tracker, then they may not ever hear it.
The three-part album is a smart idea, it does make it easy to digest.
I think it’s strange in that even though it’s a three-part album, and considered one project, I wouldn’t really expect many people to sit down and listen to ‘Dusk’ all the way through to the end of ‘Dawn’. I think it’s a project that I want people to dive into based on their mood and based on the situation in which they’re listening to it. It’s together and separate.
I mean people are very welcome to listen to it through, I’d be very flattered, but I think the size of it and the way it’s programmed I’d kind of expect people to use different parts of the album based on how they’re feeling.
What can we expect on ‘Dark’?
The energy is higher in terms of the music, aggressive is the wrong word, but there’s more intent. The sounds are more urgent and the atmosphere has a darker feel to it. There’s a hip hop collaboration on there which is the most aggressive thing I’ve made! There are also the club moments that I’ve had so far, I think I’ve always had influences from club music and stuff, but I’ve never really made tracks that I would expect to hear out and about in Printworks. But there’s some stuff that definitely is the most club-inspired stuff I’ve done.
When did you realise producing and performing was going to be a career for you? Can you pinpoint a watershed moment or has it happened gradually?
I mean, I always knew I wanted to do it. I watched this documentary on MTV when I was younger and it had The Neptunes in the studio, and I loved music and it was all I wanted to do, but I was like, ‘Well, I’m not gonna be a singer or a front man in a band’. I never wanted to be on stage which is quite funny because I’m now on stage, I always wanted to be a producer. Really, there was never a penny drop moment of like, ‘This is going to be my career’. I still consider myself lucky to be doing this, there’s never the assumption that I’m gonna wake up tomorrow and it’s still gonna be there. With a career like this you see so many people rise and fall that you just have to take it as it comes and be grateful that you can pay your rent with it.
Has your life done a 180 since you headed out on this tour?
I live a double life! When I’m home it couldn’t be more normal; I have the same friends, I do the same shit, I go to the pub and drink and go out… And then you go on tour. I almost feel like sometimes on stage I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I almost feel like I’ve tricked people when you see them and you see fans, and I mean that in the best way possible. They’ve actually listened to the music and they’re not this friend of a friend, they’re someone that’s genuinely connected and it’s still crazy to me. I feel like it’s a double life!
Does making music help you to relieve stress?
Yeah. I have this twisted situation where it’s like if I don’t get to make music that I want to make… Or if I’m not making music that I’m feeling excited about, then I really find it hard to be happy. On a deeper level of fulfilment, it’s like I need that creative outlet and to be proud of what I’m making in order to feel happy.
What’s been your mindset heading out on this tour?
This is the first tour where I’m trying to execute the concept of the album in the show, so the show itself moves through ‘Dusk’ to ‘Dark’ to ‘Dawn’, it’s three different sections. It’s a bit of an experiment to be honest, it’s going to take some tuning. That’s my aim to create an immersive experience that really showcases the concept of the album, because I think it’s something that no ones really done before. So it’s an opportunity to really do something exciting and to give the fans and the people at the show an experience that they wouldn’t get from another concert.
SG Lewis plays The Academy Green Room on Wednesday December 5.