Sign O' The Times: SG Lewis Interviewed
At 26 years old SG Lewis has already shaped an impressive career for himself.
From his summer bop 'Chemicals' that took over the airwaves last year, to his impressive rogue's gallery of features on his early releases, Sam George Lewis has certainly grabbed the 'One To Watch' title on the dance scene.
Now after the release his number one dance album 'times', SG Lewis sits down with Mason Meyers to talk about everything from crafting the perfect album to homophobia in electronic music.
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Tell me about future tours, how’s it looking?
Dates are going in, and everything is looking hopeful, hopefully we should get some normal touring by mid-summer and the end of the year, which to be honest to me, seems fucking crazy right now. The idea of being in a crowd like that seems alien, but I’m excited man.
How do you feel about the release of ‘times’, was it everything you were hoping for?
The release was a week of overwhelming feedback and love, and in a time where we haven’t been in crowds and shows for a year it was kind of overwhelming to see so many comments. I’ve never released an album, so I’ve never felt the weight of putting out a body of work. I do care about what people think, as much as I would love not too. So, I prepared in my head, like I do for everything in my life, for worst case scenario; It meant a lot to me that the critical reception was as good as it was.
It really was a good critical reception - you got a lot of love across the board…
Yeah, even in some of the tougher ones that I expected to have some digs were really fair. I think what I learnt from the reviews was that everyone has a different opinion, some peoples least favourite tracks were another reviewer’s favourite, so I was glad that everyone had different opinions and they were so varied. Everyone interpreted the album differently to each other, but the fact that the over reception was overwhelmingly positive was great; I’ve not had anyone say, “this is really shit”.
You seemed to be tipped as one of the up-and-coming new stars, what’s that like?
Obviously, when you hear stuff like that it’s really exciting that people feel the music resonating, but I’ve been making music for six years now, so I don’t feel like a new artist. I’m just sort of doing my thing and it’s great that people are coming along and joining the party. But at the same time, I have been doing this long enough not to believe my own hype. People are saying that because the music is resonating but if I was to stop making the music and bask in it, those appraisals would disappear very quickly.
People always say “you have to not listen to the negative voices your head” but, and this is a weird thing to say, the negative voices in my head are essential to the music creation process. If there wasn’t a voice in my head saying, “that’s not good enough” and “that’s rubbish” then there would be no quality barrier on the music. I’ve seen it before, people believe the hype and believe they have something that entitles them to things.
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Do you feel like you missed out on the debut album release celebrations due to ‘rona?
I love a party and I know that in a normal world I would have had the biggest album release party, so at first, I was pretty gutted about not being able to do that. But the album release night I spent it with my family, my mum, dad, brothers, and did it with a small group of people that I love very much. It was one of the best nights because we watched the live stream and we talked about everything that had gone on in the past couple of years, and I woke up in the morning and I remembered it all.
So, I thought about it, if I had that big party I would have spent all night chatting to everyone, saying hello and getting mad drunk and forgetting half the night. So actually, I’m glad that I was with my nearest and dearest to celebrate the moment, that was really nice.
You’re from Reading, a city that in recent years has been pumping out great new music acts like you, Sundara Karma and The Amazons, do you see it becoming known for its music outside of the festival?
That’s a really good question and I’ve never really thought of it in that sense. I got to see one of Sundara Karma’s first gigs like really early on and it’s been cool seeing them blow up. And some of The Amazons guys, I used to see them around at parties and stuff growing up, it’s a very small place and everyone comes across each other at some point.
I’ve never thought of Reading as a scene particularly because obviously I am in the electronic side of music, and Reading isn’t particularly known for its clubbing; it has a great band scene, but not a huge underground electronic scene. I haven’t been out in Reading in ages and wasn’t tapped onto what’s going on there. But you’re right a lot of acts are popping up from there in different genres. I would love to be proved wrong in the electronic music side, I would love to see more artists come out of Reading.
I played it [Reading Festival] three years ago, and it felt a bit too early to have the moment. I played early on in the Radio 1 tent, and even then, I was really hyped about it, but I have been to that festival so much I know the moment I’m looking for. I want that, just turned dark, maybe 9pm at the Radio 1 tent and it’s full of people screaming and chanting, that would be the moment I’d be like “yeah, I did it”.
You’re a young guy, but ‘times’ featured music heavily inspired by decades you weren’t alive for, did this love for older music come from your parents or you?
I wasn’t played a lot of records growing up, we weren’t a super musical household, I was the first in my family to insist on playing an instrument; Now it’s a massive part of my family. It wasn’t until I started clubbing in Liverpool that I discovered disco second hand through the edit’s DJ’s were playing.
And then I learnt more about it by reading Love Saves the Day by Tim Lawrence, and all the dots joined up. I don’t know, something about music from back then resonates with me so much heavier than new stuff; my comfort music tends to be form past eras. There is a sense of nostalgia for something I never experienced.
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Was it your intention to take people on a nostalgia trip?
After reading about places like The Loft and Paradise Garage, I found out that they were safe spaces for marginalised communities. Nile Rogers, when I interviewed him, said that this was the first time they had scene this, before that everything was every segregated. And while I think we have come a long way from the 70’s I still think that pushing that message of inclusivity is so important, especially in electronic music which is birthed from gay and Black communities.
So to have people in electronic music that are homophobic or racist is insane, you can’t enjoy that music if you feel that way, it is literally their music. I wanted to create music that made people feel how the music back then made people feel. I didn’t want to replicate it, I wanted to reference it and reimagine it, but capture that inclusive feeling disco had.
You have a lot of love in the LGBT community, why do you think that is?
I think they might resonate with it because I was inspired by them. Many of the spaces where I heard disco music were LGBT communities, like a pansexual party called Ronda in LA and I DJ’d at House of Yes in Brooklyn, which is an amazing warehouse party that is hosted by drag queens.
Did the LGBT community take you in?
Exactly, I’ve been lucky enough to play in those environments and be a guest in those environments. I would have never seen that kind of level of celebration of identity without being in those spaces. So I was completely inspired by them as a community. So It makes me really happy that they resonate with the music because it was the LGBT community that inspired the music in the first place. Anyone that sees those spaces would see what an amazing thing it is, and they will see the love and the celebration, you would have to be a pretty twisted person to walk into those places and not appreciate and resonate with it.
Like you say, you would hope that [even the most bigoted] people would see that and do away with their prejudices you know?
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Going back to when you were younger and you had just released your first single, did you expect this the life you had now? And how do you feel about where you’re at?
I’ve already done all the things that sixteen-year-old me would never dream of doing. I get to travel to places; I get to work with some of the biggest artist on the planet right now, which for me is the dream. I still wake up and do the same things, but there are small things that make me realise that things are different.
But it’s hard to quantify right now because of the pandemic, it’s really strange. I had a hottest record with Annie Mac, which I have wanted my whole life, and I did the interview and sat with my family listening to it, and then it finished, and my mum was like “dinner’s ready”, and it was this weird humbling moment when this massive thing was happening in my career but I was sat down like I was fifteen again with my family. Lots of things have changed, but many things stay the same.
What impact do you think becoming friends with famous musicians has had on your life? Has it helped musical creativity; do you find yourself being further away from home than usual?
I’m really lucky that I have a group of school friends who are really tight, and they are still my best mates, and they rip the absolute shit out of me and are good at keeping me grounded. But they are release supportive and understanding and I know that they will always be there.
You make a lot of friends [in music] but not everyone you become friends with a life friend. And these are people you’ve known for a year or two versus best mates I have known for about sixteen years now and they just know me so well that they can check me if I am getting ahead of myself or big headed; they are the first to remind me that I am absolutely shit.
But I definitely have people in the public eye that have become good friends of mine, and people that I work with, I honestly couldn’t say that there is anyone I have worked with that hasn’t become a friend in some level. And there is nothing that I love more than going to the pub and having a pint with them. When you are touring it is really nice to have these friends that you bump into, because a lot of the time you’re in a place you don’t know, and it can be kind of lonely sometimes; so, I am quite lucky to have friends that are in music.
You seem quite grounded.
Thank you, I think because it has been a slow rise for me. I’ve experienced nearly losing it, I’ve had points in my career that haven’t gone as well, when I good thing happens, I can step back and think “this is amazing but I’m not there yet.” And even in my expectations of myself, if I stand back and look at the bigger picture, I have accomplished like four percent of what I want to do, so I am in no position to pat myself on the back yet.
What do you mean by low points?
Rather than the songs doing badly, it was more that the songs weren’t coming. There was a period after the ‘Yours’ EP that I was really depressed, and I didn’t want to make music and didn’t believe I could. Basically, I thought no one cared or no one gave a shit at this point, and then I went on a US tour against all recommendations and realised that I had a fanbase in the US. But going through that and realising that I almost messed it up at one point or lost it made me realise that success is very fickle, and it goes away a lot quicker than it comes. I know that I need to keep my head down and keep going If I want to have a career in this for the rest of my life.
It's surprising to hear you thought no one cared!
I think from an industry perspective, when you have been around for a year, you’re old news; I felt like I had my moment and felt like I was old news in the eyes of the industry. It was only once I realised that the fans cared that I thought “who gives a shit what the industry thinks.” Those voices are in my head as well, who knows whether the industry actually thought that, but when you get anxious or depressed, those voices get louder. If [those voices] get too loud they can bury you.
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Did you feel like you were being used by the industry?
It's easy to get caught up in whatever the industry is and what you think you need to be like. You think that you need be a personality and show face at parties, but the only thing that really matters is your music. When I get asked questions by new artists I always say “we have the internet now, and if you have a good tune and you put it out, it will fix most things that you are worrying about.”
There is a seemingly incessant need for evolution and progression in music, did you find it relaxing to be able to lean of the past?
I’ve thought about this a bit, I’m not really a futurist with music. I think that new things come from combining influences, and there might be a record at some point where I turn to the future and I try to sound like robots. But as a producer artist, half of your artistry is showcasing your taste; that’s what I find fun. Some people hide their influences, I like to wear mine on my sleeve. I think that music is cyclical and things come back around. I’m always in tune with how people are feeling, so if there was a time where no one was feeling 80s stuff then there is a chance that I might feel the same way.
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Contrary to that, what was it like sending off your music to Nile Rodgers - the king of all things disco - did you feel a pressure to accurately replicate the music of the generations you were influenced by?
Yeah in a way, until his email came back and he said “yeah this is dope.” You realise that someone like Nile is feeling the music I’m making, then it must have some of the same elements that resonated back then. I was definitely inspired to send Nile Rogers a disco inspired record, but I also had confidence that me and Nile would have a lot of taste in common. And while he is significantly better, we are both people that love disco music, the difference is he created it. For someone who has had such a dent on popular culture, he is super humble; he comes in a room and he speaks to everyone on the same level. It’s surreal to say, but I’m lucky enough to call him a friend now.
There is a lot of you on this album, was it important to not rely on your features and put yourself at the forefront?
You’re exactly right, I think if every tune has somebody on it then I wouldn’t be able to tell the story from my own perspective. I look forward to doing more of that going forward. It’s opened up a whole word of artistry to me to show how I’m feeling. I feel like there is nothing I can’t express now.
Did you ever consider being one of those DJs that only features other musicians on your tunes?
I kind of have been that, but I like to think that there has been a narrative that people have understood and got that it was me. Internally there is a huge part of myself that knows I can do it, and it has been a case of building the confidence. I still don’t think I have shown everyone the full extent of what I can give as an artist, and I am looking forward to flexing those muscles a bit.
What do you have left to give?
Looking inside myself as a person and being more vulnerable. Also being a better singer, I have my best vocal performances to come. I’m excited to dive into my brain more and see what’s there.
I thought that the album was great but if it had a running narrative and darker themes it could have been a perfect album.
I think I will make that perfect album one day. It’s funny that you have had that though because I have had that thought. I’m really fucking proud of the album and I executed the vision that I wanted to make, but I then critiqued my own work and thought “if I was listening to this would I be listening for and how could I improve this”. That’s the next big step for me, digging into my brain and creating a world that is me as an artist, that’s where I’m going next.
No one ever knows what the songs are about or who they are about, they just resonate with the sentiment of the music. Maybe people will work it out, or the people the songs are about will work it out. But I look at those songs and I think that I managed to get something out of my system and write a diary. Its cathartic, so I want to do more of that and add deeper meaning too it.
I don’t feel like this album was strictly about me, I tested the water with it, and it felt really good to do it. But this album was always about everyone else. At some point there will be a record that is selfish and turns internally.
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'times' is out now.
Words: Mason Meyers
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