The Past, The Present, And The Process: SG Lewis Interviewed
A voice sounds in the most nasal and mind-grating American voice: “You are now joining the meeting”.
On the other end of the line I hear a drawl of a greeting that shifts upwards in pitch: “Heeeeeeeelloooo?"
Fortunately for me, it was the musical whizz and James Blake aficionado, SG Lewis. In fact the songwriter come producer come one-man-band is treating himself to an apparently well-deserved “self-love day”.
Somehow, he slipped me into his busy schedule to for a discussion of his current musical ventures, upcoming releases and a smidgen of chit-chatting whilst he gallivants around Soho, London.
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Can you please disclose what the ‘G’ stands for in your name?
Erm... I’m afraid I can’t tell you. I’ve kind of made up a few different answers along the way.
So, the answer is that I’m just extremely boring and have three first names essentially; Sam George Lewis. It’s like the most plain, English thing ever.
Actually, it originates from when I was first making music I was doing some bits and bobs for somebody who works for a label. Then one day they were like “Okay we’re gonna put your name on this one”. So they asked “What’s your name?” and I said “Well, my names Sam Lewis” and they told me it was really, really boring, then they asked what my middle name was, I said George and uh they said what about “SG Lewis”.
I was like yeah, alright fine” It’s kinda stuck ever since!
So pre-famous Sam, you were in some bands? Did any of them have good names?
Uh yeah, the best one was Robot Unicorn Attack. Honestly, the band was the same every time. It mainly consisted of me really wanting us to make songs and take it seriously and my friends Ed and Jack just wanting to come over and play Fifa.
I guess, they just wanted to hang out and have fun but I was being boring and wanted to concentrate on writing.
So what did you play in the band?
Oh, I play guitar! I was always the guitarist and my friend Ed was the lead singer. Which is funny because I was discussing this with a friend the other day about ‘Beyond Dawn’. I have over half of it already and at the moment and it’s just all my own vocals! This is the album for after ‘Dawn’ which is just coming out. It’s kinda strange because I wasn’t even someone who sang in bands at school.
It’s so weird to be someone who’s singing on the majority of the album. I feel like it’s something that I didn’t necessarily do at school. But I guess that’s just how it’s happened.
Does it ever bother you not being completely in the spotlight?
No! By nature, I’m definitely introverted. I’ve always preferred to be in the studio than to being on stage. Being on stage is something that over time I’ve grown to love and got better at, but there’s still this small voice in my head whenever I’m on stage that’s like “What are you doing? Run away now!” and I panic!
I think we live in an age, with social media and Instagram where a lot of music is led by image or by fascination of a person. I’m kinda bad because I prefer that kind of thing to be secondary. I meet people that love being on stage and I think that’s an amazing thing to be a performer or frontman. It’s like a real talent. But I find it kind of very funny that I’ve ended up fronting a band.
If you’d told me that when I was 12 I would’ve shrunken into a ball and died!
Do you find that you interact with your fans on stage naturally?
Yeah, definitely! I think the thing that’s kind of made me fall in love with it more is exactly that. You can look at figures and go “Oh yeah that’s tune has done x amount of streams” and you can be happy about that but it’s like what does that actually mean? You know, I just figured it’s hard to quantify that genuine connection.
When you see real people singing, or laughing or crying or kissing, you see a real connection and I think that’s what has made me fall in love with the live thing is that it becomes full circle. I have a huge imposter syndrome, I’m sure everyone does, sometimes it takes seeing that to be like yeah, this might be something I’m okay at.
What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had with a fan?
The weirdest thing for me is I guess being in somewhere like LA and walking along the Sunset and having someone pull up their car and want to get a photo with me, which is insane to me.
The craziest interactions with fans are like maybe tattoos. I have a tattoo that I got that for me represents dusk, dark and dawn, it’s a really simple graphic thing.
It was a little ode to the album concept and the for the first time the other day I got a DM and someone got the tattoo on them but it was about 20 times bigger than I did – mine’s tiny! To see where people have connected with the music to a point that they want to put that on them forever is incredible.
Do you consider yourself famous?
No. Definitely not. NO! Definitely not. I think I’m fortunate enough that maybe someone, on a certain occasion will be like “Oh yeah I like your music!” But if I’m on the street, it’s highly unlikely that someone’s gonna say anything. So nah, I’d say that I’m definitely not famous haha!
Who would you like to collaborate with if you could choose anybody in the world, dead or alive?
Ooh…. Justin Vernon, James Blake. Of the past… Hmm… Maybe Bowie. And maybe in some universe, Sampha. If I could die tomorrow and be reincarnated with someone else’s voice, then Sampha would be that person.
What are you working on now?
The crazy thing at the minute is that 'Dawn' is finished and is released next week and I’m so excited for people to hear that. That’s done! What’s crazy about right now is that the project 'Beyond Dawn' is also over half way complete.
I’m really in a space right now where music is really falling out in the most natural way. I’ve honestly never been in a space like this but I am so excited about how everything is right now. I can’t wait to share it with the world!
Isn’t it overwhelming having so many different ideas at once and not being able to do them simultaneously?
A little bit yeah. I’ve never been in this situation. It has always been slower. I honestly think that I could have the next two albums out by September. But don’t read into that because I’m a massive overthinker and that’s probably a lie.
The way things are now I just know exactly what music I want to make and the music that I have made is the favourite that I’ve ever made – the album, so super exciting.
It’s good that you love your own music so much, I think that’s something a lot of musicians lack and struggle to find in themselves.
I don’t think that there’s a lot of music that I ever really struggled to enjoy. I think the thing about 'Beyond Dawn' is that it gave me the opportunity to try everything that I wanted to try and find out what worked for me and what didn’t work for me.
I also realised what are the things that, artistically, I felt connected to and what the people listening connected to. It just means that everything I’m working on now is something that I’m proud of. Like, I don’t care if it doesn’t set the entire world on fire, there’s no point doing it otherwise.
What’s something on this album that was new to you that you wanted to try?
At the moment it’s completely my own vocals. These are songs that I have made completely myself, I’ve written the vocals, I’ve played the chords, I’ve produced it, I’ve sang it. I think that finding my voice as a singer as well and learning how to use it.
Um, it has opened up so many doors creatively. But something’s just clicked. I’m excited for people to hear that for sure.
You’ve become a bit of a one man band!
I’m going to carry a bass drum on my back, harmonica in front of my face and maybe like a drum on the ground and a tambourine on either side! I think that could be a good live show in the future -- just me with various instruments strapped to myself trying to play songs.
How do you write a melody that is so simple and is repeated yet never grows boring?
I think more recently I’ve realised that my only job in the studio is to search for something magic, recognise it and capture it.
When I listen to 'Throwaway', I still love it, emotionally it moves me and I can’t tell you why because it’s a really simple song. If you explained the chords to a musician and explained the melody, there’s nothing really complicated there. But sometimes it’s the marriage of several simple things that ends of being greater.
Do you listen to your own music a lot? Would you walk down the street, headphones in listening to your own songs?
Nah, I mean, I never have done with the exception of a couple of songs. The idea of playing my own songs at a party is like my worst nightmare. Whenever my friends actually play my songs at parties we go to, it pisses me off. I can’t be someone who’s like “Oh yeah this is me!”
You’ve got a jam-packed summer, lots of festivals….
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bits and bobs! Glastonbury, LoveBox, Blackheath and then back over to the states for a little bit of this, little bit of that. I’ve just come to get used to the travel at the moment, I’m super lucky to have that opportunity to do that. To travel for work I think that’s just the greatest thing. So zero complaints, I’m just really happy and excited to view these new places and to play music there.
Where are you most looking forward to playing?
Oooh... Weirdly enough Madrid. I haven’t been to Madrid. I think it’s just because I’ve never been but it seems like such an obvious place to go. Aside from that, I’m really looking forward to be back at Glastonbury because it feels like a bit of a spiritual home. I just love that place so much. So, I’m very excited.
What’s your long-term goal, a plan for the next five years?
I wanna be considered as one of the best at what I do in the world. I don’t mean that in a kind of psychopath way, I just am what I do and I want to be the best in general.
Aside from that, I just want to put out music I love and continue for that to make me happy until it kills me I guess.
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'DAWN' is out now. Catch SG Lewis at London's Brixton Academy on February 1st.
Words: Megan Berridge
Photo Credit: Jack Bridgland
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