- Words Aimee Phillips
The DJ, multi-instrumentalist, and one of music’s most in-demand producers begins a new artist era, re-introducing himself as you’ve never heard him before.
Evolution is necessary for growth, whether it’s something we choose to pursue consciously or not. It’s only natural that as humans, we feel this innate need to change throughout our lives. Arguably it is artists especially, due to the self-reflection and excavation of experiences they undergo continuously for their art, who feel this desire more than most.
From Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar to Coldplay and Dua Lipa, artists signal a new dawn following periods of emotional, personal or musical change with a new era. Often this couples with a new album, sound, concept, and aesthetic, along with cryptic announcements and teases on social media to send fans into a frenzy.
It’s been over a year since SG Lewis’ (Sam Lewis) euphoric disco debut, ‘times’, which was released in lockdown last year and saw Sam collaborate with some of music’s heaviest hitters: Nile Rogers, Robyn, Channel Tres, Lucky Daye, and Lastlings. When the world was able to dance once again, Sam took off across the US, Asia, Australia, and Europe for a headline tour of ‘times’, also locking in prime-time slots at Coachella and Glastonbury. As opposed to the DJ sets he was known for, however, Sam chose to lean into his vocals and multi-disciplined artistry, bringing to life the shimmering dancefloor delight as a live show.
But let’s rewind for a second. Although Sam’s debut album was out in the world, in February 2021, the U.K. was still in the midst of a lockdown. Unable to take the record out on the road, Sam used the stillness to look ahead. It was time to plan a new era.
As an introduction to this new chapter, Sam has released two brand new singles, “Something About Your Love” and “Missing You”. Two sides of the same coin, the conceptual tracks explore different kinds of love and take Sam’s musical artistry further than ever before.
In this UK exclusive interview, Sam discusses making ‘selfish’ music and being ‘fearless’ for the first time, working with Tove Lo on her ‘Dirt Femme’ album, and the new era where we meet SG Lewis, the artist.
So, two new songs! I love them, they’re such club-ready bangers. Was this exactly the intention?
There are two different worlds and energies that will become more apparent as we release more music. I’ll wait for people to figure it out. I definitely wanted to start in a clubbier world with these first singles, because I’ve just been spending a lot of time in clubs and playing shows and there’s some music on the album that definitely pushes away from the club environment and into some new spaces for me, musically. So, I wanted to start somewhere a little bit more familiar. And then pull people away.
Melodically, “Something About Your Love” feels like a euphoric come-up rush in the club, while “Missing You” feels like still being high while the sun is rising. Lyrically, they’re an exploration between love and lust, right?
Thank you! There’s definitely an element of that. I think it will become more apparent as we release more music, but “Missing You” describes a more toxic version of love that’s falling apart and is perhaps built on the wrong foundations. Whereas “Something About Your Love” describes that very fulfilled and without compromise kind of love, it’s very heart-on-sleeve about it; it’s very optimistic. They’re two sides of a coin in a way. I think they’re a good place to start sonically in terms of introducing those two worlds.
This is a theme you’re going to be exploring in more depth, although I know we can’t reveal anything more right now…
It’s gonna be fun to watch people categorise the music – it’ll be interesting for me because it’s obvious in my head, but then it’s perhaps not obvious. I think one of the fun parts about this new era is that there’s an interplay between those two sides because sometimes there’s good in the bad and bad and the good. It’ll be interesting to see what people think.
Do you consider your audience when making new music? I know you’ve got quite an engaged fan base that you interact with regularly.
This album has been a lot more selfish than the last album and previous music; I think I’ve always looked outward for inspiration and written music about the audience and who’s listening. To be honest, a lot of this album was made as soon as I finished the last one, I got straight into this one. It was a time when A) clubs were shut B) I wasn’t playing shows, and there was a lot more isolation. So it’s definitely more introspective on the whole as an album. And that’s both exciting and scary because I think that I’ve always been able to hide behind the premise of other people’s experience and being like, this is an album about 70s New York, whereas there’s a little bit more of an explanation as to what’s going on in my head.
You’re singing on both of these songs! I know when we last spoke, you were nervous about laying down your own vocals, but it seems like you’ve really overcome that! How has your vocal journey been since ‘times’?
It’s been wicked. It’s something that I’ve had to grow into, definitely. When we last spoke, it was something I was apprehensive about, but it’s really given me much more creative control over my own music. And it’s allowed me to put more of myself into the music. There’s always been so many ideas in my head that I’ve not communicated out of fear of embarrassment, even in the studio. I worked with some people on this album – everyone that worked on the album is a close friend, nearly entirely so. It was a real tight-knit crew that I worked on the album with. So I was in a position of real trust in the studio, where I felt like I could just try things and get them wrong without being like, ‘Oh, God, I’ve just embarrassed myself in front of someone’. It’s been a confidence thing and it’s allowed me to make some songs that I’ve always wanted to make, but perhaps been a bit scared to before. There’s a couple of songs on the album that I’m really excited for people to hear that I feel absolutely wouldn’t have been able to exist without accessing my voice at all.
It’s great to hear you’ve overcome that. Working with people you trust definitely brings out the best in people. Is that a process you’re going to be going forward with in the future?
I always love collaborating. And while trusting people in the room is a really big thing, there’s always the opportunity for new people to come into that fold. I have found a really incredible writing partnership with Tove Lo and that was someone whom I didn’t know prior to writing this album. And that was such a natural clicking of workflows and of friendship as well. So there’s always room for new people in that process. But I definitely feel confident about having a support network around me or friends and collaborators now where I work really closely with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs (Orlando Higginbottom). I’ll send Orlando something if I’m stuck and we’ll give each other feedback and often he’ll have a suggestion that just unlocks something that I’ve been struggling with. It’s really cool to have friends around that I feel like I can lean on for creative support. Definitely.
I was going to ask about your collaboration with Tove Lo because I know you worked with her on her upcoming album, ‘Dirt Femme’. What was that process and your creative relationship like?
Tove is incredible. It’s funny, I met her husband, Charlie (Twaddle), on a night out. I think it was a couple of weeks before me and Tove were due to work together. I didn’t realise that Charlie was Tove’s husband, but we were just on this night out having a great time. At about 2am, he was like, ‘I think you’re working with my wife in a few weeks’ and I was like, ‘She’s your wife?’. It was really funny, by the time that me and Tove met, there was sort of pressure because me and Charlie had created this friendship and it was like, I hope this goes well now, it’d be really awkward if like we hated each other! But straight away, it was just instantaneous with the writing. I mean, she’s such an incredible writer. And she’s also just a super lovely, awesome person. And she’s so much fun, and very, very good at what she does. I’m really excited for people to hear both those tunes (“Call On Me” and “Pineapple Slice”). And they’re both quite different as well. They’re quite different feelings and emotions. I’m interested to see which one people prefer.
As well as Tove Lo, you’ve also worked with Elton John, Clairo, Khalid, Aluna, Victoria Monet, Raye, Ray BLK, N.E.R.D’s Chad Hugo, Gerd Janson, Conducta…the list goes on! How does your process differ working on your own music versus working on the music of others?
This album has been more introspective, working on my own music is a very selfish process, I have to switch my brain into a mode where I’m just thinking purely about what I like in a selfish way. I find it hard to jump between producing for other people and producing for myself and writing for myself because I always have to do the writing for myself in a chunk; a residential period, because you get yourself in that mindset. Whereas when I’m producing for other people, I love both things equally, because when I’m producing for other people, I get to kind of wear different hats, and I get to process someone else’s feelings. And sometimes that can be better because it can be exhausting trying to make that creative well within yourself, and sometimes it’s really fun to facilitate someone else’s vision, as opposed to working on your own. But they’re two very different approaches. I actually really do enjoy being a tool for someone else to use in their vision. It’s always interesting to see where the track ends up differently from where it might have ended up for me in that process. But with any kind of collaboration, it’s the chemistry of the two things that end up creating the end product. All those tracks that I make with other people could never exist if it was just me in a room.
We’ve got a delicious ice cream sundae of sounds in “Missing You” and “Something About Your Love”: 80s synths, Italo, dance and disco, to name a few. I know you’re a self-confessed music nerd and love a deep, educational dive into music history when you have ideas. What were you listening to and learning about that influenced this new era?
There was a big exploration into what prefaced what became known as New Wave music. I explored a lot of Belgian music and a lot of Belgian rave music as well. A lot of that very chunky, LinnDrummy, new wavy kind of sounds were born out of music that was popular in Belgium. There are some compilations called ‘The sound of Belgium’, there’s a mini-documentary on the internet, so that was fun to explore. Then the other side was what’s quite comically coined as Yacht Rock. One of my fellow record-collecting friends, Jimpong (James Yorke), made this playlist. There’s all this 80s Dad Rock, but within that genre, there are these pockets of amazing music and incredible songs. I remember really questioning my taste at the time because I was like, I swear that this is music that five years ago, I’d have thought naff. But there was so much music within that in terms of its chord structure, but then there’s also an attitude within it. Some of those songs are so bold that they’re borderline ridiculous in terms of their ambition and execution. That was a big influence going into this album, being like, let’s swing for the moon and try to write something really big and not be scared of worrying, is it cool? I guess to take that fearlessness into the process, which sounds a bit dramatic, but not being scared of falling flat, I think.
I can just hear how much fun you had making these songs from listening. I know you’re a bit of a perfectionist; these tracks are so intricate and layered. What was the creation process like? How long were you working on them for?
The process was really fun because of the lockdowns and pandemic, I was given the luxury of getting a bunch of people together to go to these residential studios. When the world was paused, one of the only things you could do was go to the studio and work on music. So instead of doing the nine to five, turn up the studio, do a session, go home, on several occasions, I would go for like a month and I would take a couple of my favourite people, would live there. Angelic Studios in Oxford, and then Decoy is another studio. They’re amazing places because you’re looked after so well, that you wake up and the only thing you have to think about is making music. There’s food being made there and they’re very much cut off from the outside world as well, which I think is also important. Me, Ed Drewett, Rueben James, and Jay Moon all started in Angelic together, and “Missing You” was maybe the second or third song that got made. It was a bit of a eureka moment because I was like, ‘Hey, I’ve been listening to a bunch of this new music. Let’s try and chuck a bunch of it into this process’. And then there was a real clicking moment with Ed, where he became an extension of my right arm in terms of writing. That’s been a real big partnership on the album. And “Missing You” was a real like lightbulb moment because it combined so many things that I like. It’s energetic and clubby but it’s this kind of 80s Pop chorus. It got us all really excited. It felt like we were onto something. And then “Something About Your Love” came as an inverse to “Missing You” which came at the start of the process, “Something About Your Love” came very late in the process. That was a real tribute, or mourning of Daft Punk in a way because I was just so gutted when they broke up. I went on a deep dive into their process and how they make their records. I made a few and I missed the mark a few times. Then I found this Force MD’s sample. I tried to approach it as if I was trying to make music in the 90s or making early 2000s house music. I resampled this thing and I tried to make it as janky as possible. I tried to put obstacles in the way to make it more authentic. It just felt really good. It felt like the song that I wanted to make because it was heavily influenced by that. It’s definitely a way of me mourning Daft Punk’s retirement for sure.
I could definitely feel their influence on that track, for sure. So why did you select these two tracks, in particular, to introduce us to the new SG Lewis era?
A) they feel really summative of the two sides and the worlds I want to build and B) they felt like the most palatable to start with because there’s a couple of tracks on the album, which I’m probably the most excited about that when I first played into my family, my dad was like, ‘I love it but like, woah, where are we?’ I really took a deep dive into the 80s and the Yacht Rock world and I produced some really interesting results. There are a lot of songs that didn’t make the album that was part of the process of getting there. But there’s a couple that did. There’s a song in particular that I think is hands down my favourite thing I’ve ever done, and it’s definitely not anything like what I’ve made before. So we’ll see.
That’s a big statement! So this is the beginning of a new SG Lewis era, do you have a name for it?
I wouldn’t necessarily have a name for it but this is the era where I really feel like I’m exploring myself as an artist for the first time. I think many people and fans that have been with me for a long time will be meeting me as an artist for the first time. I’ve shared bits of myself through my production and collaborations, but I think that people will definitely get a much deeper look into what’s going on in my mind – and hopefully, they like it!
I’m sure they will! You’ve now got a whopping 1.4 billion streams… how does that feel?
It’s completely incomprehensible. It could be 1 million, it could be 10 million. There’s no way my brain can even perceive what that looks like as people and it’s really baffling. The only time it becomes real is when you play shows, and you see people’s faces, and you see people kissing their loved ones to certain songs or they’re crying…that’s when you’re like, oh, right, there they are! The numbers are wicked, but it’s hard to perceive any of it really.
Where do you look in a crowd when you’re playing a show?
As bad as it sounds, I tend to try and look over the crowd because I get so distracted when I look at the crowd that sometimes my brain will literally flick on to like, ‘Oh, what are they doing?’ And then I’ll be like, ‘Oop, I’ve got this lyric!’ (laughs). Because it’s so interesting watching people – especially if my friends are at the shows as well then that can really throw you if you make eye contact with a friend. So I try and zone out and but then it’s impossible because sometimes you’ll look down the front and recognise faces, and that’s really cool to see.
You’re going to be performing at Somerset House’s Summer Series on 15th July. What can we expect? Is it a live performance of the new songs and ‘times’?
It’s a complete new live show, it’s gonna be the biggest live show that I’ve done in terms of the most amount of people on stage. With Covid, there was a hybrid version of the show and it was great for the album that I put out because it’s a real dance floor album. But this will be the first test run of a vision I’ve had for a live show for a long time. I’m excited, there’s gonna be new music – a few bits of new music that no one would have heard yet. And then I’ll hope to grow that into next year, but it’s definitely going to be the most ambitious version of the show so far.
I mean, I love DJing and club music is a huge part of what I do and my inspiration; I’ve really enjoyed DJing over the last year and I will continue to DJ, but the headline live shows will kind of become the focal point.
So this is truly a re-introduction as SG Lewis, the artist.
It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking, all of it. It’s so funny because I know how much I love some of the music I’ve made and I’m really proud of it but then you get to the cliff edge and you’re like, ‘Oh my God’. The only thing you can do is jump. I’m excited to be sharing it and it feels like the right time to be doing so.