SG Lewis Talks us Through His Latest Concept Album

British producer and singer-songwriter SG Lewis has had a big year. He just dropped the final chapter of his concept album back in June. Dawn followed Dusk and Dark, which were both released during 2018, which altogether, make up his first LP. He’s been on the road since August, on a headlining North America, and is about to […]

British producer and singer-songwriter SG Lewis has had a big year. He just dropped the final chapter of his concept album back in June. Dawn followed Dusk and Dark, which were both released during 2018, which altogether, make up his first LP. He’s been on the road since August, on a headlining North America, and is about to play the first of two sold-out shows in San Francisco. A few days after his also sold-out show at Brooklyn Steel, VMAN sat down with him to chat about his musical beginnings, his Pharrell obsession, and how his debut album explores  British youth culture.

 

Tell me a little bit about your musical beginnings, how did you first get into music?

Sure. My family wasn’t super musical growing up. So it was kind of random when I was 8-years-old and I came home from school and I was like, “I want to play the flute” and my parents were like, “what the fuck.” I had just seen a kid playing the flute in an older grade in a show and I was like, “that seems cool.” I didn’t keep that up, unfortunately, that would’ve been really cool. 

Over time, I just started playing the guitar and playing with bands and went to university and studied sound engineering, so I thought I was going to work in a studio and on the technical side of things. I started making beats and remixes and stuff and uploaded those and I got really lucky, and I ended up signing a record deal before I finished my course at uni. So, I dropped out and I’ve been kind of doing it ever since.

 

When did it become clear that this was something you wanted to pursue a career in?

It was actually when I was at school. I did a master’s in physics and I thought I was going to do a mechanical engineering degree and I had a form tutor at the time sit me down at lunch and it was a bit like something out of a movie. He was like, “what would you do if money were no object?” and I said, “I would go make music.” And he was like, “well go do it then.” He kind of encouraged me to look into music as a career. He really just spun my whole life around and was like you really should pursue this or else you’ll kick yourself when you’re older.

 

Let’s get into the music. How would you describe your sound?

If I had to describe my sound it would be electronic soul music. It’s warm chords, with soulful but electronic vocals I guess. It’s a combination of things but mostly influenced by disco and jazz and house music. 

 

You just played a show at Brooklyn Steel, how was that?

It was insane. Everyone I’ve spoken to said that Brooklyn Steel is their favorite venue in New York, so I had high expectations. When we walked in the soundcheck I was just blown away, it was the first time I’d stepped into a room we’d sold out in New York and I was like “Ok, this is quite a big room actually.” The US has been so good to me and I can’t really work out why. For some reason, people have been super supportive of the music over here and it’s kinda crazy to see how it’s built over the past 18 months.

 

Do you have any crazy tour stories you want, or can share?

I went to Rio de Janeiro and we had like 5 days off between 2 shows. We didn’t have anything to do, and I was on a bit of a Pharrell pilgrimage. There’s a video for the song “Beautiful,” with him and Snoop Dogg, and it’s all shot in Rio. There’s a part where Snoop Dogg is on this balcony, and this kid runs up through this favela passes him a phone and he takes a call, and it’s like this kind of iconic shot. So I was like, “I really want to like go there, I want to go and stand where Snoop stands on the balcony.” So we had a Brazilian friend of ours, take us there. We went out to this jazz bar, kind of hostel combination jazz bar called The Maze and basically, in exchange for being able to come in and stay the night, we had to play some music in return. So it was this crazy experience where we woke up in the favela. Like, we slept in these like hammocks with the sun rising. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. 

 

So I guess you’re a really big Pharrell fan?

Yeah. I’m like Pharrell-obsessive definitely

 

I read recently that you actually met him?

Yeah, I kind of hope he doesn’t remember me from the encounter because I felt like I was a little bit weird around him. I’m such a fan, but I kind of just froze up and it was like this, “Oh my God, I love you” kind of thing. 

 

Let’s talk about the album. I thought it was really interesting how you released it in three chapters and the last one, Dawn, came out in July. How did the idea of releasing it that way come about?

Basically, I’d been trying to do an album for a while but I didn’t really have a concept that I was really passionate about. I kind of delayed making an album a bit, and I was doing some other bits and then this idea came to me. I just thought it would be really cool if someone was to make an album that explores the different stages of a night out. Because when people think about nightlife they think about dancehall music. But when you actually dig into it, especially from my experiences, there’s music that people play to start the night, like while getting ready or at pre-drinks. And there’s music that people play like at the end of the night, after the club and it’s like music that would like to help them sleep. I kind of became fascinated with the idea and then from there it developed into this idea of breaking it up into three different parts because there’s a start, middle, and end to the night, so Dusk, Dark and Dawn

And the other reason for it really is that when I announced it I didn’t have any of the music, So this idea of cut releases is partly from the concept and partly because it was a time challenge. 

 

 

Did you write all the songs and then separate them?

No, we started releasing the stuff as soon as it was finished. And each part album had a different feel, so I’d have to get my head into that zone and take new inspiration for those different bits. But it was really up against the clock because I didn’t want to lose momentum on a project, and didn’t want people to lose interest in it. 

 

How do you think the album embodies the theme of youth culture?

I think it’s definitely from a British experience, like my experience of club culture in Liverpool and London, the way that people prepare for a night, then the middle and the ending. Also lat festivals in the UK, there’s almost this 24 hour like nightlife thing. You’ve got some of these festivals where a night can start at 4:00 PM and then go til 8:00 AM when the sun’s rising. I think that there’s just something about nightlife in the UK and UK festivals, it definitely inspired that. 

 

That reminds me of the Arctic Monkeys’ first album, which is like a concept album about going out, but the Sheffield experience rather than London. 

Yeah, absolutely. When you dive into the lyrics on the album, there’s this kind of poetic commentary on Sheffield nightlife. There’s something amazing about the lyrics on that album. Like “Fake Tales of San Francisco,” that song about pub bands and their kind of faux-rockstar lifestyle. I love that. 

 

 

Are there any like artists you were listening to a lot while making the album? 

As I said, it was a case of putting my head into different spaces. So for Dusk, it was like, “Oh, my friends and I will play this music at the start of the night.” So it was listening to Chic and Nile Rogers, Earth Wind and Fire, and Sister Sledge, even stuff like Hall and Oates. But then with Dark, it was a lot of techno like Daniel Avery or A Tale of Us. And then very emotive music for Dawn, sad boy music. Just really getting in my feelings I guess. 

 

What’s your process usually like in terms of like music and lyrics? What comes first? 

I think that process is changing as of recently, but I feel like with Dusk, Dark and Dawn it usually chords. The chords need to make me feel something before anything else comes. I’ve never really led with drums, it’s always been about finding something that triggers the rest of it. There are many different ways that you can catch inspiration but I’ll always be a chords person. If you can just find the chords that grab you, I think that’s always a good post-start. 

 

What can we expect from you in the next year?

I’m pretty deep into the album now and I don’t want to give too much away. But I feel like the focus for me on this project has shifted from a more traditional, producer/DJ features project to singing a lot more things. And it feels a lot more personal like I’m putting myself outside of my comfort zone musically. That’s kind of exciting and I’m enjoying that at the moment. So album, more touring and just hoping that people still listen. 

Check out Dawn here, and be sure to catch SG Lewis on one of the remaining dates of his North American tour.

10/04 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA
10/05 – Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA
10/07 – Meow Wolf – Santa Fe, NM
10/08 – Gothic Theatre – Englewood, CO
10/12 – The Novo – Los Angeles, CA

Tickets available here.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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