[Majestic Journal] A Conversation With: SG Lewis
The sun has set on phase one of his debut album, time for SG Lewis to reveal his dark side.
It’s not often that we hear the same album released in different parts over the course of a year, but London-based producer Sam Lewis is not one to follow the norm. Better known as SG Lewis, the 23-year-old is constantly pushing himself creatively, demonstrated perfectly by the diverse range of music splashed across phases one and two of "Dusk, Dark, Dawn".
Led by the vision to tell the story of a night out in three chapters, Lewis sets the scene perfectly with "Dusk" upon its release back in April, with smooth synths and a funky disco groove. Now Lewis has switched things up as we enter the nightclub with "Dark" and immerse ourselves in the five-track EP.
I caught up with Lewis during his European tour to discuss his new EP, as well as looking ahead to the final chapter, "Dawn".
How much did you enjoy making "Dark" compared to your previous EPs?
This was one of the most fun things I’ve made. It was definitely a departure from some of the previous things I’ve done. I think that some of the biggest feedback I’ve received is that it surprised people in terms of doing things that I wasn’t known for. For this project, I just kept referencing back to my own experiences in nightlife and club culture, places that I had been, and music that I had connected with while out. Even for "Dark", I found myself doing more market research by just going out in South London a lot [laughs].
It must have been a real privilege and exciting opportunity for you to work with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs on the opening track, "Again". I know you’re a huge fan.
Of course! "Trouble" was one of the records that made me want to be an electronic music producer. That was so formative for me, and I was so nervous before that session, because Orlando really is such a production hero of mine. When the session went well, and I came out with something that I was proud of, I could just hardly believe my luck. I almost assumed that I was going to fuck up that session; I just wanted it to go well so badly!
Did you always envision keeping the lyrics minimal in this track?
I think with this part of the album, I saw a lot of it being less traditional-song-structure focused. There are parts of "Again" that are inspired by something like James Blake’s "The Wilhelm Scream", where there’s one lyric that repeats and evolves, deriving a lyrical subtext for the energy of the instrumentation around it. It just felt like a natural thing to do, and once Orlando had that idea for the vocal, we were just feeling that one line really.
Did you have in mind a certain night out or nightclub where you could picture this track, as well as the others, being played?
It’s definitely come from different areas, as there was a lot of ground that I wanted to cover. Different tracks definitely remind me of different places. I would say that The Masque in Liverpool, which is now the East Village Arts Club, was definitely a big inspiration as I spent a lot time there, particularly as resident DJ. With "Again", it reminds me of being at Bestival or Glastonbury, basically a summer festival in the middle of nowhere, detached from reality.
"Some of the biggest feedback I’ve received is that it surprised people in terms of doing things that I wasn’t known for." - SG Lewis
The release of "A.A.T." as a single certainly took a lot of people of by surprise, because of how different it was compared to material that you had released previously. What was your take on the song’s reception?
Yeah it certainly split opinion. They either love it or hate it, because it wasn’t something that they would normally expect from me. If I’m not pushing myself as an artist and as a producer, then I don’t really see what the point is. It was so fun for me to feel like I could just create whatever I wanted to create for this part of the album. I feel super lucky to have listeners who were onboard for me doing that, and they were very supportive.
Would you have felt confident enough to release a track like this a year ago?
Definitely not. I think the concept has given me a lot of confidence and I’ve been releasing a lot of music this year. I think the nature of the concept allows a lot of room for experimentation, and even requires a lot of variation. This project is in three instalments, and if they all sounded the same, then the listeners would get bored and I would get bored. The idea to do a concept album has really freed me creatively.
"Release" is the only instrumental on this part of the EP, compared to three on "Dusk". It reminds me of when you’ve reached that mid-way point of the night out; you’re sobering up from pre-drinks and about to get some more shots in. What are your thoughts and reflections when you listen back to this track?
[Laughs] Yeah definitely! It’s like a fork in the road a little bit, I guess. It’s something that I’m super proud of. I’m aware that people sometimes find instrumental tracks harder to connect to, but emotively this track really moves me, and it was such a natural collaboration between me and Dot [Major]. We make music together all the time, and we’re thinking about starting a side project!
"Release" draws inspiration from some really emotive dancehall music from artists like Bonobo, where it’s really considered emotionally in the instrumentation. I think this track succeeds in telling a story without lyrics.
You mention working with Dot Major. Did you sit down together and work on this track, or was it more of a case of bouncing ideas off each other back and forth online?
Being completely honest, we actually started this track when we came in from a night out [laughs] back at his flat. Dot has a bit of an obsession with old synthesizers, and his kitchen is just covered in amazing analogue synths. So, we just plugged in and were playing with them. I think he’d just bought the Prophet 6 and the Memorymoog as well, so we were just messing around with those, and it really just came from that.
"With this part of the album, I saw a lot of it being less traditional-song-structure focused." - SG Lewis
The EP bursts back into life in "Hurting". This must be a really fun track to play live!
Absolutely! For me it’s definitely more up tempo than a lot of my other tracks. There’s so much energy in the track, but it still has this groove and doesn’t feel brash in its use of energy. It still feels considered and in keeping with the music I make.
What’s the origin and inspiration for the high pitch trill that features so prominently?
That’s actually a sample from an old remix by The Neptunes. I love The Neptunes and I don’t know where it came from — I think it was like this old Korg Triton. But because I listen to so much of their production, it felt right in that context to take a sample.
You previously said that "Dreaming" features some of your favorite lyrics ever, and it’s very clear how proud you and Bruno Major are of this track — and rightfully so!
Bruno started "Dreaming" on the piano, and he came to me with some content, and we wrote the lyrics together — particularly the second verse. Bruno is one of the most accomplished lyricists I know, and he writes poetry and kind of turns it into song.
This song has such nice lyrics even just to read. It kind of flows as words, rather than just music. You can read lyrics for songs and they don’t make complete sense, but I like that every word in this track is considered and tells part of the story.
It feels like you’ve got a song here that the fans can really connect to lyrically and emotionally. I’m not saying that isn’t the case for the other tracks, but it feels amplified here, especially from seeing the love for this track on social media.
Yes, definitely, and I think it provides a bit of a pretext for "Dawn" as well, because of the comedown in energy. It paves the way in terms of "Dawn" being the emotively deep and lyrically-focused part of the album.
"If I’m not pushing myself as an artist and as a producer, then I don’t really see what the point is." - SG Lewis
Speaking of your next EP, the final phase of the trilogy, you tweeted that "Dawn is going to be sad as shit I’m sorry." Could you give us any more details on that?
[Laughs] To be completely honest, I went through a break-up in the summer, and I’ve been pouring a lot of emo feelings into it, I guess. I think it’s appropriate for that part of the album, and everything that I’ve done for it so far, really. I think I’m two-thirds of the way through, and it will be approaching completion before the end of the year. It’s all a bit depressing, so unless something comes in last minute that mixes the vibe up, a lot of it is going to be sad.
The important question that I want to know: Is there going to be a track dedicated to having/dealing with a hangover?
[Laughs] Well, there is a track called "Blue", which I’m 90 percent sure is going to be on there, and there’s definitely a metaphorical point made about the end of the night out I guess, so stay tuned for that!
"The idea to do a concept album has really freed me creatively." - SG Lewis
Choosing to produce this album in three parts and stagger the releases is a very refreshing approach. Would you choose to do it in this way again for your next project?
I think it’s been amazing and creatively rewarding. It has also allowed me to release music steadily throughout the year, which in retrospect has been really cool in terms of building and having a steady stream of music coming out.
But I never like to repeat myself. I always try to do something new in order to evolve. I haven’t really figured out what that is yet, but I have a few ideas beyond "Dawn" for what the next project will look like. I think it will be a little bit different.
And finally, another big question. What’s your favorite part of a night out if we put it into the context of your project? Dusk, Dark or Dawn?
That is a good question. [laughs]
Sometimes the start of the night is the best, you know — the anticipation and excitement for the night. It can be a lot better than the point where you can’t talk to your friends and you’re too messed up to string sentences together. [laughs] So, Dusk is probably the best part in a lot of cases.
"I never like to repeat myself. I always try to do something new in order to evolve." - SG Lewis
SG Lewis’ "Dark" is available to stream, download, and buy now.
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