Finding purpose in his practice, SG Lewis is an artist forever evolving.
Not one to drop and album and be done with it, Lewis instead chose to embark on a 3 piece EP series celebrating daylight to overnight on the dance floor. Dusk, Dark, Dawn are the three releases intended to compliment one another – each separate pieces of the puzzle, if you will. At present the soundtrack to pre-game Dusk and it’s smoky, club ready counterpart Dark are out in the world, with Dawn hotly anticipated.
Remixing, collaborating, producing – there’s been many releases outside of his own that SG lewis has had a hand in. Often mistaken for a Liverpool local (as that’s where he was based when starting out) the London artist broke through in 2014 remixing Jessie Ware. As the story goes, that was what caught the attention of PMR Records who promptly signed him. It’s been only up from there, his creative flex growing on each new track. Take his recent link up with viral lo-fi sensation Clairo for example – the collaboration resulting in Better, an absolute pop belter.
Before Better, Clairo hadn’t really done ‘pop’ before, right?
SG Lewis: She definitely has pop running through her veins. She’s an incredible talent. When I first heard her stuff, I thought that maybe it was intended to be lo-fi, or the production was maybe an ironic kind of thing. But it’s actually because she was making all of those songs in Garageband in her bedroom and recording the vocals through iPod headphones. That’s why it has the lo-fo sound. I think it’s not a purposeful thing, rather she is a pop artist who was just doing everything DIY. So I’m excited to see how she grows her sound, because it’s incredible.
We were actually meant to be doing another tune. So we recorded her part for this other song that I’d worked on with someone else, and she was going to do a verse on it. She’d already written the verse, and we recorded it in 5 minutes, so we were like ‘Okay, let’s do something else!’ So, I pulled up the ‘Better’ instrumental – it was the first thing I played for her, and she was like ‘that one!’ So she got her phone and started typing lyrics, I pulled up the project file, and then we started singing chorus ideas at each other. It was done in half an hour. It was really natural. Like one of those days that makes it feel easy.
Obviously you’re no stranger to collaborations, you’ve done quite a few, but have you had that experience before?
Yeah, a couple of times. It’s always slightly different. ‘Aura’ was another one that was super easy like that. I do tend to find that the best ones are the ones that just flow. I find that if I’m just sat there for 6 hours, trying to make it happen…
The tracks that I’m most proud of are the ones that just happen very naturally. It was kind of like that with J [Warner]. I had the instrumental, I had the song content written down in my notes, and the chorus line “I feel your Aura”, and I threw the idea to J. He was like ‘Cool, put me on the mic’, and did a bunch of melodies, then chopped them up, so we had the structure of the song in humming and stuff. Then, we just lyric’d it in 15 minutes, it was done super quickly. It’s not always like that. When you have days like that, you’re like ‘Fuck I’m so good at this! I’m the best to ever do it!’, and next week you’ll go into the studio and be like ‘I can’t put 3 chords together.’ It varies.
I want to talk about your remixing process. obviously it’s similar to a collaboration, but has a different workflow. When you’re tasked with a remix, what do you set out to do?
I guess when you’re choosing a remix, I have to be able to hear.. I always like the song I remix, and I’m always a big fan of the song that I remix – but if I think a song’s already perfect, then I don’t want to remix it. So, there has to be something missing from it, or in my head there’s another interpretation of it, where I’m like ‘oh, that’d be cool if they did it like that’. For instance, if someone was like ‘Do you want to remix Miguel?’ I’d be like ‘Hell no’, because that’s like perfection. I don’t really see what I can add to that to better it. So really I’m looking for a song that has something amazing where I’m like ‘oh, in this context I think that’d could’ve been… Not even better necessarily, but just different, and as good’.
My Dad’s always saying to me, ‘you’d have a huge hit if you remixed Elvis Presley.‘
Could you imagine the publishing costs?
Yeah nah. But it’s my Dad’s karaoke song, so he’s like ‘Can you remix this?’. He’s probably right! There’d probably be 50 year olds around the world rejoicing.
that would be the best Christmas or birthday present ever though.
Oh yeah, I’m going to do it one day. Just for him. He’d leak it, he’d leak it for sure. It’s a good idea though! Hopefully he doesn’t read this, because I’ve ruined his next birthday present.
It’s okay, we’ll redact and leave it a surprise.
Just when you post it, put an X over my name. Like XLewis.
In my day job I come into contact with so many artists who have names like Chvrches, where certain letters are exchanged for other characters. I can never say them right.
Our sound guy did monitors for this guy called Not3s in the UK. Apparently when he first was working on it, someone came up to him and was like ‘Oh, are you doing monitors for Not 3 s?’. So he was side of stage, and was like ‘hi Not 3 s!’ He was like ‘what?’. Like it’s clearly Notes.
Also, the first time one of my friends saw Deadmou5, at Reading Festival. It was like 2009, before he’d really blown up. We’re mad young, he comes back from the tent and was like ‘Woah, I’ve just had my mind blown.’ This guy’s playing EDM before it was EDM, playing hard music. I was like ‘Oh, what’s his name?’, and he’s like ‘dead mou 5’. For years we were like ‘yeah, dead mou 5’, and someone one day was like ‘He’s wearing a mouse costume.’
I love the idea of this 3-part album series. Inspired by a night out at the club you’ve got pre-drinks, clubbing, and the walk of shame home. Why did you want to explore this concept?
So, when I sat down to make an album, I took my time. I think that I started talking about doing an album a while ago. I think my fans were maybe expecting one slightly sooner, or in a more traditional format. But I just found from a producer point of view, there’s a lot of electronic producer albums that lack a purpose, a story, or a central point sometimes. Because you know, if you’re listening to a singer songwriter album, then the story is their stories – in their lyrics. But if that’s not a consistent theme through an album… take for instance Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Everyone knows that it’s about his big breakup – he went to the woods, he wrote all of these heartbreak songs, and it’s about his healing through this album.
When I sat down to make an album, I just really wanted to find a purpose for it. I wanted there to be a central narrative and story to the album. So, I sat and thought a lot about what that could be, and I explored several concepts – but then I had this idea. So many of my greatest memories have been listening to music in a live context, whether that’s clubs or festivals. Some of my greatest memories have been experienced at those places. So I just wanted to create an album that told it through my eyes. From my point of view, it’s this trajectory of a night out, and the music that accompanies it. Everyone has music that they attach memories to, like if there’s a James Blake song that reminds you of being at Bestival in 2012. Really I just wanted to create a narrative to the night out, and I’m really obsessed with the purpose of music. So like you said, pre-drinks, or is it in the club? There’s always different music for different settings. For me, Dusk Dark Dawn gave an opportunity for 3 different purposes, moods, and atmospheres, and within that, some scope to explore different genres and ideas.
We’ve had some time to digest Dusk, so how would you describe Dark and dawn?
Dark is really just higher in energy. It’s more intense, it’s kind of ‘higher highs’ as such. It’s influenced by more techno and hip hop, harder genres. I don’t think that that’s what I’m necessarily known for. I think that I am more known for dance kind of stuff. So I’m excited to showcase some of that, and flex those production muscles. That’s a weird thing to say.
Dark is higher energy, but Dawn is the come down of energy. Dawn is my ‘home’ genre. It’s the thing that I’m known for, it’s the thing that I started out with. I’m really happy to be finishing the project with Dawn, because for me, that’s full circle. I showcase everything that I do as a producer over 3 parts of the album, and then finish on Dawn – at the start again. Dawn is very emotive, and very intimate, and yeah, it’s cool.
When I thought of the idea, I knew that I had to do it, as it was something that really excited me. The idea has kept on giving throughout the process – there’s more and more things that I’ve found and been like ‘Oh wow, this really was a good idea’. There’s some afterthoughts that weren’t there. The idea was inspired by this concept, but there’s also some byproducts of the concept that work really well in 2018. Like the way people are digesting music now through streaming, the fact that it’s a 3 part album that’s released over a year – people’s attention spans for new artists can be slightly thin. So it’s like, releasing this in 3 parts and drip-feeding people the music, you hold their interest.
It’s been so super rewarding creatively. It’s been so much fun to make, and hopefully people get it and are into it. It’s a little bit different and ambitious, but it was just something that really excited me.
obviously club culture is something that’s really important to you. after all, It’s how you got your start. do you infuse your tracks with those experiences?
I think that club culture and club music, has always been a skeleton for other elements. There’s always that at the core – whether it’s the drums or just the feel, or the tempo: It always comes back to that. I think that I mess around with a lot of different genres, and there’s a lot of different elements in my music. Even ‘Aura’, compared to ‘Yours’, the thing that’s core to it is the music element of club culture. Whether that’s house music – the 4/4 stuff – a lot of my songs are 4/4, or they have club drums (but they’re not a club tempo). So, it’s really important to everything I do – and I think it’s the thing that ties all the music together. Because I think some of the music is quite far apart in feel and atmosphere, but that the central point that ties it all together.
You mentioned before that different music conjures different memories. the one thing that I think of there is making playlists for different moods and occasions. Have you ever logged in to your Spotify, scrolled down and looked at what playlists people are including your songs in?
I keep tabs on playlists and editorials and stuff.
But the user generated ones?
I mean, I have. Not as consciously as I maybe should? I know that there’s a lot of like… baby making playlists! I know that ‘Warm’, ‘Yours’, and ‘No Less’ make it into people’s smoky hours, bedroom playlists. That’s cool as fuck. I’m here for that. But I am, I’m so interested in that, like what is the context in which people are using those songs? Or, what is the purpose of why people are attached to those songs? So yeah, it’s interesting.
I have my own cooking playlists, I have songs that make me feel good, I have sleep playlists, I have anxiety playlists if I’ve been touring too much. I have songs like Bon Iver’s ‘Holocene’, where if I’m anxious and just been flying a bunch, I listen to that song and it relaxes me. So if I can make a song that has a strong purpose for someone like that, then that’s awesome. People have come to me after shows on this tour, and been like ‘This song helped me through this’ or something. That’s the highest compliment you can pay me I think.
This year you played your debut australian shows. How does it feel knowing that your music has reached the other side of the world?
It’s crazy. Because you start out, and you get your first message ever that says ‘Come to Australia!’ and you go ‘Pffftt, yeah yeah alright, cool, good one, that’s never going to happen’. Then all of a sudden it’s like shit: We’re in Melbourne, playing a sold out show, and it’s over 500 people – SICK! I really never expected the music to get this far.
In terms of the ambitions I had, I wanted the music to be successful, but I didn’t really imagine it being popular over this side of the world. I thought it’d stay stay in London – you can only really perceive things that are in your direct line of vision. I’ve never been to Australia before. I’ve come here now and the crowds here have just shown a ridiculous amount of love.
every musician – no matter their location or calibre – has a community around them. Who’s your community?
I would say it’s other producers. It’s people like Salute, the Disclosure boys are good friends of mine. I think there’s an ‘internet friends’ culture of producers, even if you don’t see someone a lot. For instance, me and Salute will pass tracks back and forth, and Phono, and people in the UK who are producers. I think as time’s gone on, I spent a lot of time with my school friends, and I spend less time in the London music industry now, so I see less of people. But, I would say that kind of The Sound You Need, Majestic Casual era – maybe like 2015, 2016?
a Beautiful time.
An amazing time, right? It was this time where if they’d uploaded your track it would get a million plays in a week. It took a lot of us from our bedrooms to being able to tour. That was an amazing platform. A lot of the artists on there were like your friends. It’s kind of just people who are around, but a lot of people from that scene, I’d say. I feel like my circles have gotten smaller. I feel like I’ve gotten less social. Maybe I’m getting old. I think I’d rather sit at home with my dog and chill.
Editor Note: Olly is the name of SG Lewis’ dog. He’s a golden retriever and by all reports, a very good boy.