From playing guitar in his bedroom to DJ'ing to now playing his own original music to sold out crowds, British producer and singer-songwriter Sam Lewis, aka SG Lewis, is a talent like no other. His music, a combination of natural singer-songwriter vibes with R&B and electronic production, has an ethereal quality to it that is entirely his own.
23-year-old Lewis immediately made a mark with the wild success of his debut EP, Shivers, which featured the talent of vocalists like JP Cooper and Louis Mattrs. It even got a stamp of approval from Pharrell Williams. His second EP, Yours, followed the trend of collaboration with the likes of Gallant and Bishop Nehru. But while he's known for having worked with some incredible vocalists, make no mistake: the young artist is involved in multiple aspects of his craft, everything from the production to writing to singing, and now to the assembly of his live show. After playing at major festivals like Coachella and Life Is Beautiful, SG Lewis has just wrapped his first full U.S. tour.
As one of the last stops on his tour, Lewis played L.A. for the first time at the El Rey Theatre. Needless to say, the show was sold out, and believe me when I say it was one for the books. It's often difficult to translate electronic music into a band in a live setting, but Lewis has managed to masterfully create a live show that is fully immersive. Because his music is ultimately rooted in singer-songwriter feels, the translation into real instruments in conjunction with electronic sounds presents his music in a different yet seamless manner. With the way the entire room was buzzing, it's safe to say that SG Lewis has a long and successful career ahead of him. Before we became just a few members of a crowd of nearly 800, we had the opportunity to chat with the multi-talented artist one on one.
OTW: I'm so excited to hear you live tonight! How has touring been?
SG Lewis: It's been crazy! I'm currently on my first full U.S. tour, and it's the first time I've been on a bus tour. We actually went to South America first for Rock in Rio in Rio de Janeiro, which was the craziest experience. We got to really kind of get to know the city, and it was incredible. We played Life Is Beautiful in Vegas, then we played in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Toronto, Denver, Detroit, San Diego, and tonight, L.A. It's been crazy. To finally bring the full live show over as opposed to just DJ stuff has been a really amazing experience, and to connect with fans at this early stage has been really humbling.
OTW: What's been your favorite city so far?
SG Lewis: Oh, good question. New York was pretty crazy. I love New York as a city, and the crowd really came through for us there. The surprise of the tour was Denver. I didn't really think that anyone would like my music in Denver, but the crowd was amazing and so hype. It was crazy.
OTW: What's one thing you miss about home while you've been on tour?
SG Lewis: This is really soppy, but my girlfriend (laughs).
OTW: (laughs) That's so sweet! Moving away from the touring stuff, let's get to know you better as an artist. When I was preparing for this interview, the one quote that always came up was about being "the weird kid" who just played guitar.
SG Lewis: Yeah, it's really stuck. I said it just kind of prodding at myself at this MTV thing, and they really ran with that. They did a headline like, "Weird Kid SG Lewis" (laughs). I'm fine with it. It's pretty funny.
OTW: (laughs) But more seriously, going from that early stage of just constantly playing guitar, what has your journey been to get from there to where you are now?
SG Lewis: As I said, I was, I guess, the weird kid playing too much guitar instead of going out. I think that by nature I'm an introvert, but playing music has given me confidence, and playing live as well has forced me to put myself in scenarios and make myself uncomfortable. I really believe that if you're not putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, then you're not growing as an artist. You have to take risks and do things that are out of your comfort zone. It started out with DJ'ing in Liverpool, then down the line it was producing my own tracks, then it was singing on some of those tracks, and it was all just trying to push myself as much as I can as an artist, really.
OTW: And you went to university for music?
SG Lewis: Yes, so I was going to study mechanical engineering, which is much more traditional. I was doing maths and physics. I had a Form Tutor sit me down at sixth form - which is kind of like high school - and he asked me what I would do if money weren't a problem. I said I would make music in a studio. He said I would kick myself for the rest of my life if I didn't give it a try. So we sat down and looked at different options and came to the decision that studying sound engineering would be a really good option for me. I wanted to be behind the board. I never intended to be an artist originally, but once I got there and was learning the technical aspects of sound engineering, I quickly realized that I wanted to be creating music myself. I learned lots of amazing tools while I was there that helped me in my music today. I mix 90% of the records I put out as well, which is generally kind of unusual for pop producing. My time spent as an engineer helped with that. But then once I realized that I wanted to be creating music myself, I sort of veered away from the technical side and focused on being creative as a musician as opposed to as an engineer.
OTW: How do you think your time formally studying music or relationships you made in university shaped your artistry?
SG Lewis: I think that one of my strengths is that I'm not really formally trained in music. I've taught myself piano and was studying engineering, but it was almost like laughed at that someone in an engineering course should be making music. The guys in the music course knew every scale and mode back to front and knew every bit of theory, but once you learn all that theory, sometimes you have to unlearn that stuff in order to free your mind creatively. You can listen to music from an emotional point rather than pointing out the theory. And totally, the people I met affected me as well. I met my manager there. My manger and I were in the same flat at uni, and he was studying in the management course. He's been fundamental in building my career. The connections you can make in places like that are invaluable.
OTW: You touched upon how you've been producing, writing, and even singing. Your sound is also such a combination of many different elements. With all these different aspects, who is SG Lewis as an artist to you?
SG Lewis: I think my music serves a purpose in more intimate moments. It's not really music that's shared at the height of a party. It's music that's maybe shared with someone who's alone afterwards. I want to bring emotional musical context into styles I like. For example, I've been listening to loads of hip-hop, and I want to see if I can inject emotion in to the production and sonically into those styles. On top of that, I just want to create sonic environments for the listener and convey an emotion I was feeling when I was making that track and hopefully accompany some memories for people.
OTW: You've had a lot of incredible singers on your tracks, like JP Cooper and Gallant. What has that experience been like?
SG Lewis: It's been amazing. When you work with people who are that good at singing, it forces you to be very critical when you're working on your own stuff. For me, I'm such a fan of vocals and R&B vocals that it's such a fun experience to work with different vocalists. Every time I work with a new vocalist, that artist brings a new element into the creative process, and I get to bounce off of them. I really consider myself lucky as an artist because I get to wear 100 different hats. I don't have to be the same guy every day.
OTW: You've had two amazing singers on your recent singles as well. Can you share a bit about your most recent releases, "Smart Aleck Kill" and "Times We Had?"
SG Lewis: Yeah so I recently released two tracks, "Times We Had" with Toulouse and "Smart Aleck Kill" with Col3trane. With Toulouse, I heard some of his music, and we followed each other and had a mutual appreciation, so we were sending some stuff back and forth. I sent this instrumental to him because he lives in New York, and I had never really done this before as well. I kind of like to work in a room with an artist, but I said I had some cool instrumentals and sent him something. And literally the first thing he sent back was "Times We Had" almost as you hear it without any tweaks. When he sent it, I was on my way back from a festival, and I was pretty drunk sat in the back of a car. This email pops in, so I put in on the aux and played it, and I was freaking out in the back of the car just in love with it. I started drunk tweeting like, "Toulouse is the best artist in the world!" I woke up in the morning and was like oh wow okay, I better listen to this. Thankfully, it was as good as I remembered.
With "Smart Aleck Kill," my friend Tom manages Cole. Tom played me the only track that Cole had finished. I thought it was incredible. We got in a room and just clicked straight away. I haven't met many people where you just click straight away like that musically, and he's one of the most impressive talents I've ever met. If I could back one name as someone who's going to be huge, it would be Cole. He's 18 years old, and the level of intelligence in his lyrics and the speed at which he writes is impressive beyond belief, and he's only at like 5% of his potential at the moment, if that. It's going to be really exciting to watch him grow as an artist.
OTW: Now let's go back to the EPs. Where were you released Shivers, and how did that progress into Yours?
SG Lewis: With Shivers, I had my record deal and had just dropped out of uni, and I sort of had this collection of songs. I was living at home and commuting to London, and a lot of my friends were still at university, so it was kind of a lonely time for me. The music is slightly more melancholic of that era because I was just spending a lot of time alone. I just spent a lot of time by myself, and I think that reflects in the music a bit. Progressing from there, the Yours EP was just me growing in confidence as a producer and meeting more people and trying different styles. I think you can start to hear the hip-hop influence, even in "Yours" being a more hip-hop style beat, and "Gone" with Bishop Nehru being my first attempt at working with a rapper and stuff. It was really just me growing in confidence and trying my hand at different styles. With Yours, it was summer of last year. I was just enjoying life.
OTW: What was the process of going from the studio to playing live?
SG Lewis: It's been a lengthy process. What's been good is that we haven't done our first live show in L.A. until today. I've always had this vision of how the music would come together in a live context. It's counterintuitive when you make music on a laptop largely and you're making it as one person. It's counterintuitive to how it is played live because the sounds aren't necessarily real instrument sounds. You have hurdles about how you recreate those sounds live and how you split it over a band set-up on stage, but it's been the most rewarding experience of my entire life. Only now am I at the stage where I'm proud of it because there were various incarnations of the show prior to this, and I'm sure in a year's time I'll go, "Oh no, that show is rubbish." I'm always changing things and I'm always a perfectionist, but it's really just been doing shows and changing something when it's bad. And it's just been learning how to interact with crowds and what the fans want to see and what I want to share, but I wanted to build an experience for the listeners. I didn't want to just be playing the songs. I wanted to draw the listener in and hopefully take them on a journey.
OTW: What's coming up for you?
SG Lewis: I just finished up my album, which I can't say too much about. I can say it's not traditional album in many ways. I've been fascinated with how people are digesting music, and I'm trying something a little bit different. That's all I can say at this point (laughs), but I'm really excited. I think my fans are going to love it and I'm working with some amazing people. I have a couple more surprises before the end of the year as well.
OTW: Finally, who are your ones to watch?
SG Lewis: I think he's everyone's one to watch right now, but Daniel Caesar. I'm obsessed with that album. It's incredible. As a brand new artist, Col3trane. Honestly, his new tune, "Penelope," for an 18-year-old, I can't even process how he's come up with that. It's incredible. I'm more excited about him that any other artist in the world right now.