In April, in-demand songwriter and producer SG Lewis released his latest EP, ‘Dusk’, a six-track ode to his experience coming up through the UK club music scene as an aspiring DJ. The EP is just the first part of a three-part album ‘Dusk, Dark, Dawn’, which seeks to chronicle the mood changes that occur throughout the arc of a night out.
In ‘Dusk’, Lewis mainly plays with ethereal uptempo house and disco rhythms, setting the tone for the early stages of an evening during which anticipation continues to build as it heads toward the night’s apex. Having plenty of familiarity with setting the tone of an evening in real life as a rising DJ and producer, Lewis masterfully nails the rising energy that’s typical of an evening pre-party, providing infectiously dreamy, driving beats that gently lean into the disco genre without losing their identity as house tracks.
Early Bird caught up with the star-on-the-rise to gain a more in-depth understanding of Lewis’ background and to discuss how ‘Dusk’ fits into his grand vision for ‘Dusk, Dark, Dawn’, his three-part album.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
SG: Thanks so much for wanting to do the interview – Are you in New York City right now?
EB: I am! and you’re in L.A.?
SG: I live in South London as I’m finishing up my album at the minute. We just finished up a U.K. tour which was super sweet, and I’m currently finishing up ‘Dark’ and ‘Dawn’. Now that I’ve done the shows, I’ve kind of gone back into studio hibernation mode for the next month or two before I go back out to L.A. and start touring again.
EB: In your shows, you’re playing with live instruments now, is that correct?
SG: Yeah – it’s essentially a five piece setup in terms of a full band, live vocals and live instrumentation. It’s been something that I’ve developed over the last two years now. I think the live show is at a point now that we’re getting really proud of it, in terms of the way it sounds, the way it looks and the way the songs fit in a live context.
EB: With those songs, were you writing them with the idea that you were going to be performing them live?
SG: It’s definitely become a progression in my writing and my producing. I think that I’ve become a better musician over the past two years, almost out of having to do so. I wouldn’t start live shows, I really wasn’t that able of a keys player. But I think playing so much on stage and playing guitar and bass has made me a better all-around musician. So yeah, it definitely has informed my writing process when I go into the studio. Instead of playing or writing a bass line on MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), I think now I think now “If I play this on live bass, it would be something cool for the live show.” With Aura for instance, that’s just me playing a live bass guitar.
EB: Speaking of Aura and your new album, you released “Dusk”, the first part of a three part album. Walk me through the concept for “Dusk” and how it relates to the three-part album.
SG: So basically, the concept of the album is Dusk, Dark, and Dawn – the three different phases of the album. I think a lot about the purpose of music and the situations in which music is listened to, and I really thought a lot about the different music that people experience on any given night out. You think about the music that accompanies the start of the night out, the middle of the night out, and maybe the end of the night out. They’re such different energies in those three different times of the night for me, and I really wanted to use this concept to explore those different energies and all of those different genres.
As a producer, there’s so many different genres I wanted to explore on one album. So instead of sticking to one genre, I wanted to explore the three different moods and energies. Dusk is very much a disco-influences, west coast hip-hop influences. Dark’s energy is higher, more atmospheric and a bit more ethereal sounding. Dawn is the come down. It’s the music that accompanies the quieter moments of the night.
I had this concept for an album and it just felt like as soon as I came up with the concept, I knew it had to be released…I think so many production albums can fall into the pit of not having a central purpose. If you think about a singer/songwriter album, there’s a central running theme to a lot of songs through the album, which might be something a singer/songwriter could make up, or an experience that they’ve been through in the last couple years of their life. For me to have a central running theme for this album was really important and I’m really proud of the concept.
listen to ‘Dusk’ on YouTube:
EB: You were able to feed in your own personal experience as a DJ and producer into this album, right?
SG: Yeah, absolutely. I think that I’ve spent a lot of time in and around clubs, before and after. I feel like I’ve absorbed so much different music that has stemmed from club culture. I think there’s music that stems from club culture in a way that you wouldn’t even realize. People wouldn’t even necessarily connect a lot of downtempo music with club culture, but it really, in many ways, stems directly from it.
So much of that music is designed to bring people down after the higher energy parts of the night. Or it’s for people chilling out and they’re feeling over, or tired or not doing so well. My experience as a DJ and producer, songwriter and singer from times have all been able to be channeled into this album.
EB: You’ve described your sound as chilled-out or downtempo club-music with some singer-songwriter influences. How did you develop that sound as your signature?
SG: I think that it was a combination of listening to all this club music, but then also listening to a lot of Bon Iver and James Blake at the time, and a number of singer-songwriters. The emotion is so high in that music, and so a lot of that is downtempo, or some people might call it “sad”. I wanted to put some of that emotion into the electronic music. I think sometimes, slowing things down gives you the opportunity to evoke those emotions harder. Initially, I did gravitate toward more downtempo sounds.
But, I think as I’ve grown as an artist and producer, the funny thing about this album is I get to showcase a number of different energy levels and moods, and cover a few different bases.
EB: On “Dusk”, you bring the tempo up on a few songs. What was it that made you decide to bring up the tempo on “Dusk”?
SG: When I was playing as a resident DJ, I spent a lot of time doing warmup sets, where you would start DJing at the start of a night with an empty room. It was your job to bring the energy from 0 to about 50-60%, and then you’d be setting up the night for the headline DJ. In that time I learned a lot about the different kinds of music that get the energy going at the start of the night.
A lot of disco-sounding records were the type that people were drawn to at the start of the night. The energy is a little bit higher on Dusk, and I think I just wanted to evoke that feeling for the start of the night, and the anticipation and excitement for what’s to come ahead.
EB: Now that you’ve been able to be the main act or headliner for a show, and you get to have the spotlight, what’s that been like for you as an artist?
SG: It’s been crazy. There’s still a level of disbelief that all of those people are there, and they know your songs, it’s — it’s a really cliche word to use — but it’s super humbling. When you connect to an audience, and sometimes you have an amazing show where you and the audience are so locked in, and the energy is going both ways, it’s a humbling experience. I feel very lucky to be in that position, having come up from being the absolute bottom of the bill at the start of the night.
EB: How did you initially gain that exposure to the UK club scene?
SG: I moved to Liverpool to study sound engineering, because I went to Aleppo Institute of Performing Arts, which is actually Paul McCartney’s music school. I went there to study, but I actually ended up spending less time in my lectures and more time in the clubs in Liverpool.
As soon as I was exposed to all the music in those clubs in Liverpool, I then started collecting music and then learned to DJ, just through any means I could, really. I was educating myself about club culture and building up my own collection of music. Then, I basically managed to secure some residencies at small clubs in the city and just go up from there, really.
EB: You grew up in a family that wasn’t overtly musical, but you yourself were always into it. What was it about music that captured your interest and made you want to pursue it?
SG: I guess it is a really thing when you look at it on paper, because there really wasn’t music being played in my house growing up. I’d get asked at the time, what records were your parents showing you — it wasn’t that they hated music, it’s just that they weren’t particularly overtly interested in it, at least that I could see anyway.
I remember I went to a school concert, y primary school when I was eight years old, I saw one of the older boys playing the flute. He played it so beautifully that I went home to my parents and said Mom and dad, I want to play the flute! And they were like “Why the fuck do you want to play the flute?” And completely couldn’t work out for the life of them why I’d settled on the flute. But they were so supportive, and they were like “Yeah sure, okay, cool try to learn the flute.”
So my first instrument was the flute for about a year before I suddenly decided that the flute wasn’t cool enough and that I wanted to play the guitar instead. It’s funny because when you’re 12 years old, all of a sudden the flute isn’t cool anymore. But now as an adult, I’m like The flute is the coolest instrument in the world! Imagine if I could rip out a flute solo in my tunes, that would be so badass.
EB: In your early years you were in a few bands, but you’ve transitioned now to being a solo artist. Do you enjoy now being a solo artist instead?
SG: I loved being in bands, because it was my first experience playing music and stuff. But in all honesty, I found it slightly frustrating, because I was in bands with my best friends, who just didn’t really care that much about the music. You know, it was more like a hobby [for them]. I’m a solo artist now and theres [pros and cons] to both, but I am a control freak with my music, you know? I mix the records as well as produce – it’s a control thing with the music. I want it to sound exactly how I want it to sound.
I think when I’m in a band, you know you have less control over the sound. In that respect, I definitely prefer being a solo artist. But, on the flip side, the companionship… I was never in a really great band, so I don’t know what it was like to have contemporaries around you who would elevate your abilities. So I can’t speak for the people who are in those bands.
EB: You’ve mentioned that you were a shy, awkward band kid when you were younger, but that you’ve gained gained confidence from playing live as you’ve grown older. Can you elaborate a bit more on that?
I mean, I would always, definitely say that I’m introverted by nature. I think that producers are all typically slightly introverted, because by nature you’re spending a lot of time in music studios by yourself, working on music. That’s definitely my comfort zone, but I think that playing live has forced me into a position where you have to grow your confidence or you’re going to stink on stage.
If you’re shy and inside your own head and your own thoughts, your audience is going to reflect that energy. I’ve found the more that I give of myself to the audience, the more they give back.
EB: Do you think that being introverted as an artist has given you any advantages as a musician or producer?
Yeah! I think that you can call it overthinking – and overthinking can be a very negative thing. But at the same time, overthinking things can also mean that you have high standards. If you are hyper-analyzing everything you’re doing down to a T, then that means you really are caring about things, thinking about every decision you make artistically.
“No Less” IS AN SG Lewis track that G-Eazy sampled in his latest album:
EB: Your music is really tight – you can tell that you spend a lot of time on it, and people have noticed: you’ve garnered praise from the likes of Pharrell and Justin Timberlake, and your song was on Ballers on HBO. When those things happen, how do you process that?
SG: Firstly, thank you – that’s very kind of you to say that. That means a lot to hear that. To answer the question, being completely honest, that never-ever gets normal. It’s funny, when you hear those things in an interview, that still doesn’t sound like that happened to me. It still feels like a made up thing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully process a compliment from Pharell, and I mean that because I’m just such a huge fan of his. I idolize those guys, you know? It happened, but it’s never really sunk in.
EB: Give me an idea of the spectrum of music that you listen to – from what to what is SG Lewis listening to?
SG: [laughs] Someone asked me the other day “What’s a record that we’d be surprised to find out that you enjoy?” One end of the spectrum would be like, Korn “Freak On A Leash” is one of my favorite rock records growing up. On the other end of the spectrum would be Ariana Grande “In To You.” I think that’s one of the most perfect pop records in the world.
I think that it doesn’t matter what genre of music it is. I always think that if there’s a lot of people that like it, there’s got to be something to take from it, whether it’s your cup of tea or not.
Check out SG Lewis’ latest single with Clairo, “Better”, which he dropped at the end of June: