Up Close & Personal: SG Lewis

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Up Close & Personal: SG Lewis

SG Lewis
Words by David James Young

English musician and producer SG Lewis on his new album, collaboration and stepping out from behind the mixing desk and up to the mic.

With the release of his debut album Times in February 2021, SG Lewis established himself as one of the freshest, most promising young artists within electronica globally. Raking in millions of streams and becoming highly sought after on both the club and festival scene – not to mention rubbing shoulders with pop royalty like Nile Rodgers and Robyn – Lewis quickly asserted his place at the top. That’s all well and good for getting there, however. What about staying there? Although he wasn’t entirely sure, Lewis knew as much for what not to do: the same thing.

“The records are very different in my head,” says Lewis when comparing and contrasting Times with his second studio album, AudioLust & HigherLove.

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“The first album felt like it was for everyone else. It was an album of collaboration, and it was an album about a specific period in time, taking specific influence from that. This one feels much more like an album for me. It feels introspective, and it feels real. I think it it blurs the lines between an electronic record and a more classic style of album, There’s moments that I think, if they were taken out the context of dance music, they’d be categorised more as traditionally pop recordings.”

If Lewis took anything from the reception to his debut, it was how people specifically responded to the track ‘Chemicals’ – where the normally production-focused artist made a play for lead vocals.

“It ended up being the biggest song on the album,” he recalls – almost with a degree of incredulity.

“That gave me the green light to basically explore myself as a singer-songwriter. For this album, I really stepped into that role at the core of the album a lot more. I was utilising a different part of the brain, so I would have to switch between producer and more of atypical artist’s kind of role.” 

In order to expand on this, Lewis enlisted several close friends to join him in the studio to forge a band-oriented set-up – a contrast from his usual solitary approach.

“Ruben [James] was sat at the keys, Jay [Moon] would have a guitar set up with a bunch of pedals, and then Ed [Druitt] was co-writing with me,” he recalls .

“I had a bunch of synthesizers in front of me, and a live drum kit behind me. Everything was live in the room, and as we were writing I would record as we were going. I was trying to juggle three songwriting elements: thinking about the song and melody, then simultaneously taking on the role of engineer and producer. That was the part that I had to grow into – getting them to work in synergy with each other.”

Also coming into synergy was the yin-yang duality of the album’s concept, which Lewis ultimately reflected in the album title. Every song on the album is about either (audio)lust or (higher)love, showcasing both striking similarities and crucial differences between the two. When enlisting guests for the album – including Tove Lo, Ty Dolla $ign and Channel Tres – Lewis made a point of briefing each about his vision. Not only were they on board, they were excited to bring their own perspectives and introspection to their respective tracks.

“We made a decision before any pen had been put to paper as to what side of the album they wanted to explore,” Lewis explained.

“Part of the fun of the process was that back and forth, and that energy exchange between me and the artists in the room. There were definitely moments of being surprised, too – ‘Vibe Like This’ was probably the best example on the album of that. 

“Ty and Lucky Daye really seemed to resonate with a beat that felt more classic, maybe referencing of something from the past. I was right in this collaborators space, talking about love and about finding that sort of romanticised, personal version of love. It was a really cool moment to see that come together from all angles.”

While Lewis describes times as being “fairly in the box” – both from creative and production standpoints – AudioLust & HigherLove saw the Englishman think outside of it. Inspired by the 80s pop and yacht rock, Lewis took to recreating these musical aesthetics in his own image.

“I’d say a lot of the sound of the album comes down to the Yamaha DX7,” he says.

“Because of the inspirations I was drawing from, it felt essential to have one. The only issue was so many of its sounds are so recognisable – so the task became how to process them in a way that differentiates. 

“I started using plugins like SoundToys to crystallise the sound, and added Valhalla reverbs and delays to mine all the sounds and place them in a different context. I also played an Oberheim OB6, which is my favourite synth to engineer, and I invested in a good Flea 6 microphone too – which was great, because I wanted to have a really clean audio signal to work with. Those went straight into a 1073, PRI, and then into a UHD Apollo from there. The rest was just classics: Yamaha drum kit, Cohls overhead mics, Fender Rhodes, Fender Strat through a Hot Rod Deluxe, Wurlitzer. A lot of the instrumentation wasn’t super electronic, which might surprise some people when they hear it.”

AudioLust & HigherLove by SG Lewis is available on all good streaming platforms now.