Ambient Music

Grateful: A Dean Lewis Interview

Dean Lewis photo by Darren Craig
DEAN LEWIS: Grateful
An interview by Lauren Sanderson.

Australian singer-songwriter Dean Lewis performed his first ever headline show in New Zealand at the Auckland Town Hall in 2019 and is back to showcase his universally relatable songs across Aotearoa in November.

His ‘Sad Boi Winter Summer’ tour has been electrifying audiences throughout North America and Europe in recent months and now it’s finally New Zealand’s turn to experience Dean’s signature sound in the flesh.

I caught up with the song-writing sensation to talk about life on the road, his inspirations and how he feels about having over a billion streams…

You’re touring again, which is super exciting! How is your tour going?

I’ve been touring America and it’s so good to be back. I didn’t know if it was all going to come back after Covid, so it’s been amazing. It’s been so cool. I thought after having nearly three years off that people may not want to come to my shows anymore. In New York we played to 1200 people and then in Montreal 2500, 1400 in Toronto and I played to 1000 in Minneapolis – I was shocked by the amount of people that came as it’s been a while since performing. I feel really present and grateful this time around. I just can’t stop smiling now, I thought it was all over.

Your music really hits people in the feels and strikes emotion in a crowd. It’s hugely relatable to many people – what are the influences behind your songs?

It’s crazy to see people crying in the front row and singing really loud. Most of my songs are about my personal experiences. Weirdly though my biggest song ‘Be Alright’ was a combination of crazy stories that my friends and family told me all mixed up into this one song – so maybe I should do that more.

We’ve all got skeletons in our closets, but a lot of people bury them somewhere far away. Is it not painful having to relive these experiences time and time again while touring? Or is it like a form of therapy for you?

When I sing my song ‘Half A Man’ and I sing the line ‘How am I supposed to love you when I don’t know who I am?’ and I’m singing it and smiling and that’s a really brutal line but I can’t help but smile because everyone is singing it back to me and having so much fun.

When you’re playing a song and everyone is smiling and singing your lyrics back to you, you can’t help but smile too, even if it’s the most emotional song about a heartbreaking situation. Whereas when you’re playing new tracks that’s when it’s really emotional because everyone is listening and no one is singing. When you have 1000 people or more singing back to you it turns something that was a really heartbreaking moment in your life into a really joyous occasion.

Dean Lewis
Dean Lewis photo by Sean Loaney.

Have you always been musically gifted? You play the guitar, the piano the keyboard, and you write songs. How did your career in music kick-start?

I’m actually bad at a lot of things but song writing is something that came pretty naturally. My dad taught me six chords on the guitar and then I got a capo and I learnt the basics. I started out as a songwriter for other people and I wrote with a couple of people that studied music theory and they could never write songs but they always knew what to do when we talked about chords and stuff like that and so I decided then that I was just going to learn the basics.

I’ve always been able to come up with ideas quite easily, the thing that I’ve had to really work on is crafting lyrics and making them into a story because a melody is nothing if there is no incredible story attached to it. An incredible story can be very simple too, like a lot of my songs I just describe scenes such as describing a room or describing a big break up in my life. I like keeping it simple, I don’t try to complicate things and I don’t try to pretend like I know what I’m doing, I’m really just making it up as I go.

Your track ‘Be Alright’ very quickly became a global hit – has this created any pressure when writing new songs?

The world has changed now. I had a meeting with my American record label and they basically said you have to go viral on TikTok and I’ve been lucky because I got on Tik-Tok a few years ago and have managed to build up a good following. When you’ve had a song that has had billions of streams even if you have a song that is huge and has 100 million streams it’s a different world because that one hit is so big that when something does really well, it doesn’t even scrape it.

I’m from Australia and it’s so hard for an Australian Artist or New Zealand Artist to have an American hit. Ive had a few songs that have done well, so I’m just happy that I don’t have to move back in with my nan. I was able to get a place of my own, so I’m good I don’t need another hit. Do I want to have successful songs, yes, but I think what it enabled me to do is follow my intuition and go back to trying to write great songs and I really truly believe that if you write something great in life or you do anything in any field that is great it will connect in some way somewhere. I’m just interested in touring and releasing great music and I feel so good about that.

While you weren’t able to tour for two years due to the pandemic – you still managed to release some awesome new tracks during that time like “falling up’. Tell us about that process and what lockdown was like for you?

One of the weirdest things is that most artists say that you have your whole life to write your first album and then a few months to write your second but in a weird way I’ve had even more time to write my second. After two and a half years of no touring and just focusing attention on writing songs, I guess I was able to really look back on what connected to fans. I tried to write songs that made me, me because I trialed a lot of things that didn’t necessarily work. ‘Falling up’ and ‘Looks Like Me’ are two songs that I put out first and are very different from the sound that I usually do. I started to zone back in and trust myself a bit more.

‘Hurtless’ is the first song since my first album where I put out a song that I wanted to. It’s so easy to get caught up with everyone telling you what you’re good at and what you should be creating. Now that I’m touring again it’s made me really excited about the future because during Covid I genuinely did think that it was all over. I just feel so grateful.

Who did you grow up listening to?

I used to listen to Oasis, The Kooks, The Verve and that was pretty much my staples. I was obsessed with them although they’re very different to what I do now. I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan! When I heard his ‘Dancing In The Dark’, I studied that song and learnt how to craft ideas into a story. If anyone wants to learn songwriting, just listen to that song.

Dean Lewis
Dean Lewis photo by Darren Craig

If you could collab with anyone, who would it be?

You know it was my dream to collab with Kygo and my dream came true with our tracks ‘Lost Without You’ and ‘Never Really Loved Me’.

If we were to hijack your Spotify right now, who would we find on your playlist?

Can I be honest? This sounds really awful but I’m just listening to my own songs, which is the worst thing in the world. I never say this when I get asked this question and I thought about it the other day, why don’t I ever just say the truth? I always try and think of someone I listened to a month ago.

I’m so obsessed with what I’m doing. You love it and then release it and then never listen to it again. So sadly I’m just listeneing to myself.

You’re coming to New Zealand next March and we can’t wait to have you back. When you’re here do you get time to explore?

I have been there a couple of times and I loved it. 

We went to a Universal Music Conference in Queenstown and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of Jurrasic Park—it was so epic. When you tour it’s hard to see the sites sometimes because you’re on the road all of the time. I’m doing three shows in New Zealand, so it’s a pretty quick turn around so I don’t think we’ll get to see a lot unfortunately.

It’s kind of the curse of touring. It’s such an amazing opportunity to do this and travel the world but you really do see it from stages and then you get on a tour bus or an airplane and then you wake up in the next city.

Dean Lewis has today announced his rescheduled New Zealand tour dates – the multiple-award-winning, multiple-Platinum-certified singer-songwriter will perform three concerts, taking in Wellington’s Opera House on Wednesday 15th March, Christchurch’s Town Hall on Friday 17th March, and closing the tour with a final show at Auckland’s iconic Civic Theatre on Saturday 18th March. Remaining tickets are on sale now via TEG VAN EGMOND.

Dean Lewis Tour Art

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