SG Lewis on catharsis & his triptych ‘Dusk/Dark/Dawn’

It was 18 months ago that Sam Lewis AKA SG LEWIS embarked on one hell of an ambitious project. Rather than sticking to unwritten tradition and releasing a full-length record, the English artist instead opted to split the process up and put out a triptych, representing the three different phases of a night out. And so the concept for DuskDark and Dawn was born.

It was a chance for him to have structure while entering this new phase of his creative direction, and to not put too much pressure on himself too. All parts were created one after the other, with Dawn only being completed in recent weeks.

Dusk is your pre-drinks soundtrack. ‘Sunsets’ Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 evoke warm colours and sensations, the sweeping soundscapes pushing to create a balance between beauty in Pt. 1 and emotion in Pt. 2. ‘Aura’, with the help of J Warner on the vocals, pairs beautifully sombre keys with happy house, combining for a rich, soulful house number. ‘Golden’ and ‘Coming Up’ provide the perfect amount of funk to keep the mood going, and ‘Tides’ with Kartell rounds out this first part of the record with a beautiful sense of wholeness.

As you leave the comfort of your pres spot of choice and make your way to the party, that’s when Dark is most appropriate. Opener ‘Again’ serves up peak-dancefloor club vibes, with Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs on the feature. Drew Love comes in to spit bars over ‘A.A.T’, a drawling trap anthem you’d lose your mind to in the club. Track three sees a split feature with SG Dot Major, serving a slow-burning emotive house trip through huge reverb and careful sequencing. AlunaGeorge brings heady anthemic sounds to ‘Hurting’, whilst the closer, ‘Dreaming’ with Bruno Major closes out the dancefloor’s final moments.

Dawn is still to come, but we’ve been given a few tastes of what’s on the cards already. ‘Blue’ is all SG. It features himself on the vocals, production and the mix down, giving us a rare taste of his previous musical identities that saw him explore more acoustic tendencies. ‘Throwaway’ with Clairo shows the perfect intersection of both artists’ sounds, Clairo blasting beautifully emotive lyricism through her captivating voice, whilst SG crafts a delicate field of arpeggiated melodies around her. And finally, ‘Flames’ with wunderkind Ruel brings forth moments of heightened elation and punchy melodies for the perfect track to empty your lungs to at 4am.

PS editor Caitlin Medcalf and photographer James Simpson caught up with SG Lewis while he was in town last week to take some snaps, chat the three-part project, talk about the live show and dissect what we can expect to take from Dawn.

Your record is broken down into three stages, each representing a different phase of a night out. What does a night out look like for you?

Where the idea came from is that yeah, there is a bit of a ritual in terms of like getting together with friends and playing music together, whether it’s in someone’s apartment. A lot of my friends DJ as well so the kind of fascination with the three different parts of a night out kind of came from, what is the music that gets played in that situation, in the middle of the night and maybe at the end of the night?

The ritual tends to be pre-drinks, and that always ends up being better than the night out [laughs]. Honestly, my favourite bit of any night out is the next day, the de-brief when you get together, sit in a pub and find out what went down. I feel like maybe it’s worth even not going out and just doing pre-drinks and the de-brief.

You’ve got to have that in the middle.

I guess you have to, but it’s never the best time.

You were living in Liverpool for a bit. How did your time living & DJing there influence the way you produce?

Liverpool is such a cultural hotpot, there’s so many different kinds of music going on there. When I moved there, it was my first experience of real, proper club culture, you know house and techno. There were proper nights. The first ever night I went to, Ben Klock was playing downstairs and Andy C was playing upstairs, which is like I don’t know how many nights you’ll find where there’s drum and bass upstairs and the lord of techno downstairs. Eclectic would be the word, and I think that definitely had an influence on my inspirations and the way I make music.

Did you make music before you started going out?

I’ve always made music. I was way more into singer/songwriters and guitar. I always tried to create music, but I wasn’t very good at it I guess. I actually got into remixing and producing before I started going out, it was kind of third-hand through the internet. It was when dubstep was becoming a thing. I would make these terrible dubstep remixes, bootleg remixes. I wasn’t going to dubstep nights, I was too young, I was like 15. Only once I’d started going out, I guess it kind of started to inform me a bit more of electronic music and what was going on at the time, and also the purpose of that music. Before, I was listening it on the internet, but seeing those records in clubs and seeing how different DJ’s played changed the way that I interpreted music.

It’s cool to see your evolution as an artist. Obviously collaboration is a really big part of your artistic identity and it’s cool to see how over time you’ve collaborated with artists that you see something in.

Absolutely. Really, it just comes down to being a fan of people. Like you said, collaboration is a really big part of what I do and is something that I really enjoy doing. I get to be a fan of these people, but at the same time, identify what I think I can add to that project or take a part of what they do and add what I do in a different area and create something new that didn’t exist before. That’s really the most rewarding and fun bit about what I do I think.

I wanted to go back to the record for a second – how do you feel breaking down the record into three parts has informed your process?

The way that it’s been released in stages, firstly, it kind of came from wanting to separate the project into three different parts so people could digest it, but the other reason was, when I announced the project, I had one track. It’s really taught me just to commit to creative decisions. I’m a massive overthinker and I think that if they were all being released together, it could be another five years before I released this, but it’s been great to be present in the creative process and feel like the listeners are following the journey as I’m creating it. It’s not old music, it’s happening as it happens. I think that when it comes to the next project, whether it’s a full length album – which I think it will be – it won’t be as spontaneous.

Have you found that the reception of the parts as you’ve put them out has helped to inform the next stage of the process?

Definitely. I’m always creating from a personal standpoint. It’s like, If I don’t like it, it’s not going to happen or get made. It is interesting to see a) what other things that I’ve enjoyed doing and b) what other things that people have enjoyed me doing. To be honest, a lot of the time those things line up. It’s not like I’m going “Damn those people, they didn’t really like that track and that was my favourite.” I have found the two things have aligned which has been great. I think I’m carrying a lot of that into the next phase.

What is it that you’ve enjoyed most about this process?

I’ve enjoyed some situations where I’ve pushed myself to sing more, just because creatively, that’s been something that was less of a comfort zone for me. A track like ‘Blue’, getting to produce and sing on it, and mix it and be involved in every stage of the process rather than handing it over. I’m proud of tracks like ‘Aura’. I enjoyed making that slightly more dancefloor focused, soulful house music. That was fun. The next era, I’d like to make some more stuff like that.

I was talking with my housemate this morning about this next generation of artists coming up like Billie Eilish, where genre isn’t really a thing. I think you’re one of those artists that best represents that. Every track of yours delves into different genres. How do you find that balance?

Honestly, when I stop and think about it, I get worried. Because I’m like “Oh shit, wait, is this confusing for people?” I get asked all the time what kind of music I make, and because the answer is quite complicated, I can’t just be like “Oh, I make rock music”, because I do tend to draw on a lot of different influences. I guess it’s a positive thing at the same time. It only makes it hard to answer the question, but I’ve only ever done things that have felt natural, and like I said, as a fan of music, I’ll hear something and be like “Oh, I could use a bit of that in my own music.” It’s never overthought, but it’s not like “Oh, cool, it’d be great if I did a track in this style.” If I like something, I’ll want to try and put that into my music and put my spin on it.

I think that’s where a lot of producers get stuck too.

Definitely, people are like oh, 115 is my tempo. You can love a tempo, but you’re limiting yourself. I think there’s innovation in taking parts of a style and combining it with other parts. Sure, you might not be a drum and bass artist, but you can make a tune with 180BPM drums and they don’t have to be heavy drum and bass drums, but you can take that groove and put jazz chords over it and come up with something kind of cool. I think that’s where innovation comes from, combining things that are completely different.

It’s good to be uncomfortable.

Massively. The singing part, I agree with that. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you just made things you were comfortable with, or you just didn’t experiment, you’ll just stay in the same place. People would get bored, and you would get bored.

A big aspect of your records is the live show. With so many collaborators, has it been tough putting together a live show?

It varies from song to song and how distinctive an artists stamp on a record is. I think that songs that lend themselves better to the live show are the songs that work without those features there. It was definitely a task to overcome, but I feel like I’m super proud of the way that we have overcome it, and it’s a case of editing those songs to suit the live environment and revamping them to suit the band, because we’ve played together for quite a long time now and we really know how to make it work for our pocket. It’s in the same way that a lot of artists are changing their songs for their live performances, like Clairo for instance, a lot of her stuff is kind of lo-fi, more understated on the record, but then they really make it more of a big sounding thing for the live show. It’s basically just playing enough shows and working out how to make those work.

Obviously the record is one to listen through from start to finish. Have you tried to keep that same format for the live show?

Absolutely. The live performance does that pretty strictly, especially with the bigger shows where we’ve had the budget to reflect that in the visuals. That’s been so fun. I’ve worked with this artist called Tess Bijere from New York and we’ve created these three almost, movements, in the show. We play a ‘Dusk’ segment, a ‘Dark’ segment and a ‘Dawn’ segment. The fun bit is also that the previous songs that have come before that fans have attached to, we’ve been able to slot them into that concept, because it is an open concept. You can always end up putting any one of my songs into one of those three categories I think.

Have you wrapped up all of the recording for ‘Dawn’?

I have. I’ve handed it in. It’s so weird. There’s one song in particular that was really hard to let go of. It’s not out yet, but it was very personal to me. I’d done five million versions, and I just kept coming back to the demo basically. Eventually, I just had to hand it in. It was pried out of my fingers [laughs]. I’m super proud of it. It’s a huge relief at the same time to have finished it, because it’s all I’ve thought about for the last like 18 months and all of a sudden it’s like, woah, a blank slate creatively again. I’m excited for people to hear it.

How would you describe this last phase of this artistry in a sentence or two?

Melancholic. It’s a bit of a breakup record to be honest. I went through a breakup in September, and all of the emotions that come with that, as everyone knows. I think that it was actually, in the least psychopathic way possible, was a good mindset to be in going into this more introspective part of the album and getting in touch with those slightly more melancholic emotions I think.

Did you find that having that outlet helped you move on from that?

Yeah, there’s some real breakup songs on there. It’s cathartic. I think what’s crazy with songwriting and the more that I’ve leant into songwriting rather than just producing, you can say things that you would never ever say out loud. Once you’ve got them down on paper it’s like wow, that’s out of my system. It’s a really amazing outlet.

Photos by James Simpson

Words by CAITLIN MEDCALF

READ MORE INTERVIEWS HERE

SEE ALSO

SG LEWIS DOES IT ‘AGAIN’ WITH HIS ABSORBING CLUB TRACK FEATURING TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS
SG LEWIS & ALUNAGEORGE MAKE MAGIC ON ‘HURTING’
SG LEWIS AND CLAIRO’S ‘BETTER’ IS A HIT FROM TWO FUTURE SUPERSTARS

About:

No idea where she’ll be in 10 years, but as long as she has a good record and a glass of white wine, she’ll be sweet.