SXSW 2018 Interview: Sam Lewis

By on Thursday, 21st June 2018 at 11:00 am
 

Nashville singer/songwriter Sam Lewis seemed very much in his element at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion, which took place just outside Austin during SXSW 2018. The weather was sunny, the atmosphere was mellow, and the music was abundant. I heard Lewis perform at the early-by-SXSW-standards hour of 11 AM, and later in the afternoon I had a chance to chat with him about his new LP, ‘Loversity’, which was released on the 4th of May.

Sam Lewis internal(photo by Sarah Bennett)

Despite the afternoon sunshine, a strong breeze was blowing as we found seats on a quaint wooden swing set, and Lewis broke the conversational ice by asking about the windscreen on my voice recorder. “Tell me what’s on your recorder right now, because this thing looks kind of like, remember Don King, the boxing promoter? It looks like his hair.” (He wasn’t wrong; if you’re not American or have no idea who Don King is, check out photos of Don King through here.)

I asked Lewis about the Song Swap he’d played that morning with Courtney Marie Andrews, Caleb Caudle, and Kevin Kinney, and he responded with a wry smile. “With 100 percent honesty, I think all four of us were were asked to come play, and then we found out a couple of weeks ago that it was at 11 AM and it was a Song Swap, so we all kind of got a chuckle out of that.”

Lewis played three songs on that set, and I was surprised that none of them were from his new record. His explanation was disarmingly candid: “I didn’t feel like playing any of those.” But he continued, talking about the songs he chose to play instead. “I played ‘Virginia Avenue’, [which is] a song about where I’m from, and ‘In My Dreams’, which is off of my first record, and I also played a song called ‘Little Time’ which is a John Prine-inspired song I wrote with Taylor Bates in Nashville.”

Lewis released his self-titled debut album in 2012 and followed it up with ‘Waiting on You’ in 2015. His new third album, ‘Loversity’, centers around its eponymous title track, which sprang from a moment of spontaneous inspiration. “I was touring a couple of years ago, just outside of Richmond, Virginia, and I passed by this really cool, colorful building.” The sign on the building was partially obscured, and in his road weary state of mind, Lewis couldn’t quite make out what it said. “I saw this building, and all I saw was ‘-ersity’. I knew that there was missing letters or something, [but] I just blurted out ‘Loversity’. A friend of mine was with me at the time, and he looked it up real quick, and he was like, ‘That’s not a word.’ And I said, ‘Well, I really dig that, I don’t know what that means, but I’m going to find out what that means. So, I wound up writing a song called ‘Loversity’.”

‘Loversity’, the album, is an eclectic group of songs, both in terms of musical style and lyrical subject matter.”I don’t know where it’s going to wind up living as far as genre,” Lewis admitted. “Like with many things, there’s an identity crisis [in music], everything’s been cross-pollinated. It’s getting called ‘cosmic country’, it’s getting called ‘country funk’. I’ve heard all sorts of different things. It’s got a little bit of everything, because I’m not a big fan of limitations, but exercising all of your abilities.”

“I’m really proud of [this] project,” Lewis said about ‘Loversity’, which he produced, working with Brandon Bell at Southern Ground Studios in Nashville. “I’m a big fan of this project because of the people involved.” Lewis recorded the album with his former band, who now tour full time with Chris Stapleton and could only join Lewis in the studio. Despite having given a solo acoustic performance earlier in the day, Lewis said, “That’s where I’m going with everything, full band. Like, I experimented with horns on this album. There’s two songs that have horns, and I can see how you can get a little crazy with that, because it’s really fun.”

The individual songs on ‘Loversity’ are more philosophical than actually political, though some of them do touch on political ideas. “They’re getting thrown into a political realm, which I’m fine with, but they’re not political songs,” Lewis said. The common thread among them is a thematic motif of unity and sharing, and Lewis confesses that “they’re personal songs. I needed to hear those songs, too.”

I had a confession to make at that point as well, that I had only listened to the album once before meeting Lewis that day. He was undeterred, encouraging me not only to “try it again,” but to “try it at different times, try it it inebriated, try it non-caffeinated, try it in a car . . .” In the time between the interview and this publication, I’ve taken his advice, and I’ll pass it along to you. ‘Loversity’ is a perfect listen if you’re searching for an uplifting message in trying times, if you need a soundtrack for a long drive, or if you simply want a soulful groove on a hot summer night. Try it.

‘Loversity’ is available now via Sam Lewis’ official Web site. Our thanks to Sarah for coordinating this interview.

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