The ‘times’ according to SG Lewis [Interview]
On his three-part concept series Dusk, Dark, Dawn, SG Lewis took listeners through the distinctive stages of an evening out, embodying lived experience in sound. On his debut album times, the British auteur will once more approach music with a temporal aim, taking his sonics back in time to craft an LP centered on the here and now.
times, slated to land on February 19, 2021, is borne out of the music and zeitgeist of the disco era, Lewis explained in an interview with Dancing Astronaut.
“I underwent a period of studying the late ’70s in New York and the birth of disco, and I just became really obsessed with that era. I read this book called Love Saves the Day and it kind of just opened up the world and history of this music that I’ve always loved.”
“What tied this album together?” Lewis mused. Not the “study of disco music” from a technical standpoint, he said, but rather a deeper comprehension of the music’s significance to those who moved to it.
“I became fascinated with what the music at the time meant to the people who were in that scene and around that music and why the music had that effect. It became somewhat of a study of euphoria and escapism because at the time in New York, this music provided a safe space for marginalized communities and for people. It was a place for people to express themselves.”
times has grown out of this rich, retrospective observation of how and why disco transcended its status as a musical style to become an inclusive, spirited cultural movement. While times will pay homage to the sounds of this defining period in music, it will also actively strive to embody and elicit the same “joy” that disco music did in its apex. “I wanted this album to focus on celebration and on the present moment,” Lewis elaborated, calling this the “core message” of the album.
This is the part where you call Lewis not only auspicious but also wise, as if he were able to anticipate that listeners would need music with this emphasis before they needed it: times was written entirely before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewis said,
“I had most of the album before COVID hit; I’d written all the songs before it took over the world. But even before then, I was coming to this central message of the album being that the only moment you have is this present moment in that it’s never promised again. So, you have to cherish those moments and take the opportunity to celebrate them. This kind of takes on a new meaning [amid] coronavirus in 2020 and it became the concept and messaging [of times]. The album was at the core of everything I did in the studio, and there was a very clear feeling that the album needed to have. I think now looking back at the finished album, I’m really proud of how that feeling ties the whole album together.”
This “feeling” and its cohesiveness across times will be most potent when the project lands in full to scatter some more SG magic across the electronic release ring. Fortunately, it’s already accessible in a more than sufficient fraction: “Feed The Fire” with Lucky Daye. A warm evocation of disco sound seeped in Lewis’ inimitable style, “Feed The Fire” is a kinetic kickstarter and it’s notably one of the few times tracklistings that doesn’t carry Lewis’ own vocals.
times‘ creation was notably guided by two specific components, Lewis said. The first, the “influencing inspiration” of the disco movement, and the second, his progression as a vocalist:
“There was this kind of personal growth that I wanted to undergo in order for this album to be something that I felt incredibly proud of. I wanted to do things that I hadn’t done before and push myself outside of my comfort zone, so I ended up singing on over or about half the album. In the past, I’ve sang on like one or two tracks on projects. To have a large bulk of the vocals on the album be my own has been just really hugely rewarding and a huge challenge.”
In the past, Lewis has lent his pipes to several of his originals, with “Blue” of July 2019’s Dawn and the rapturous “Chemicals,” released in April, serving as examples.
In a 2018 interview with British GQ, Lewis stated that he wanted to “grow into singing more,” and by 2021, this aspiration will have come full circle, thanks in part to a series of vocal lessons that have heightened Lewis’ existing vocal savvy. The lessons “taught me more about how to use my voice,” Lewis said. “I wrote a lot of songs and a lot of them didn’t feel like me. I think that I had to learn what my voice is and how I could use my voice, because I had always approached things from the standpoint of production before.” He continued,
“When I started singing, I was basically just trying to imitate the voices that I thought would suit the track best. And that was really hard because I just felt like I didn’t know what my voice was, but the more music that I wrote, the more apparent it became what my vocal strengths were and what my weaknesses were. And I think that really helped inform how I approached writing vocal for the album.”
While many SG Lewis fans might very well need convincing that Lewis had any more work to do in the vocal department given the strength of his prior sung showings, the promise of expanded exposure to his vocal capacities is enough to make the period between now and February 19, 2021 one of impatience.
In the coming months, Lewis is expected to share not only times‘ tracklist but also the list of collaborators, vocal and otherwise, who assisted on the project. When disclosed, it will expand the already robust cast of collaborators with whom Lewis has worked over his career to date, such as Robyn, Channel Tres, Clairo, and Aluna, among others. Come February 19, SG Lewis’ status as a once in a generation talent will be affirmed by times, and true to the LP and Lewis’ aim, we’ll be celebrating that moment, listening.
Featured image: Harvey Pearson