Sam Lewis is anything but an ordinary artist. From his nomad childhood to his attention to detail, he and his music are traveled and versed beyond their years.
Lewis takes simplicity from Willie Nelson, poetry from Bob Dylan, soul from Ray Charles, stage presence from Leon Russell, rich delivery from Van Morrison and combines them to create one authentic, solid message. This transient Nashville musician bears all on his self-titled debut album hitting stores March 13.
A few weeks ago, I had the honor of chatting with Sam to learn all about who he is/was and what has made him the “real” relatable Sam I had heard so much about.
I understand you moved around quite a bit growing up. Why was that?
My parents really couldn’t get settled, I don’t think. We just kind of started over a lot. My dad was the typical type of person where the grass is always greener, so with that aspect, things kind of always looked better somewhere else.
You lived in Murfreesboro, right?
I lived in Murfreesboro, Tenn., after I lived in Knoxville for about three years. I moved there in 2008 and spent about 10 months there. I had been playing a lot in Knoxville and just kind of got burned out for a little bit – so I kind of had a moment of exile, which was really good ‘cause I wrote half of the songs that are on the album in Murfreesboro in a 10-month period.
Did you just feel that after you had your catalog of songs you wanted to move to a big music hub?
When Nashville is that close to you, whether you want to go or not, it kind of pulls you in, you know? I don’t know if curiosity gets the best of you, but it just kind of draws you in and then you try to figure it out. There are so many different pockets and areas and groups.
While I was in Murfreesboro, I would bounce up to Nashville a couple of types a month and try to slowly figure out where I thought I belonged, or at least where I needed to invest more time in. I got really aware of East Nashville – real young, a lot of independence, you know, everything from artists to entrepreneurs and just a real good sense of growing and people working together and figuring it all out.
The official move was in the summer of ‘09 before I met Matt Urmy. Funny enough, we spent about the same time in Knoxville but we never crossed paths. We met at a singer/songwriter night. He introduced himself and asked me if I had a record, and I said no. He asked me if I wanted to change that, and he agreed to help me produce the record that you have now.
When it all began (interlude):
Production began on that in January of 2010, when we sat down in his basement and he told me to play everything I had – everything I would consider recording, which was about 20 songs. We sat with those for a couple of weeks and had a couple of production meetings as far as song selection and why. Then we started thinking about musicians and who to get and why. My biggest interest was doing it all live. I wanted to record a live album, and in order to do that, you obviously have to get the players that can do that, but you also have to have the environment and we had both.
On March 22, we went to Eric Fritsch’s studio in East Nashville and we did six songs in one day. That’s when I actually met Kenny Vaughn for the first time. It went really well. I originally planned on doing a six song EP and everyone involved said they could do more if I had more, so that took a while to convince me. It was about the end of 2010 when we booked another day.
In January of 2011, we went back in and did five more. I took the majority of the year mixing it and getting it together and mastering. I needed a bigger production budget, so I started a kick-starter campaign and raised $5,000 in six days.
I come from a family of musicians, and my older brother played in a few bands growing up. He was in one where they had one practice before their first gig, and it was unbelievable how in sync they were. Having six one-take songs like y’all did – that kind of connection musically with band members is surreal.
Yeah. When I walked into that type of atmosphere, I had no clue what the outcome would be. I didn’t know what the sound would be. I like to think of it as, ‘I walked in with drawings, sketches and they came in with brushes and paint,’ you know? And just filled everything in and made it three-dimensional. I’ll never know what giving birth is like, well, for many reasons, but it was an amazing high, and it was beautiful.
You know, doing it live, it’s a performance. If you do it right, you do it right, and if you mess up, you mess up. I didn’t really give any direction. I just focused on my performance and my delivery. To have that trust in people with your art – there’s something to say about that. But the songs became their songs as well, and that’s the whole shebang. That’s why we do what we do – so we can share those things.
Absolutely. So what are some of the key things you took from working with them as an artist?
I think the biggest thing overall would be confidence. These guys have played on so many albums, and they’ve performed with so many great artists. To go in there and to unwillingly command and perform and act on the spot and get the instant respect and gratification and product all like that – it was a big confidence builder.
They were really into what we were doing right off the bat, and I think most people are most insecure with the things they love the most about themselves – or what they do or what they are trying to do – it’s very personal. All I really care about is writing songs and anything beyond that is a bonus. If I get to sing them, that’s a bonus. If I get to perform them, that’s a bonus. If I get to record them, if I get to play them with other people – the list goes on and on and on.
I think the next time I go in there I’ll feel more comfortable. I mean, there are all sorts of things that I took away from it that I think I haven’t even recognized yet.
People have commented on how real your music is and how real you are in everything that I’ve studied up on, and I can definitely tell that’s the case just from this conversation. What do you hope that your listeners take from your story? What’s kind of your big message?
Oh, that we’re not alone. We’re not alone in this thing. I think that’s the whole reason I share it. I write alone – it fleshes out when I’m alone, you know? But it’s the silence breaker. I love silence, but sometimes it is eerie and spooky, and I think the gift that I’ve been given from the universe is to express it through song.