SG Lewis Is Celebrating Being in the Moment, Even in 2020

For SG Lewis, finishing his first full-length album in lockdown felt like coming full circle. Quarantining at his parents’ house with the whole family earlier this year, he worked diligently from a production setup in the attic, the same place where he started making music.

“It felt really odd to be back there and finishing the album, but in a strange way kind of comforting, because it just took away a lot of distraction,” the musician, born Samuel George Lewis, tells BAZAAR.com.

The end result is times, now available for pre-order and due February 19, 2021. There are three singles already: “Chemicals,” “Feed the Fire” featuring Lucky Daye, and “Impact” with Channel Tres and Robyn. (Yes, the Robyn.) Lewis had written the whole album before the pandemic hit; the last few months of work were saved for mixing and wrapping up production. The album’s joyous message, which he included from the start, has an even deeper significance now.

“The album was celebratory, because it was a study of the euphoria and escapism that disco provided in the ’70s, and I was listening to that and I wanted to reimagine, what would that mean? What could that music sound like if music could serve that same purpose in 2020? There was definitely an element of celebrating the moment that was kind of the theme of the album long before COVID existed. And then, it kind of took on a different meaning as COVID hit and as 2020 unfolded. And it changed slightly in perspective, even though the kind of message was exactly the same. I think it just took on a new meaning.”

Lewis, now known for his atmospheric take on dance music, recalls beginning his musical journey in school. “I’d make these terrible dubstep remixes of songs, because I just figured out how to put a wobble bass in Logic and stuff,” he laughs. Still, he got attention for his remix of Jessie Ware’s “You and I (Forever)” in 2014, which got him signed.

The first song he released on a label was “Warm” with the artist Frances (Sophie Cooke, Lewis’s frequent collaborator and “musical sister”); the track appears on his 2015 EP Shivers. “I was really lucky that people connected with the music and have continued to,” Lewis says. One of his more recent releases was a three-part EP series called Dusk, Dark, Dawn, which included collaborations with artists like Clairo and AlunaGeorge. The collabs wouldn’t stop there though. He’s also credited on Dua Lipa’s “Hallucinate” and Victoria Monét’s “Experience.” On his new project, we can expect even more special guests, but Lewis won’t say who just yet.

Now, he’s back at his apartment in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, still making music from home or from his studio, which is a short walk down the street. During some downtime, Lewis talks to BAZAAR.com about his recent collabs, researching the history of disco, and how Shrek somehow led to his fandom for The Neptunes.

I want to talk about “Feed the Fire” with Lucky Daye. I think it’s so much fun, and I’d love to know how it came about.

Thank you so much. It’s sort of like many records I ended up making, so it came together in parts. I made the instrumental in a session in London. It was the same day that me and Sophie Cooke started “Hallucinate,” which is a song that ended up on Dua’s album, in the afternoon. I just started this instrumental and came up with this baseline, and I didn’t end up writing a song to it that day or using it, but I just kept coming back to the instrumental. I tried to write a top line to it for me a couple of times and just couldn’t find the right pocket. And then, I was in L.A., and I’ve been wanting to work with Lucky Daye for ages as a fan of his.

We got into the session eventually. We just started chatting and hanging out and opening some beers. He was talking, and then he was like, first thing, he tried on the mic, he just walked up to it and the chorus that you hear, he kind of hummed that. And as soon as I heard him hum that melody, I just knew instantly. I was like, “Wait, wait, wait, what was that?” It all just kind of happened super quickly from there. I think he was only there like an hour and a half, two hours.

From there, I took it back to London and was working on it. The instrumental itself was originally inspired by, like, I’d been listening to a lot of Jamiroquai at the time, and I got lucky enough to work with Matt Johnson and Simon Hale [who were in the band]. So Matt played a little synth line at the end of the song, which just sounds so signature Jamiroquai, and then Simon did the string arrangements. All of these little bits came together, and it just turned it into a record that I’m so proud of.

It’s funny that you mentioned the Jamiroquai influence, because I did notice that there was a retro feel to it. And that’s also something I noticed about some of your other releases too. I was wondering if you listened to funk and disco growing up.

The influence on this album is definitely intentional. I didn’t necessarily grow up listening to a lot of funk and disco, and my family wasn’t hugely musical growing up. But then, as I got into electronic music, and then I started seeing DJs that loved playing disco records, I started to then go backward and dive back into the old records and also the kind of history of disco. I’ve read this book called Love Saves the Day, and it’s all about the birth of disco and sort of ’70s New York. I just became fascinated with that era and fascinated with the music and the way that the music made me feel. I think that rather than wanting to imitate exactly how it sounded, there was a certain euphoria and joy about the music that was just so addictive to me. So I just sort of studied the era for a bit, and I guess that a lot of those sounds are resonating with me at the time and sort of made their way into the music.

For sure. I want to talk about your song with Robyn as well, “Impact” from a couple of weeks ago. I’d love to know how that came about.

So it came together in stages again. Me and my friend Orlando [Higginbottom], who produced under the name Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, were at his house in L.A. We had sort of been messing around and drinking some wine. We started what would become “Impact” in his house. And I had the instrumental, and then my friend Channel Tres—basically, we had known each other a few years and we kind of made a few songs, but we never really released anything. And we got in the studio and when we get in the studio, we always end up drinking a lot of tequila together. So we kind of got a bit drunk, and then we kind of—he wrote the first burst of “Impact” and recorded it. And then, we were kind of just vibing with it so much.

So instead of finishing the song, we were like, “Let’s go out!” And then, the next day I was like, “Oh, like we haven’t got chorus.” And then, we tried a chorus in another session where we’re like, “Oh, we just can’t really get it.” So then we were like, “Well, maybe it could be like a duet.” And then we sort of thought, No. We sat down and were like, “If we could get anyone on the course of this record, who would we get?” And Channel had just been on tour, supporting Robyn, and they’d formed like a really, really amazing connection on tour, I think. So we sent the record to Robyn, and she came back and was like, “Yeah, I’d love to write a chorus to this.”

So we went back and forth over lockdown and just worked away at this chorus, and she’s such an incredible artist and has such an eye for detail. So we just really honed in on the details of the record until we were all super happy with it. It was just like a dream come true to release a record with Robyn and to have Channel on that record with her, which just felt really special.

I know sometimes you’ll go on IG Live or do livestreams, and other DJs have done drive-in shows. In your experience, what do you think has been the best way for you to connect with your fans and your listeners right now?

There was a period where I was doing something called “virtual pints,” which is basically where I was [going on] Instagram Live and drinking pints with fans, which was, it was so much fun. It’s so cool to chat with them. But then, I kind of got to this point, I was like, “God I keep getting drunk every Thursday.” I was just waking up on Fridays with a sore head and I was just not getting much done. So I took a little break from that. Who knows, maybe I’ll bring it back. But I think all the different ways that we’ve been kind of in contact with fans over social media, it’s been one of the things that keeps you going. Reading those messages and then hearing how people are using the music to provide a bit of escapism in these times, because [there] has been a lot of bad news this year. I think that’s really cool just to hear that there’s a purpose for the music, and the people are enjoying the music in that way.

But I did my first socially distanced show in London, where all restrictions or guidelines are followed. Basically, you could only be on a table with people in your bubble with a maximum of six. I expected that to be really weird where everyone’s sat down and not being able to dance, but even just that, after months of not playing any live shows, just felt incredible. You feel how badly everyone just wanted to be out and how excited everyone wants just to be out and about and hearing music on a system and being able to dance in their seats, even. So that was really, really cool.

What can you tell us about your album?

There’s a few more guests up my sleeve that I’m really, really excited about, and there’s people on the album that I never thought I’d ever be able to collaborate with. So there’s some real pinch-myself moments. I’d say there’s a lot more kind of ’70s and disco influence. I think if you’re into that, then that’s great. But I’m super proud of it, and I’m hoping that it can provide a bit of euphoria and a bit of joy in 2020, hopefully.

You’ve already worked with so many amazing people, but who else is on your dream collaboration list?

It’s so long. The list is never ending, but I would say Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. That would be a dream collab. But then, I love my pop music, too, and even working with someone like Ariana [Grande] would just be crazy. I just feel very lucky to be in a position now where more and more of those doors kind of open up and become possibilities.

What was the one album you couldn’t stop listening to growing up?

I accidentally bought an N.E.R.D album. I bought it by accident when I was like eight years old, and I just like rinsed out albums so much. I think it was The Neptunes Present… Clones.

What do you mean you bought it by accident?

I’m like eight years old at the time. I’d seen Shrek. And there was that song that’s by Smash Mouth [“All Star”], like, “Hey, now you’re a rock star.” So I was like, “Mom, I want that song, the ‘rock star’ song.” So she went into HMV [the music store] and N.E.R.D had a song called “Rock Star,” and so she got me N.E.R.D’s “Rock Star,” which is very different.

At the time, I was like, “Wait, what is this?” But, you know, I was like eight years old, and I had, like, four CDs at the time. It’s not like you had iPods and the Internet. So I was stuck with this CD. I think I bought the single and then kind of then went back and ended up buying the albums. I just basically fell in love with Pharrell and The Neptunes by force. And then slowly, it was like, “Oh, my God, this is like the best music ever.”

That’s amazing. What is the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?

Someone once told me that in order to have success in music, commercially, I’d have to do something that I didn’t think was cool or I didn’t like. I couldn’t have found that to be more wrong and incorrect. I think that the only time that anything has ever gone well for me in music is when I’ve made something that I think is awesome and I want to share it with as many people as possible. And anything else has never worked.

The only time that anything has ever gone well for me in music is when I’ve made something that I think is awesome and I want to share it with as many people as possible.

What’s been the biggest high from your career so far?

I played Coachella last year, and I played it before, but I played about 2:30 in the afternoon, and I was kind of expecting to play to a few people. I was in the Mojave Tent, and so many people showed up that the tent hit capacity, which I think it was like 10,000 people. It was crazy. It was just, as far as I can look in the tent, it was just people’s heads. And they were just singing the music back. That was just a moment where I was like, “Cool. I did something right.”

Is it kind of weird looking back and thinking of how big of a crowd used to be around, especially now, when we have to be isolated and remote?

It’s something I hugely miss. And when I was growing up, I wasn’t someone who ever really pictured themselves being onstage in that way. I was always quite shy as a kid. And even when I started touring, I wasn’t someone who came alive onstage naturally. But I think what this lockdown and what this year has made me realize is that over the years, I’ve really grown to love that feeling and performing and being onstage.

You look back to something like that last year, and I never took it for granted, but at the same time, I had no idea how lucky I was. It was just something that you would always presume was going to be there next week. And it’s not, you know? Nothing’s guaranteed. A big theme in the album is that nothing is promised tomorrow, and you might never get the chance again to celebrate the moment you’re in. So if they come around again, you just have to really seize that.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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