Making it in the music industry doesn’t come easy. What it means to ‘make it’ varies from one artist to another, but one trait successful musicians do share is a strong work ethic – a willpower great enough to resist distractions and do whatever needs to be done to hone their craft.
Such dedication can come down to moments as simple as resisting a night out with friends to stay in and practice guitar on a Friday evening. Small commitments though they are, they will eventually amount to something greater. For SG Lewis, it is this kind of dedication which has really begun to pay off as his sound goes from strength to strength and makes waves internationally.
Now with two EPs to his name and one highly anticipated album being penned, the Liverpool producer is continuing to fly the flag for a brand of UK electronic music that has evolved distinctly from the algidity that James Blake and The XX subdued certain corners of pop music with towards the end of the last decade.
Lewis earmarks fellow self-producer Blake as a key inspiration in his work ethic: “I think James Blake is a huge influence in that respect. To see someone release music that is written, produced, performed and mixed by one person is hugely inspiring.”
Unlike Blake’s early sub-bass sound, which relied as much on its silences as the instrumentation either side of the hush, Lewis is mixing the gentle with the bounce right from the off. ‘Chill Out’, his most recent collaboration with Ray BLK, does what it says in the name and will have cemented its place in many end-of-the-night playlists since its release.
At risk of calling it chill-wave – a genre many more veteran artists have distanced themselves from – SG Lewis fuses together the bare bones of indulgent singer-songwriters with the downtempo, warbling reverberations of the bedtime sub-genre. Perhaps it is simply a sound of the times that refuses to go away completely. So do his own listening habits continue to rub off strongly onto what he creates? “I guess some of the time, for sure!” he says. “A lot of my favourite music is enjoyed when I’m at home, trying to unwind. I love D’Angelo, Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and similar artists. But I like to experiment with different styles and energies too.”
However, the influences run deeper than that. While he has always had a great attachment to more traditional solo singer-songwriters, what really galvanised the direction of his music was leaving the bedroom and putting down the guitar to DJ at local club nights in Liverpool.
“It was mainly the residency at Chibuku that helped shape my sound at first,” recounts Lewis. “I was spending a lot of time listening to and playing club focused music and I wanted to bring that influence into a different context”.
Liverpool has housed its fair share of influential DJs from across the electronic music spectrum – think as wide ranging as Greg Wilson, Danny Howells and Friend Within. With a diverse nightlife to rival the rest of the country, it provides a bubbling environment for an artist like SG Lewis to emerge in – something he is grateful for: “There’s also an energy to the city, and the nights there…it’s hard to explain, but it’s different to London.”
His first year of releasing music to the masses took him to unexpected heights early on, with debut track ‘Warm’ earning the praises of Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake, before the electro-soul perfection of ‘Shivers’ also pulled in Isaac Tichauer and fellow late-night soul jammers HONNE for the remixing.
PMR records stamped their label on his music from the beginning, placing his personal catalogue in the same brochure of artists who have spearheaded this decade’s soulful crossovers from underground electro to charting pop music in the UK. Mentioning Jessie Ware, Jamie Woon, Disclosure and SG Lewis in the same breath feels completely organic.
Lewis is nothing but complimentary about the time PMR have dedicated to him. “They’re willing to give an artist time to develop and grow – I signed super early, with two rough demos, and it would have been easy for them to rush me into making an album. Instead, they’ve allowed me to grow, and waited until I was ready to deliver a full length”.
The album now takes priority over the coming winter months, although he has set aside two dates in November to play Camden’s KOKO venue and Manchester’s epic Warehouse Project.
For a young artist who is yet to release a full-length record, it is some feat to be able to reflect on a year which has seen him play a string of huge festivals, including Glastonbury and Coachella, as well as complete a separate US tour. “It’s been amazing to watch more and more people connecting with the music, and I would say it has felt like a natural steady build. There have been some amazing milestones – to play at Coachella and Glastonbury at 21 years old is something I’m genuinely really proud of”.
“If it all ended tomorrow, I’d be happy to be able to look back and say I had done those things and travelled to some amazing places as a result of my music”. Luckily for everyone, it is not set to end any time soon. With his newfound touring experience and upcoming album, combined with a work ethic that has already taken him from DIY bedroom artist to Glastonbury, who would dare put a roof over where his music can reach in the next twelve months?
Words by Sean Fitzsimons