Dean Lewis On ‘A Place We Knew’, Lessons Learnt From Bruce Springsteen & Making It Big Overseas

The last 12-months have been pretty wild for Dean Lewis. After releasing ‘Be Alright’ — a gut-wrenching single about cheated love — in June of last year, it has gone six-times platinum, hit number one on the ARIA charts and notched multiple ARIA nominations as well. It’s also managed to chart overseas (Top 40 in the US; Top 20 on the UK Singles; number one in Belgium), something that is no easy feat for an Australian artist – especially one who is relatively new to the game. Oh, and it’s racked up over 422-million plays on Spotify.

His hit-single ‘Waves’ caught our attention in 2016, and since then Lewis’ brand of vulnerable pop rock has continued to evolve, refining his sound and songwriting. With the recent release of his latest single, ‘7 Minutes’ and his debut album, A Place We Knew, set to drop soon, all eyes are on Lewis.

We caught up with the Sydney-based songwriter in the midst of a sold out tour of the United States — don’t worry, he’ll be back in May for an Australian tour — to talk A Place We Knew and how this success has affected his creative process.

Music Feeds: How’s the US treating you?

Dean Lewis: It’s been great. Falling asleep on a bus and waking up in a new city. The shows have all sold out and we’ve been doing some pretty decent venues. It’s crazy.

MF: What’s it like playing to those sold out crowds?

DL: It’s surreal. There’s so much happening. I feel like I’m trying to spin so many plates at the same time, and more stuff keeps coming in. I have to remind myself how lucky I am because this doesn’t happen for everyone. I feel lucky that people have connected with it.

A year-and-a-half ago I did a show in Portland that literally only 10 people came to. I was always thinking, “How do you sell out a venue in America?” I thought it was impossible after that experience. ‘Waves’ was quite a big song in Australia, so I thought, “Surely people in America will know about it?” But there was nothing in America.

Now with ‘Be Alright’, it’s amazing that we’re selling out these venues. The crowds feel like crowds back home in Australia. They’re excited and they know all of the songs. It’s like, how?! I don’t know anyone in Nashville!

MF: For an Australian artist to break big overseas is no easy feat, especially for someone who doesn’t have a full album out yet. How does that meteoric rise feel?

DL: I feel like there’s so much more to go! I look at everything and I think, “Why are we not doing this or that?” My mindset is always focused on the next thing and what we could be doing better. Could we be playing bigger shows? Can I write better songs? Can we play the shows better? I’m always looking ahead, and I guess I don’t appreciate things. With music, you can’t just take a week off. The next thing you’re doing is everything. For me, I’m constantly thinking about what I’m doing.

It is amazing how it’s happened quite quickly. I look at other artists who have done some amazing things, and they might be on their second album. I get excited because I haven’t put out that much music yet. I’m confident in the music that’s coming too.

MF: Your debut album A Place We Knew is highly anticipated. Was there any pressure to go back and adjust things before release?

DL: I did on a few songs, but that’s just me. With ‘Be Alright’, before I released that I recorded it four times, and we were up to mix 27 of changes! That’s my personality; I go over stuff until I get that feeling.

When I released ‘Be Alright’, I had ‘7 Minutes’, ‘Stay Awake’ and ‘Hold of Me’. Those were the songs I considered to be the singles. I was confident and they were all recorded when “Be Alright” was released. There was no pressure. I wasn’t all, “Oh my god, I need to write a hit song!” I feel like I already had some really good songs.

I was still doing work on ‘7 Minutes’ and ‘Stay Awake’ three-months ago, adding little things like re-doing vocal lines or adding different percussion. I’m really big into songs starting at a place, slowly introducing more things and finishing quite epic. That didn’t come from the pressure of ‘Be Alright’, it was just me listening to it and thinking it could be a little better.

MF: A couple of the album’s track originally appeared on your EP, Same Kind of Different. Why did you choose to re-include those?

DL: I always felt that no one had really heard ‘Waves’ or ‘Chemicals.’ They have good numbers on streaming services, but in the scheme of the world no one has really heard those songs. I’m really proud of them and most people haven’t heard them, so I chucked them back on. They still feel like me.

MF: How do you think you’ve grown as a musician between Same Kind of Different and A Place We Knew?

DL: I’ve always been writing down ideas, but now I feel more confident in those ideas. Before I’d just think, “Ah, that sucks, this sucks.” But now I’ve heard what something that I thought sucked can turn into. With the EP, I was throwing things at the wall and trying to figure out who I was. I knew a little bit, but I’ve definitely honed in on what I like and what a Dean Lewis song sounds like now. I’ve kept a couple songs off the album as well. They might’ve been big songs, but maybe they didn’t sound like me. I’ve got enough singles that I can put in more songs that are more authentic, genuine and raw. That was more important to me.

MF: Your lyrics come a personal and real place. How do you channel that vulnerability into your writing?

DL: I’m pretty happy going, but sometimes you just surprise yourself. It just sort of comes out. I’ll pick up a guitar and a line will just fly out unexpectedly. On ‘Half A Man’, the line: “But how am I supposed to love you / When I don’t love who I am?” came to me and my first thought was, “That can’t be from me. That has to be from another song.”

Other times, like with ‘Be Alright’, I’m crafting the story with memories and stuff like that. In either case, I just look at them and ask, “Does it sound great? Does it feel good?” And if it does, I just go from there.

MF: Is it weird to hear these incredibly personal lyrics yelled back at you by these huge crowds?

DL: It’s really cool, but I don’t think of it like that. It just makes you smile. These people are all singing these sad lyrics with huge smiles on their faces because they’re having a great time. It makes people feel like they’re not alone.

MF: I know you’re a big Oasis fan. How did you fall in love with them?

DL: I loved their attitude. I love that they were brothers; I thought that was so cool. I loved that sometimes Noel would sing some songs, and Liam would sing songs that Noel wrote. I eventually connected with Noel’s song writing. He wrote really simple songs, and I found that inspiring. It made me feel like it was something that I could do. I could just figure out the basic melody and then let your mind wander for lyrics.

MF: Apart from Oasis, are there any other big influences on your music?

DL: Bruce Springsteen is a massive inspiration, more lyrically and song-writing wise. The song ‘Dancing in the Dark’ changed my life. If you listen to the lyrics, the second verse is: “Message keeps getting clearer / Radio’s on and I’m moving around the place / I check my look in the mirror / I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face.”

I always thought that song was about him talking about being anxious and hating the way he looked while walking around his house, looking at himself in the mirror. That’s amazing to me. I connect with that type of song-writing more than Oasis’. When I heard it, I realised that I like songs like that and those are the type of songs I want to write. And all you have to do is just explain a scene. I use that technique in everything. I’m just explaining what’s happening in first person. I learnt that from Bruce Springsteen.

You can catch Dean Lewis on his massive nationwide tour, which kicks off next month. Full details below.

Dean Lewis A Place We Knew 2019 Album Nationwide Tour

Monday, 6th May

Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Tickets: Frontier Touring

Saturday, 11th May

The Tivoli, Brisbane

Tickets: Frontier Touring

Tuesday, 14th May

Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide

Tickets: Frontier Touring

Wednesday, 15th May

HBF Stadium, Perth

Tickets: Frontier Touring

Friday, 17th May

The Forum, Melbourne

Tickets: Frontier Touring

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