Interview/Music: Lewis Daniel

Saxophonist and composer Lewis Daniel is gearing up to release his debut EP ‘States Of Being’ next month.

After years of composing and playing for other artists ranging from The House Gospel Choir to The Last Dinosaur, the South London artist delivers an EP that blurs the boundaries between jazz, hip-hop, gospel, garage and grime resulting in an expansive and intricate project that, spans the vast spectrum of Black music.

‘States Of Being’ is a concept EP “I wanted to create a work which is personal and emotive for the listener to relate to, but also music that would make people want to dance. All of the tracks have deep personal meaning to me and in many ways illustrates the formative journey I, and others like me, have gone through during their 20s”. 

Listen to ‘Why Me’, the lead track from the project below. Speaking about the song, Daniel explains, “its about this feeling or state we all go through, whether we care to admit it. It’s not quite anger nor is it quite contemplation, but rather a mixture of both,” says the young musician.

Ahead of the EP, we spoke to Daniel about his musical influences, lockdown and more.

How are you? What are you up to today?
I’m really good, thanks for having me. Today I’m preparing to do some online teaching whilst also catching up with some admin.  Then i’m going to relax. I’m trying to stay as relaxed and focussed as I can during this lockdown period. 

How did you first get into making music? Who were some of your early influences?

I first got into making music when my music teacher, at primary school, suggested I learnt an instrument as she realised music was my thing.  I got given a euphonium and it wasn’t for me so I settled with the clarinet, as my brother had picked it when he was at school. But I stuck with it and never looked back. Later on, when I was 15, I got given a saxophone by my youth band, as they needed more saxophonists in the senior band and being a clarinetist it was an easy transition. But, really, I learnt to play the saxophone on the job, through playing in the local jazz orchestra. From the beginning, I have had an interest in writing and creating music, but I started to seriously explore my voice when I was 16/17 whilst at the BRIT school where I was introduced to different styles of music and influenced by the music that my diverse group of friends and peers were listening to and, in turn, making.  Some of my earliest influences also come from my parents who listened to a lot of Reggae and Caribbean music alongside Motown and Soul music, all of which are now part of my musical DNA. As a kid I was listening to lots of Rap, Garage and RnB music, alongside playing video games – where I can now see –  the music has subconsciously shaped elements of my sound. I would say a notable influence for me was Jamiroquai. This band opened my ears up to slick arrangements, funky  bass lines, interesting musical textures and the possibilities of songs that have a strong concept behind them.I also fell in love with Neo soul records, particularly Jill Scott and Erykah Badu. Amy Winehouse’s first album Frank was a big influence, I loved the blend of Jazz, soul and Hip-Hop. It was one of the first instances where I could hear Jazz and Urban music co exist. Early records which got me into Jazz were ‘Headhunters’ by Herbie Hancock and, the classic, ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis. Another of my jazz idols is Dexter Gordon, I love his wide sound which is both melodic and played with personality –  similar, I hope, to my own approach. But nowadays I get inspired by the musicians around me and the projects I’m involved with. Being part of some of these artists’ creative processes has allowed me to soak up new and interesting ways of making music. I love the buzz of creating and collaborating with artists and, from early on in my career, have been fortunate enough to be invited to hone my writing skills in different ways; including composing for theatre and writing horn lines and arrangements in various genres and for different artists including The House Gospel Choir and alternative band The Last Dinosaur. 

How do you feel about the upcoming release of your debut EP ‘States Of Being’? 

I feel really excited to finally get this body of work out into the world. It is the most personal I have got within my own compositions and that is both scary and exciting – to put yourself out there.  I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from my peers and I designed the EP as a whole body of work, with a clear concept and theme so I’m excited to see peoples’ reactions and what stories or messages they take from the work. I wanted to create something that is both personal and universal and I am intrigued to see what personal stories people see reflected in the music. It has taken me a long time to feel confident enough to put music out there, under my own name, – but I feel incredibly proud of what I’ve managed to create.

Tell us about the EP. What made you put these tracks together?

States Of Being’ is a concept EP where each track is either a feeling, an emotion or a human state of being. All of the tracks have deep personal meaning to me and, in many ways, illustrate the formative journey I, and others like me, have gone through during their 20s. One of the biggest events of my 20s was the passing of my father which was a catalytic event which touched every part of my life and made me question a lot of things about the direction of my life. It forced me to do the work and deal with past wounds and move forward. The songs, together, all move forwards and tell a story, which the listeners can place themselves in. I’ve collaborated with different musicians and artists including singer songwriter Kersha Bailey, Rap duo Makola, Trumpeter Ms Maurice, Shezar, AVP International  and The Last Dinosaur. Alongside this I have an amazing lineup of musicians in my band  i’ve met from all over the place including Marlon Hibbert on Steel Drums, String and Horn Section, synth bass textures from Donal Pywell on Bass, Dian Gasper on Keys and Jeremy Berges on Drums.   The EP is, essentially, a reminder (at least to me) that, in the face of dark times, you can be resilient and emerge as a stronger, more self-assured human being. It also touches on themes of personal growth, anxiety, grief, toxic masculinity and endurance. The EP , unashamedly, touches on subject matter and issues which may be taboo to some. I want to open up the conversation and let people know that it’s ok to talk about these things.  From my own lived experience, it is in your 20s that you first start to feel the full brunt of the real world; lots of new experiences and new responsibilities to contend with. The EP concludes on a positive note which, for me, reflects that feeling you experience, when you are so immersed in something and having so much fun and joy that it alights your whole soul – like the world
has just stopped for a moment.

Although jazz influences ‘Why Me’, it doesn’t easily fit into one genre. How would you describe the overall sound on ‘States Of Being’?

I’m glad you said that. One of my key aims with this was to create a work that was me on a plate; no influences barred. The only rule was whatever sounds good to me, even if it wasn’t a conventional choice. The amazing thing about the current UK jazz scene is that it’s more open to using different influences from music; inside and outside of the Jazz cannon. Which is what gives it its fresh sound. I feel like Jazz is such a malleable art form and is perfect for what I wanted to create. It’s music that has always been about reflecting the times and the current trends. The word genre can sometimes just get in the way of good music.  Although ‘Why Me’ is primarily a Jazz tune, with a trap sounding groove, there are many other elements from different genres and styles, juxtaposed within the music; a technique which I love to incorporate into my sound and I’ve done across the EP.  If I were to sum up the sound of the EP I would probably say it’s an eclectic mix of jazz which spans the full spectrum of black/ black British music. It’s a body of work which all fit together but can exist as separate tunes. The songs give you a visceral emotional hit but also make you want to dance. I;ve used words and speech to add to the greater narrative. Styles you can expect to hear reference to are Neo Soul, Hip-Hop, Grime, Garage, Breakbeats. It also has a strong alternative sound to it which my producer Adam Fletcher helped to take to new and unexpected levels, sonically. I wanted to use a diverse group of musicians and creatives, to produce this E.P, and everyone has added their own voice and experience to it. 

How has South London shaped your sound? 

I would say a massive amount subconsciously and also consciously. I grew up and went to school in South London and have lived here all my life. South London is in my blood. It’s what I know. It’s what I love. I think South London has a rich cultural heritage; I've been surrounded by many different cultures and with that brings a bunch of different musical dialects. For me there are important cultural places in South London such as Brixton, where I experienced my first unsigned gigs, jam sessions and intimate venues, like Upstairs At The Ritzy, I remember playing at, when I first started out.  I just find South London a vibrant and interesting place to live, particularly South East London. New Cross, Deptford and Peckham has really taken my sound to new levels. Living in this area, I've had the pleasure of curating nights here; at the Matchstick Piehouse in Deptford, which is like a second home to me now. ‘Steamdown’  at the Piehouse really opened my eyes to the beauty and diversity of Jazz music at the moment. Steamdown is a cross between a rave and a jazz jam. It’s an inspirational night and fun to watch and play at. Aside from that,  just taking in the artsy vibe of South East London. Connecting with different creatives and musicians has stretched what I thought was possible within music

Has lockdown changed the way you approach making music? 

The main way it’s changed is that I haven’t been able to be in a room making music with musicians or producers. I’ve had to plan more and make sure I’m always being concise and clear when communicating with musicians. Which has been challenging; as sometimes you just want to work with someone, face to face, and evolve the work together. I know we have zoom and video calls but it’s just not the same. My producer, Adam Fletcher, was actually  in Greece most of the time we worked together on the production of the record. One useful way round the problem, we found, was for me to produce demos of certain sections, to give him a clear idea of what direction to take the music, which then sparks new ideas.  In terms of writing, I think a lot of my inspiration and encouragement comes from my musical community being around me; playing with them and working with them. So I’ve had to find new ways to just make myself create with no judgement and sketch and try out new ideas.  

Name three new artists that we should be looking out for right now?

Yasmin Green is an amazing vocalist/songwriter and she recently dropped an amazing EP. She’s a friend of mine from the BRIT school days and we’ve been waiting for music from her, for the longest.  I would also say we have got much more to hear from Natty Reeves who’s a guitarist and makes great music. And lastly Kersha Bailey who is an amazing vocalist and features on my EP.  I’ve heard her solo stuff and it’s amazing.  

Outside of music, what are your interests?

Outside of music I absolutely love playing video games, getting emerged in the story, struggling to complete a mission. I like also immersing myself in different art forms and I like a bit of cooking. Recently during lockdown I’ve taken up learning French which has been fun. 

What is your idea of a perfect day?

My idea of a perfect day is the sun blazing, you have no worries and you have a laugh, being silly with good friends or family, good food and just being at peace.Time is not an issue as you’re having so much fun. Other than that I love achieving things, whether that’s playing a show you’ve worked on for months or finishing a song.

Why Me is out now.
CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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