“Gain exposure to new ideas and avoid staying too long in one place.” That’s the mantra behind Joe James Lewis’ songwriting. The musician from Surrey released his EP Days on You last month, packed full of bright and breezy ethereal sounds, matched with introspective lyrics. Lo-fi charm and poetic reflections, Days on You is most definitely worth a listen…
With features on BBC 6 Music and BBC Introducing’s Hot List, and the title track Days on You finding it’s way onto Spotify’s official Fresh Finds: Indie playlist, it’s not hard to see why this self-produced EP from the newcomer is reaching the hearts of many listeners.
When asked about his influences and inspirations, Joe told us:
I tend to be a big fan of eclectic, genre-fusing records so there’s really a wide spectrum of influences that come out in the music. One album that’s had a marked impact on my sound is probably Amy Winehouse’s Frank – her songwriting is stunning and its production so inspired. Roy Hargrove’s RH Factor was also transformative for me as a teenager and I listened to Hardgroove a lot in making Days on You. D’angelo’s Voodoo follows closely. I’m a huge fan of Jono Mccleery and I think you can hear him in the EP alongside artists like Moonchild, Badu, and Glasper… now I’m just listing.
There’s the beatmakers (part of me wishes I could just make beats all day), the track I Wanna was a homage to the likes of Dilla, Onra, Karriem Riggins who I listen to a lot. And then from the art music side I’ve gone pretty deep in the past on Radiohead, Little Dragon, Beta Band and Blur’s Think Tank – I hear them all in my songwriting sometimes. There’s a real scene that’s emerged in the last decade that’s pushing the soul/jazz/hip hop fusion to new heights. I’m currently making a playlist for sharing and the curation process is opening my eyes to incredible artists in the field that probably passed me by while concentrating on the EP. I just discovered Sebastien Mikael and my jaw hit the floor!Joe James Lewis on his inspirations and influences
Releasing a video on World Earth Day for the fourth track on the EP, Ending the Affair, Joe celebrates the natural world, delivering a nautical themed love affair with some surreal twists. Take a look below…
We had a quick catch up with Joe to find out a little bit more…
Hi Joe! How are you coping with the current isolation situation? Finding ways to fill your time?
Heya. Yeah it’s a strange new world isn’t it. I’m glad the panic buying seems to have slowed down. I’m someone who perennially feels like I don’t have enough time – so I see the upside of having all my summer plans cancelled in one go… And I’m lucky because I’ve managed to hide out at my mum’s house with my brothers in Surrey, where it’s probably a little more shielded than London. The release of the record gives me a lot to do and I’m very good with time on my own anyway. I think a lot of musicians are, plus I should soon be able to start getting new material down. Probably the greatest frustration is the gig situation. But I did love my first Insta Live show and the next one is coming up on Friday 1st May, so I’m looking forward to that too. Basically, I can’t complain. There are people with serious health concerns and I have friends who are frontline medics so that’s a different story. It’s all about them really, they’re literally putting themselves at risk to protect us – it’s heroic.
Wise words – 100%, all about the frontline workers right now. But exciting news for the livestream on Friday! We’re loving your Days on You EP – definitely a calming force in all this chaos. What was the process like of creating the EP (writing/production)?
Thank you, I’m so pleased you guys have picked it up. It’s a set of songs that’ve been a labour of love for a long time. I began the process after a couple of years in which I was doing less music than ever. The decision to set out and make the record was made in the context of quite a rough period involving difficult personal losses. So there’s a lot that’s examined in the songs and it was important to me that the feel of the record should reflect this catharsis. My lyrics are quite abstract but there’s a lot of whimsical introspection in there, I like to tease myself about my woes. I think that’s why people say it sounds so soothing, because on some level I was trying to tell myself that things will be ok, I will be ok.
Beyond the songwriting, I was determined to make as much of the record myself so that I could learn and become a better arranger and producer. In retrospect however, I think the songs found their edge once my friend Alex de Little came on board. I’d made music with him for a long time and he brought that critical mind that helped unlock the songs. He played drums on most of the EP and invited along Will Blackstone, who delivers that blazing trumpet outro to Ending the Affair, which to me is the pinnacle of the party. So yeah I’d say I’m extra proud of the record because I’ve been in the weeds with it at every turn… but opening it up to different players and contributions was the best decision I made.
We love the soothing sound, and the lo-fi charm of the self-production aspect. But collaboration is usually always helpful! A difficult one, but do you have a favourite track on the EP, and if so what’s the meaning behind it for you?
In curating the record, I chose five quite different tracks and I’m fond of them for different reasons. However… I think I chose Ending the Affair for the music video because it’s kinda special to me. It’s the most collaborative, and its story the most simple: that a love affair doesn’t just end. Sometimes people come apart because they have too and not because there is no love. I enjoyed exploring that space. Plus the song is inspired by ‘The End of the Affair’ by Graham Greene, which is a totally beautiful novel.
How would you describe your sound for readers who have never heard your music before?
I’m gonna do a terrible job at this question… I think it would be classed as having a UK soul feel. It’s informed by the kind of hip hop /jazz or ’Neo-soul’ grooves of the late 90’s & early 00’s but with a stripped-back, live sound rather than programmed. And I’ve always loved jazz harmony and melody so the music definitely leans in that direction.
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