Dean Lewis and the quest for the perfect sound

In his first full-length album, A Place We Knew, Dean Lewis has done it again. Heart wrenching tales of love and loss, uplifting anthems for hope and finding yourself, Lewis’ captivating tone rings through 12 tracks with as much power and as great a skill for storytelling as we’ve come to expect from the Sydney troubadour. 

Indeed, Lewis’ talent could turn even the most dedicated of hard rock listeners onto his sound. “This album is definitely a step up from the EP,” says Lewis. “The EP was me just throwing things at the wall, seeing what sticks. I didn’t really know who I was at that point.”

“With this album I’ve had so much time to figure out who I am, and with each release I get more time.”

Lewis mentions that with his hit 2018 single, ‘Be Alright’, finding a home on the charts here and in the US, everything else has been pushed back – a good thing in Lewis’ books. Such success has meant he’s had the time not only for self-discovery, but to get his music sounding how he wants it. 

Openly discussing his efforts at solidifying his identity both musically and literally, on A Place We Knew, that’s exactly what he’s done – the pop connoisseur has found his niche. “I figured out who I am,” Lewis agrees.

“I have a strong sense of who I am and when I play a song, one I’m really proud of, [I gain an appreciation of] what I put on there.

“Not only the songs but the production,” Lewis continues with rapid enthusiasm. “I really figured out in the production what sounds like me – I like to keep it raw, acoustic, the vocals to be upfront, not add too much stuff. It seems to have worked out.”

Personality and musicality are added piece by piece throughout the album – brass band backing, plenty of piano, a lot of acoustic guitar – a raw and natural process. 

“Most artists, from what I’ve heard, record songs once,” says Lewis. “But some of these songs I recorded four times and worked on them with multiple people. I’d record it then everyone would be like, ‘great, done’, and I’d say ‘no, I want to rerecord it, it’s not right yet.’

“I’d bring it to my Australian producer, Dylan Nash, we’d add things to it – we’d take out drums, redo vocals, until it felt right. I love when songs have a subtle build from start to end, so we were working on [single] ‘7 Minutes’ until three weeks before it was released.”

Lewis has benchmarks. He’ll hear what he deems to be an amazing song, not necessarily similar to his, and will pick it apart to answer his own curiosity. “Even like, a Lady Gaga song,” he says. “When I play that song on acoustic guitar then play my song on acoustic guitar, they both sound relatively similar in the songwriting sense, but why does that one sound ten times better?

“I’m relentless in the pursuit of getting to that point, but when it is at that point, I know it.”

It’s not just about the build of the music throughout the album and indeed, across Lewis’ career. Lewis today is a more confident version of the man who released Same Kind of Different two years ago. It’s only in having followed his career and his development across these recent years that you can tell, Lewis is as confident and as sure of himself today as he implies. A Place We Knew, however, is certainly Lewis’ most vulnerable work to date. “There are two songs on the album that were written four years ago, ‘Half A Man’, a song about a time I wasn’t feeling good enough, and ‘Don’t Hold Me’.

“Some of these songs were written four or five years ago and some I wrote six months ago – there’s three different versions of myself. I try to tell stories that are real, and do it in a really simple way. First person, little movie scene kind of things. That’s what works for me, literally explaining the scene as I see it.”

Laying it all down with such confidence, it wouldn’t be irrational to wonder if in giving so much of himself away, Lewis won’t have anything to give anyone, anymore – Lewis gently reassures that’s not the case. 

“There’s always ideas flowing – you can write an entire album on one relationship, and there are happy songs on the album, too.

“It is a hard thing for me sometimes to be vulnerable – sometimes when I sing ‘Half A Man’ live I cringe a bit because it’s so fucking brutal – I’m not that kind of guy either, my friends wouldn’t categorise me as someone who’s super emotional.

“But I’m also quite selfish when I’m writing, and I don’t think about anything other than it being good. I don’t think, ‘will people like this?’. I mean, maybe I do, but I’m not trying to write it for any reason. I just think, ‘what can I do that I like that’s going to create some sort of feeling?’”

Dean Lewis’ debut album, A Place We Knew, is released on Friday March 22 via Universal Music Australia. He’ll be launching the album at The Forum on Friday May 17 (sold out) and Saturday May 18. Grab your tickets via Frontier Touring.