‘THEY don’t make them like they used to’ is an adage that cannot be applied to London-based Lewis Fieldhouse - he is a human that seems to embody quality, originality and hopes for modern music. I often hear that phrase levied at older musicians – those that have laid down a biblical marker – but not to new acts, as such. Fieldhouse is a musician that seems to be from another time yet very much a part of 2016. His album, Theodore Washington and the Central Valley, is launched on 2nd December and is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. In 2013, Fieldhouse embarked on a tour of the U.S. to help discover himself. I ask about that trip – and the things learned from that time – and what we can expect from his forthcoming album.
HEADER PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Roberts
Hey Lewis. How are you? How has your week been?
Well, my mum just got married so it’s been really wonderful! And at the beginning of the week I was recording a music video for one of the singles off the album in Barcelona; so that was really intense but super-fun. All in all, a big week really.
For those new to your music: can you introduce yourself, please?
Think Eagles-meets-the Mystery Jets with songs that tell stories. My whole album is about a trip to California in 2013 and goes through a lot of emotions. It’s lyrically quite intense.
Naked Psychopathic Blues one of your newest releases (interesting title!). Can you tell us what inspired that song/title?
The song is about a sociopathic narcissist. The last verse was the one I wrote first: “Darling I think you should leave me where I lay/before your mother comes and we really make her day/If she saw me OD, that bitch would put me on display/and I couldn’t stand to see here smiling”.
I had the vision of this maniac running through his house on drugs; deep in the latter stages of an abusive relationship with his wife; trying desperately to hang onto what semblance of control he has over his life.
It’s all about control, that song.
“She said I loved you in the worst kind of way/with a hunter’s pride she thinks you’re my trophy wife” is a lyric (from the song) that shows a writer influenced by literature and classic novels. Would you say you draw inspiration from literary greats?
I’d be the first to admit I'm not very well read although fantasy literature is something I love. I try to be as descriptive as I can when I write without laying it on too thick. My lyrical mantra is ‘Make every word count, baby’ which is a problematic sentence in itself! But from a literary perspective: I am always aware of the great characters and their struggles. Dr. Jekyll, Holden Caulfield; the Old Man from The Old Man and the Sea. Their stories are useful to frame a narrative in a song. They provide a guide of what might or might not be essential in writing a four-minute song.
PHOTO CREDIT: Juliette Carton
Was the song – and the heroine’s ambivalent, twisted personality – drawn from past romances or taken from a fictitious point-of-view?
The song isn’t about a relationship I was in but involved my family.
Write what you know is also a big mantra.
He Hath Made You Rich is another, more romantic side to your craft. The vocals are especially striking and luscious. What can you tell us about the song’s origins?
Thanks! I literally sat down one day and just wrote it. I wasn’t in a relationship at the time but I had just gotten through some personal barriers that were keeping me out of relationships for a good while (out of choice). I needed to figure myself out. I had decided who I was, who I wanted to be in a relationship and who I wanted to be in a relationship with. So, maybe this song was a bit like a letter to the universe saying “I want this relationship”. There’s defiantly a purity in the song that I'm very happy about. It gets straight to the point without obfuscation or bullshit. I like that.
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In terms of vocal comparisons: some have noted a hint of Jeff Buckley to the tones. He is my musical hero. Is he an artist you have been inspired by?
To be compared to Jeff isn’t something to take for granted and it’s certainly unexpected. That wasn’t my intention.
But he is defiantly one of those musical talents that permeate popular culture and to all budding songwriters. I think Grace is an album that’s a must-listen. The texture of his voice is astounding. His skill on guitar is something I’ll never be able to touch. He’s incredibly inspiring. Another person with an interesting and emotional story.
In 2013, you embarked on a trip to the U.S. to follow your heroes and discover yourself. What motivated this decision?
I was partly going out there to go to a YouTube conference but that was only three days of a six-week trip. I wanted to explore California and myself. I told myself I wanted to network and make a few connections in the music industry but there was defiantly an element of escape there as well. I wanted to get out of the U.K. and swim in a different pond for a while, you know. Meet different people with different ideas. The U.K. can be quite harshly realistic at times when all you want to do is dream a bit and be ambitious.
Californians won’t hold you back. They’ll have a party for you and send you on your way!
I also wanted to escape my home life. Personal tragedy had been quite heavy on the agenda along with those turbulent characters. California called and I went. I really wish I’d seen a bit more of the West Coast because I had the offers but something about san Francisco felt quite immediate; like I needed to be there.
PHOTO CREDIT: Juliette Carton
Instead of self-enlightenment and fulfillment; it seems like the darker side of the soul was exploited; the seedier side of America uncovered. What was the experience like and, in hindsight, do you think it has benefited your music and growth?
It was absolutely vital to the person and the artist I am today. I discovered more about myself in those six weeks than I may ever discover again; certainly in such a short time. I had to face issues of mortality, abuse, gender and loss. It defiantly revealed parts of California that I didn’t like and of myself as well. It’s taken quite a long time to process the whole experience and I’ve written a lot of songs about it. I do certainly feel more fulfilled and enlightened now, but at the time, it was very different. My music has been changed for the better, for sure. It’s more realistic. My writing style is music more experimental. I’m less afraid to make mistakes. I want to write what I want to say. I don't think I’ll ever be that straight Pop songwriter chasing the number ones.
Whilst you were in the U.S.; did you write a lot of material and what form did that take?
I didn’t write an awful lot. I was quite preoccupied. But one song I did write was No More (the ninth track on the album). It’s about my mother and how I wish her life could have been very different. She’s in an amazing place now though, so maybe that wish was set in that time period. That song became a prayer for her: to take back her life and to be strong again. It was quite folky - just written on acoustic guitar. It’s still a very emotional song for me, but maybe now for happy reasons.
Theodor Washington and the Central Valley is your album (out in December). I get the album looks at corruptions and depression are the major themes. Can you reveal a bit about the album’s subject matter and what it will explore?
Yeah, it’s a lot about that soul-searching I did, but it’s not too metaphorical about it. I look at the issues I came up against right in the eye.
That’s my style. I look a lot at gender and how I see women and how women in my life have been mistreated by people they love; how I’ve mistreated women I love, in fact. Part of Naked Psychopathic Blues is recognising the psychopath that could dwell within me. The potential that everyone has to go down the wrong path and to hurt people. That terrifies me because I know how easily it can happen.
What are your views on what is happening in America in terms of the political rise of Trump and the gun-related violence against the black population?
Wow, got another article I can write?! I think Trump is a nutcase. What’s revealing and scary is how many people are backing him seriously. But that’s a very simplified look at the issue, which is, of course, nuanced and delicate.
People have seen their livelihoods destroyed since 2008 and the State become more and more apart from people experience and less efficient at dealing with people problems.
In the U.K., the rise of the right-wing has been pretty shocking with nationalism seemingly rearing its ugly head again in mainstream life. U.K.I.P. (nationalist and anti-establishment) won two-million votes in the last election.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Roberts
People who have been disenfranchised by the system are now fighting back through votes. Neoliberalism has become a farce. People aren't equal and we need to be NOW. Black people need to be protected from institutional racism of the establishment police forces across America. Trump won’t solve that issue. I think Dr. Dre said it best: “The people are hungry, and next time it won’t be a few protests or a blockade of city blocks. People will consume the rich” (which also isn’t the answer because we need wealth in society. But we need control over that wealth to do the most good, all the time).
Some blogs and reviews have dubbed you as one of the most exciting artists around London. What does that feel like to see those words printed on the page/screen?
It’s nice to read those things, of course! Do I agree? Well, I think I have a very (very) long way to go yet. I hold myself to very high standards and I’m not there right now. Ask again next year!
As a musician; how do you think you have changed and grown in the last few years? How has your songwriting changed over that time?
One of my issues has always been to stick to a genre of songwriting for more than a couple of songs. Ask me to write you a Pop E.P.? Done. Dance single? Easy. A couple of Folk tunes for a few singers? No problem. For myself? I really love the variety. So finding and sticking to Americana for a whole record was surprising and pretty pleasing to be honest! My early stuff is quite Indie. Now it’s very different. I still love Americana and feel it a genre I can grow into! I’ve gotten a lot better as a musician by just listening more. I listen to so much music from all different genres. R’n’B makes me so happy right now. Some guys in London are killing it!
I feel literature and writing are passions you indulge away from music. How do you unwind as an artist and what does a Lewis Fieldhouse day off consist?
Funnily enough, I have a fantasy novel on the go, but I wouldn’t call it ‘relaxing’! More like a sprawling, untamable monster that I have to reign in!
I feel most at ease in nature. I love to walk, ride my bike. I love the autumn weather we’re having right now: so crisp and still warm after it rains. The colours really make me happy.
If you had to define and narrow down your favourite three albums; which would they be and why?
Wow! Only three? OK…
Parachutes - Coldplay. I love this record: the way it’s recorded, the intimacy; the performances, the sounds -from the guitars and drums and the feel of Berryman’s bass. That album made me want to write songs.
OK Computer - Radiohead. Just perfect. From first note to last. The brilliance of the songwriting: Yorke’s vocals in Let Down; soaring and diving. Nigel Godrich’s production; the innovation of O’Brien and Greenwood’s guitar. Everything on that record is flawless.
Fear Fun - Father John Misty. This record redefined how I wrote songs. I first heard him in Echo Park (in L.A.) just before I went to San Francisco in 2013. The songs blew me away. Honesty, lyrical direction more like narrative; lush vocals. It was a record that will stay with me forever. I go to his shows and I scream at him like a teenage girl. He laps it up too: I'm not the only one doing it!
PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Roberts
What advice would you give to new musicians that might want to follow in your footsteps?
Keep going. The only way you stop being a musician is by stopping. If you keep riding the bus then you’re always on that adventure.
Listen to everything and then listen to everyone else. Go with your instincts and don't be afraid to toil. Creativity isn’t pretty sometimes.
Finally, and for being a good egg, you can name any song you like (not one of yours as I’ll include them); I’ll play it here…
You HAVE to spin this track from Sampha - a London R’n’B singer - called Timmy’s Prayer. Pure fire my friends. YEESH!
Follow Lewis Fieldhouse
PHOTO CREDIT: Ray Roberts