Rhys Lewis: "For me, when you say a problem out loud, it suddenly becomes a lot more manageable."
Tonya Antoniou | 18/07/2022
British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Rhys Lewis is best known for his track ‘No Right to Love You, which has amassed over 200 million streams and landed him a contract deal with Decca Records. Many of his other tracks have featured on hit television shows including Love Island, All American, The Hills, Grey’s Anatomy and the Big Shot to name but a few. His most recent single ‘Alone’ is a catchy little pop gem that denotes a major life change for the Oxfordshire-born artist who recently moved out of London to the country, striving to escape the urgency of the big smoke in favour of a quiet and more harmonious lifestyle. I met with Lewis for a catch-up shortly after he had finished supporting songwriter and television host Eric Nam on tour.
‘Alone’ encompasses his feeling of being overwhelmed and describes the difficulties he has faced with life stacking up around him. I asked how cathartic it was putting these feelings into his lyrics and sharing them with everyone and whether it helps tackle issues that he is experiencing?
“Massively, I know every songwriter has probably said it, but it does feel a bit like free therapy, although that doesn’t take away from the importance of professional help to get you through those things. But for me, when you say a problem out loud, it suddenly becomes a lot more manageable. My anxiety and worry become far greater, and I spiral a lot more if I don’t speak about it; sort of like a hurricane in my head. Sharing a song connects you with other people who have that same feeling, that’s really powerful. I’m not saying that I will never get overwhelmed again, but I definitely think that it’s almost like you can catch yourself a bit sooner when you start falling. Songwriting helps to put things into perspective; it feels cathartic at that moment to kind of release something.”
Given the title of his new single, I wanted to know how he felt about being alone.
“I think that it’s quite human to need that time alone. There’s a sort of reset that you can only get from being completely by yourself. Sometimes when I spend time on my own, the first few days I’ve felt a bit sad because I miss people’s company, but then I gradually sink into it. However, when you get through that part of being uncomfortable, it’s actually a really healthy experience. I recommend disconnecting and putting down your phone and not being online so that you’re not distracted by the outside world. I feel like we don’t give our minds enough space and quiet because it can be scary to do so.”
With ‘No Right to Love You’, he explored the meditative potential of Art, Music and Dance by commissioning artist Shadi Al-Atallah and dancer Becky Namgauds. I wondered if this was something he would like to explore in future projects?
“The main thing that excites me about Shadi’s art is the conversation about identity, which is at the forefront of what they do. The focus of this song was to open a discussion around individual identity when it comes to breakups, therefore the collaboration worked well. In regards to the song, I wanted to explore how a breakdown of a romance is almost like a loss of identity because you think about who you are with that person and you can only be that version of yourself with them. This can sometimes be trivialised in breakup songs, but I feel like you don’t just lose that person when you break up, you lose that version of you. I find this sudden identity shift interesting from an artistic perspective, but also important to talk about because it is actually quite psychologically difficult and even traumatic to navigate”.
Nearing the end of my twenties myself, I can relate to his single ‘Happy Fucking Birthday’. I was interested in how he overcomes the processes he talked about in the song, and whether he recognises all his achievements to date?
“I think it’s a human thing. Even with celebrities, who’ve got all of the Grammys or Oscars, all of the money in the world that the rest of us could dream of, yet are still unhappy or that they haven’t achieved enough. I think that it’s very common to forget about all of your achievements and focus on the negatives. That song is a reminder to myself that in reality, even though a lot of what I’m experiencing feels very big, in perspective they’re ‘champagne problems’; it’s a message to not get caught up in the negative details - life is good and I’m doing alright. The more we try and look at life as a glass half full, the more we’ll get out of it. The less we think about the past, the more we can enjoy the present and that’s what that song is about. It’s almost like a reminder to not be so hung up on things you haven’t done, it’s a waste of time and not to take life too seriously or be hung up with age”
In the past, he’s spoken about struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I asked if moving away from the city had helped and whether he was in a better place because of it?
“When I lived in London, I basically turned my bedroom into a studio, I lived, ate, breathed there, there was no border between home life and work. I think most people probably suffered from this imbalance during lockdown because the lines were so blurred. Certainly, moving out of London helped in terms of feeling like I had a bit more space and I felt a bit more balanced. However, I think that the real shift was when I actually found a studio, that wasn’t my bedroom and I had a place to go and work. It enabled me to designate a space for business and songwriting, which I could physically get up and leave, and go home and relax. When you’re self-employed, I suppose like most musicians and artist types, you feel that if you take your foot off the gas, you’ll get left behind. Sometimes that moment can strike when you’re about to go and cook dinner, or when you’re about to leave the studio; something happens and you have to know that you’re committed to staying there and finishing that song. However, that’s the fun of it, when a creative moment is sparked. It’s amazing to be able to follow it and create something and build from it. It’s so easy to let life fall by the wayside, to let birthday parties, friend’s nights out and the social side of life go by because you think that you have to just stay there and work. There’s got to be a balance between what you sacrifice and what you don’t.”
We discussed him supporting Eric Nam on tour and how it came about.
“Actually, it came about through Eric himself. I didn’t realise he was a fan of my music. He got in touch with my manager and asked if I’d be up for opening the show on specific dates. It’s been really nice getting back on stage and actually playing live again, as I hadn’t played a show in two years. Getting back up in front of a live audience of, you know, two-thousand people was really nerve-wracking. It made me realise how normal it was for me the year before lockdown because at that point, I’d been touring for six months of that year and I was used to going on stage and really comfortable with it. I was really rehearsed and strong vocally. So, going back on tour, it took me a few shows to adjust because of how intense it is. However, Eric was welcoming, friendly and supportive throughout the whole thing. He’s created a community with his audience and I found that a lot of his fans will arrive really early because they want to listen, they want to cheer along and they want to support you too. It was really nice because a lot of them stayed in touch and let me know that they really enjoyed the show. I couldn’t have asked for a better gig or better run of shows to do for the first time back playing live and there’s a few shows in June that I’ll be on as well.”
I read that he has a twin brother so I asked if his brother or any other family members shared his musical creativity?
“Yeah, we were all musical, we all played music when we were growing up. My twin brother played the drums and still does, and my older brother plays the piano and saxophone. We were all learning instruments at the same time, so we played and practised a lot together. We did covers and performed at school concerts and things like that, both my brothers still play as a hobby, but not professionally. Growing up, it was a huge thing to have a twin brother and older brother that also played music because I always had bandmates. One of the biggest reasons I continued playing was because my older brother was in a band, and they needed a guitarist and asked me to join. So, when I was 13, I got to go to all the cool parties and play the guitar for his band and did some recording together. I got the bug, certainly from him being a role model and doing it for himself, including me. That was a big influence on me to continue playing music.”
We chatted about his favourite performance to date and the highlight of his career so far.
“I played a sold-out show in Amsterdam on a European tour that I did, I think it was in 2018, and it was the first show abroad that I’d sold out. I didn’t really realise that I’d sell it out. My parents and a few friends came. I hadn’t realised how much my music had travelled and I felt like if I never do another gig, and if I never achieve anything else in music, I’ll be happy knowing that some songs I’ve created have made this moment possible and the people there liked it. It felt really affirming and really inspiring to think that a lot of these people would not be in this room if it were not for some songs I’ve written.”
So, after the tour with Eric, I wondered what he has planned and what can we expect from him in the coming year?
“Currently, I’m trying to make a video of every single song on the album, because I want to make a little short film, a visual piece for the whole thing. So, I’m going to be doing a lot of filming for that and then promoting the album. Maybe I’ll be going back on tour again. I’m looking forward to performing at some festivals in the summer including Barn on The Farm and Bergen Fest in Norway. Then I guess, promoting the album will probably take me up to Christmas, and then I’ll start rolling another album out. I don’t know how long these will take. I’m already thinking about album number three, even though I haven’t really had to. With moving out of London, I’ve currently got a little outhouse at the bottom of the garden that I want to turn into a studio. So hopefully my next album will be recorded from there.”
Reflecting on my conversation with Lewis, I found him to be very transparent about his emotions as in the rawness of his lyrics. It is encouraging that he is not afraid to be vulnerable, and the honest expression of his feelings is shattering gender stereotypes, especially concerning masculinity. Leaving London certainly seems to have enabled him to find a healthier work-life balance, and this shift is strongly reflected in ‘Alone’.
Words: Tonya Antoniou
Photography: Lauren Luxenberg