In an intimate sanctuary of sound, English singer-songwriter Rhys Lewis finds a new home. While his poignant songwriting has racked up legions of loyal fans and close to 300 million plays to date, the Oxfordshire-born artist has pushed his creativity to unforeseen new heights for his bewitching debut album Things I Chose To Remember – out today on July 10, 2020.
Lewis’s superpower is to distill universal-feeling moments into his music with highly personal precision. And he does it so well…
In 2016, the music artist signed to Decca Records and inked the label deal on the back of a promising collection of retro-soul demos.
“I recorded an album that was very much in a soulful, jazzy vein, but I stepped away from it as I knew it wasn’t who I really was.”
Decca gave Rhys the space to scrap the album and start again – an uncharacteristic luxury in the music world of today, which can often feel driven by instant gratification. Following the decision to begin again with his music, Rhys also ended a romantic relationship that wasn’t working.
“I did the right thing. But I felt a lot of guilt for that.”
He then started working with Aidan Glover, the keyboardist and producer he shares a studio with today. These events were the necessary reset from which Lewis re-emerged fully reinvigorated.
That desire to be present is at the root of Things I Chose To Remember’s emotional heft. Lewis recorded the album on analogue tape, a rare and expensive process that’s barely been used since the early ‘80s. This process comes with both limitations and joys, for instance, it’s common to have over 100 individual tracks in a contemporary pop song. Yet with his 24-track tape machine Lewis limited himself to just two-dozen.
“Everything had to earn its place,” he says. “We worked the songs and the productions much harder, and I think we questioned things much more because of it.”
Things I Chose To Remember is a testament to an artist’s unleashed creativity, and stands as Lewis’s most inventive and exploratory music to date.
The use of synthesizers adds a looming, apocalyptic feeling to the album’s soaring closer ‘What Wild Things Were’, a vivid eco-conscious elergy to our burning planet which imagines mass animal extinctions, and was inspired by the American journalist David Wallace-Wells’s book-length imagining of the dire effects of climate change, The Uninhabitable Earth.
Listening to the opening theme and we’re immediately taken to a soundscape of open nature and wandering, yearning feelings. Sonically, it feels like the Planet Earth of sounds, where the freedom of rolling emotions runs wild and free. The colours rile and bubble at the core in beauty – almost like a picturesque landscape of antelopes running.
Lewis is a fundamental optimist, as evidenced by his heartbreaking 2019 ballad ‘Better than Today’, an impassioned plea for us to find common ground in a world that often feels politically cleaved down the middle.
“I was deeply saddened by the Trump and Brexit chapter in politics. It showed how disenfranchised everyone felt, and also how misunderstood we feel not just with politics, but with each other.”
Politics or not, the song does feel like a pillar of hope while illustrating a feeling of being resolute that resonates within the humanity inside all of us – like a shining beacon against the darkness.
In a gig in Singapore last July, the song was dedicated to Azwan – a fan in a wheelchair, who had recently undergone heart surgery, and was unsure if he could actually make it to the gig. He did, and the song was dedicated to him, wishing him a speedy recovery and a better tomorrow.
‘Under The Sun’ is a bright guitar-pop gem which begs for mass-singalongs at a summer festival, and ‘What If’ is a soaring mea culpa in which Lewis’s singing voice goes full-belt against swelling strings.
The latter is a stunning vocal piece, particularly when heard live. Believe me, I know!
Meanwhile, the gospel-inspired drama of ‘Lonely Place’ is heralded by the rhapsodic sound of a full choir which is actually Lewis vocals filtered and effected.
Most days now, Lewis will get up before dawn and walk an hour in Highgate’s serene Waterlow Park, before sitting down for breakfast at a tucked-away nearby cafe with just a good paperback for company.
A recent favourite was philosopher Bertrand Russell’s 1930 lifestyle manifesto The Conquest of Happiness, which inspired the carpe diem message of Lewis’ uplifting 2019 single ‘Hold On To Happiness’.
Lewis’s songs gleam like a rough-cut gem, and 2020 promises great things for this humanist-troubadour whose singular music deserves to be around for a very long time.
We at AsiaLive365 couldn’t agree more! At last year’s gig, my closing statement was this:
“As German romantic writer Jean-Paul Friedrich Richter once said – Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.”
His music still does that to me; shining amidst the darkness. Favourites still include the lyrically part poignant, part incandescently embracing and powerful ‘End Like This’ and ‘Hold On To Happiness’.
While the fresh new tune ‘Good People’ is such a vibe! Good vibes!
Indeed, a year on, and some of his songs are still the “Things I Chose To Remember”….
Listen to his new album below and let us know what you think.