Enthused by the rapid growth of his devoted online fan-base which he earned after posting a series of home-recorded performances to YouTube, Lewis Watson self-released his debut EP It’s Got Four Sad Songs On It BTW in the summer of 2012. It topped the iTunes singer-songwriter chart on the first day of release,outselling the likes of Adele, Madonna and Ed Sheeran in the process, and landed the then nineteen-year-old singer-songwriter a deal with Warner Bros.Records.
Lewis’s profile has continued to grow ever since. All five of his EPs to date have hit the Top 10 at iTunes, each building on the sales of the previous release. Now he finds himself in an unconventional yet enviable position. After already effectively releasing two full albums worth of material, his debut album The Morning will be unleashed this summer.
Alongside playing almost ninety shows across three continents, Lewis dedicated most of 2013 to writing new material for possible inclusion on the album. “There were times where I really disliked writing every day. It felt like more of chore than I thought it should’ve,” he admits. “But it was a great problem to have tobe able to look back at sixty songs and say, ‘I want these on the album.’ The ones that I chose really are the cream of the crop.”
Lewis’s reward was that his extensive writing sessions yielded the majority of thematerial that features on the album. Some were written at the last possiblemoment, and select others have been released before in sketch form – the oldest being Windows that originally featured on his debut EP.
“I’m not a fan of just repackaging old material. The original EPs were meant to be works in progress. and these versions are much more polished,” he continues,noting that a special 37-track version of the album complete with all of the EPs and a bonus disc of unreleased material will also be released. “I wanted people to be able to see the journey of me as an artist and the evolution of the songs. If I was a fan, I’d love to be able to see someone do that. It’s been an unorthodox process, but I feel very lucky that I’ve had that opportunity.”
The album’s first full single Stay demonstrates his evolution as a songwriter with a rich, nuanced production contrasting with the stripped-back acoustic approach of much of his prior material. “Once I’d written Stay, I wanted the rest of the album to sound like that,” he explains, with the likes of Outgrow. Close and Castle Street following a similar approach. “I didn’t want everything to become too band-orientated. I still wanted the essence to be just me and a guitar, but with other textures around me to make for a bigger sound.”
Stay was inspired by a dream and, he laughs, Tenacious D’s Tribute: “A girl was playing a pedal steel guitar and she was playing the most beautiful song that I’d never heard before. I remember telling myself to wake up and write this song. But it was so nice, it was like a lullaby – the more she played, the more relaxed I felt.Maybe four or five hours had passed and when I woke up I’d completely forgotten the song…. So Stay is about the girl and that song and about how I wish I could remember it.”
The accompanying video – the most obviously narrative and cinematic of Lewis’s to date – was directed by Submarine actor Craig Roberts, who was chosen for the strength of his idea. Indeed, it wasn’t until the pair met that Lewis recognised him. Model Ellie Burton plays Lewis’s love interest in a video that was shot in eight hours in a graveyard in Cardiff.
The second single will be Holding On which is another example of Lewis’s power at writing songs which take flight from their initial intimacy. The swathes of choral vocal harmonies at the song’s crescendo are provided by a selection of his old touring companions including Charlie Simpson, Saint Raymond and Kimberly Anne.
Last year also saw a huge evolution within Lewis’s live shows: the nature of his audience became more eclectic and the size of his shows grew substantially, notably in London where he progressed from the 350-capacity King’s College to selling out all 1400 tickets at Koko just eight months later. Along the way there was a memorable three-shows-in-a-night residency at St. Moritz which saw fans snaking around Soho in the hope of getting in, as well as a debut double-bill of sets at Glastonbury.
As he recalls: “I always wanted to go as a punter, so to be able to go and play it – twice, in my first full year of touring festivals – was just insane. It was something that I still feel so proud about and that I was so happy to do. We stayed there all weekend, camped on this really crap hill, got drunk and had a really good time.”
Set to lyrical themes which reflect his own personal experiences, the release of The Morning marks a new stage in his blossoming career. “Songwriting’s just like anything else,the more you practice, the better you get,” is his summary of what he has learned along the way. “But creativity isn’t something you can just turn on and off – some days you’re just destined not to write a song.”
And what about on personal level?
“One conclusion we can draw from this album is that I’m terrible at relationships,” he laughs in acknowledgement of his often lovelorn lyrical themes. Heartache hurts, but it clearly provides a wealth of inspiration once The Morning rolls around once more.