Dean Lewis was on a plane when he heard a phrase that struck him like a bolt of lightning.
“An in-flight-radio DJ said, ‘I wish that was a place we’d known about’,” recalls the Sydney singer-songwriter. “I went to my notes and wrote ‘A Place We Knew’ and was like, that’s the album title. That ties everything together.”
That mood resonates through the title track, a song of hope and heartbreak built around Lewis’s passionate voice, deeply personal storytelling and his familiar, raw brand of acoustic songwriting. He penned it about the seismic change in his life brought on by the success of 2016 debut single “Waves”, after which the songwriter found himself traveling the globe and living out of hotel rooms, to the detriment of his relationship at the time.
The slow-building, anthemic “7 Minutes” recounts the first few moments after an argument he had with an ex, as the gravity of the situation dawns: “It’s been half an hour since I dropped you home,” he sings, “and I’m driving past the places we both know, past the bar where we first kissed and that movie that we missed.”
Throughout that period, during which he toured the world and released his debut EP, 2017’s Same Kind Of Different, Lewis came to gain a better understanding of who he is as an artist.
“The EP was me throwing things at a wall. I didn’t really know who I was. Now I have a good sense of what’s me,” he states, pointing to three key ingredients that unite his work: “The way I write lyrics, which is very first person; the acoustic guitar; and the rawness. They’re the three things that tie it all together.”
As an aspiring songwriter without a record deal, Lewis used to go on night drives where he’d listen to his shoddily recorded demos in the car and visualise where he wanted the songs to end up. Not even in his wildest dreams, however, could he have predicted the trajectory his career has taken since the release of “Waves”.
“But one thing I’ve learned,” he says, “is that the self-doubt never goes away: ‘Does my voice sound good? Can I play guitar well enough? Can I sing anymore?’” For a self-styled perfectionist, who in addition to writing every song on the album also played piano and acoustic/electric guitar, perhaps one of the most remarkable things about A Place We Knew is that Lewis is at peace with his creation.
“Every song on the album I can sit down and push ‘play’ and just relax and feel confident and know that they’re really good. I know the success of ‘Be Alright’ might have changed things a little bit, but I think when you release a new song, or an album, you start from zero again and you have to prove yourself.”