Soulful Sam Lewis is a rising Nashville songwriting force.
A few months back, a good friend of mine in Nashville told me that I really needed to hear her roommate sing. Really. I did. Knowing her to be a fantastic judge of music, I did check him out. And she was right. I really needed to hear him. Her roommate turned out to be Sam Lewis, one of the brightest new voices on the Music City’s singer/songwriter circuit. Sam writes tunes that are both deeply soulful and startlingly honest. BRO recently caught up with Sam to chat music and his debut record, which released on March 13th.
BRO – I’ve always thought that if you stood in the middle of a street in Nashville and tossed a ball in any direction, it would probably be caught by a songwriter. How does a young songwriter like yourself go about getting your voice heard in a place where there are already so many voices?
SL –I kind of crept in here through Murfreesboro. I took a timeout when I moved from Knoxville – I’d been playing a lot and got distracted and took an eight month hiatus in Murfreesboro. I ended up writing a bunch of stuff and, since I was only 25 minutes from Nashville, I would pop up from time to time to network and play some songwriter rounds. I learned quickly that those kinds of things were not for me. I like writing on my own. I like to sing the tunes. I am selfish with my crowd. I am not afraid to share what I do with people, but I really like to build a connection with listeners and I am very leery of who I am passing my songs over to. With Nashville, you just have to find where you belong. The whole reason I moved here was because my biggest heroes live and work here. Maybe I could get to meet them, hear them, play with them, or even record with them. And when you hang out with people who are better than you, you are going to get better. That was in the back of my mind.
BRO – It’s got to be a nice shot in the arm when one of the best pickers in Nashville – Kenny Vaughan – says he wants to play with you.
SL – Yeah. It is. Right now, I could call him. And he might not answer, because it is dinner time, but he’d call me back. That alone is crazy. I didn’t meet Kenny until he walked into the studio with his guitars. I introduced myself and thanked him for coming in – to me it was a huge deal. To him, it was probably just another day. He’d probably already done it three times that week. My producer told me he was going to try to get him and I just laughed. But he did it. So we played the tunes and did them all live. After the session, Kenny stuck around for a bit. And then he stayed longer. After the fact, some folks told me that he didn’t usually do that. But he got involved with what was going on, listening to what was going on at the board. We ended up chatting about playing some shows and he was interested. It was truly like meeting someone who was going to become your best friend or someone you were going to know for a really long time. It made total sense to me. And it’s humbling. I don’t know half of the shit he does on the guitar. But I know I like it a lot. And I don’t think there are many people who can make a song sound the way he does.
BRO – In your songwriting, is there a hesitancy that comes with writing a tune like “A Southern Greek Tragedy,” which is so overtly personal?
SL – Oh, yeah. Definitely. When I wrote that it was a complete exercise. I had no intention of sharing it with anyone. But I worked on it and worked on it. It was one of the hardest songs I have ever had to write. I was dealing with some things and trying to sort things out in my brain – that’s why I write songs. I can only think about things for so long before it has to come out. While writing it, I didn’t care who heard it, because it wasn’t meant to be shared. But then I realized, during the writing, that I was sharing these experiences through my mother’s eyes. That made it easier to test out, so I played it a few times and the feedback was instant. I even played it for my parents and my sisters – they were totally supportive. And I can’t imagine being them and hearing that song for the first time – or the hundredth time. It’s all there. I had to take this chance to write this song. I might not write an autobiography, but this song stands for something.
BRO – “Equal Love” is another tune that gets pretty personal.
SL – That’s another one I wrote in Murfreesboro. I got to messing around on the piano. That is probably the first or second tune I figured out on the keyboard. My dad married my mom when I was about five. He was happy to have me and it was super cool. It’s like he has always been there. There are a lot of people out there that have stepparents that actually forget that fact – that they are stepparents. And that’s awesome.
BRO – You mentioned early your musical heroes. Who are they?
SL – Man, I have tons. I can remember getting into my dad’s records when I was five and finding Little Richard. And I flipped out over Elvis. In the early 90s, Michael Jackson. What an entertainer. But none of that really stuck with me. One dude that did stick with me was Roy Orbison. I can remember being seven and getting my hair cut and singing along to Roy Orbison tunes. Bob Dylan turned me on when I was eighteen. I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was cool. And Willie Nelson with his crafting of songs. I still can’t get over Ray Charles – he had a soul you could taste. I learned a lot from Van Morrison. Van’s voice let him say whatever he wanted to say. I got to open for Fred Eaglesmith, a songwriter from Canada. I bought everything he had ever done. John Prine – to be able to say things unlike anybody. He just says what he thinks. Just being honest. You’re going to say stupid stuff from time to time, but sometimes you’ll say something profound. The universe throws you a bone. I can’t live without these artists. They are like my books.
Sam’s debut record released earlier this month, and he’d love to give one to you to check out, so we are going to do a little trivia contest and give a copy of the record to someone who answers the question below correctly. Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by 11:00 A.M. on Thursday, March 22nd. Good Luck!!
Question – Kenny Vaughan is the regular lead guitar player for what fabulous country star?