interview by Michael McCarthy
Born in Australia and currently residing in Nashville, Quinn Lewis is one of today’s most interesting up and coming singer/songwriters. While he originally moved to Nashville to do more traditional songwriter fare, he soon switched gears and now makes exquisitely produced music that blurs the lines between electro-pop and R&B with soulful vocals. His new EP, Addicted, drops on October 14th, but you can listen to most of the songs on Soundcloud and Spotify right now. So, let’s listen and chat with the man himself…
MM: I know you’re originally from Australia. Whereabouts in Australia were you born?
QL: I was born in Brisbane, Australia and I lived there for about two years and then my family moved to Auckland, New Zealand and then we moved to North Carolina and LA again later on through high school. So, all over the place, but born in Brisbane and still call Brisbane home, that’s for sure.
MM: How old were you when you moved to Nashville?
QL: I was eighteen when I moved to Nashville. I came for school and then the [city] sort of took over.
MM: Were you going to school for music?
QL: Yup. I went to Belmont for music business for two years. And then this semester I decided I needed more time to do my artistry, so I’m doing Berklee online through Berklee Boston. I’m pursuing music production through them and just have more time to make some more money on the side through my day job. Do things like the road trip in New York we’re doing right now.
MM: Where are you playing in New York?
QL: Delancey Bar. It’s in the lower east side.
MM: Do you do a lot of open mic nights and such in Nashville?
QL: I did a few when I first came to Nashville but when I came to Nashville I really kind of found my electro-pop sound. Writers rounds became pretty difficult to do. I was producing all these tracks inside these songs and then trying to find ways to do them justice just an acoustic guitar in a round was super difficult. So, I kind of had to pick and choose which ones came across well through those rounds. So, those kind of phased out as I got more into inside the box production. But now that we have – when I say we, my co-producer Danen, he’s also my backing guy – so now we have a way of doing those songs justice not only full but in just electronic ways. I think we’re gonna start getting out more to kind of pop rounds that are showing up a lot more in Nashville.
MM: Did you do any different types of music before you got into the electro-R&B thing?
QL: Yeah, I made a pretty bad EP. [Laughs] It was not great. I came to Nashville kind of expecting to do more organic music and linked up with my roommate, who was an unbelievable guitar player, but we had so different interests in music but for some reason we were like, “this will work, let’s do this,” and that kind of got down the road of what we were calling our EP for what we saw as our band and realized, hey, this wasn’t gonna work for us as a group. And then I made the decision, well, seeing how I wrote the songs I’ll make it into my EP. I kind of had a huge learning experience, what it was like being in the studio and how things can really go wrong if you don’t have creative control and I would never, ever take it back but [it] definitely lead me more to find how I wanted to be making music. The way my sound really comes through in production.
MM: I know you play guitar. How old were you when you learned that?
QL: I started kind of self-teaching at thirteen. I got a David Taylor from Mum and Dad as a Christmas present and then I picked it up off and on, thirteen, fourteen, and so on. And that was kind of the only thing I had going until I was about sixteen and music started taking over. When I was sixteen I really started diving into trying to get better at guitar, trying to hone in on my skills. So, I would say, seriously, when I was sixteen.
MM: Did you ever take lessons at any point?
QL: I took like a month of lessons and then just, I don’t know, I wasn’t patient enough. I regret not being patient enough, looking back, but, yeah, just a month of lessons and now kind of just still continuing on with the self-training. But, really, diving into more for practice than just trying to get by.
MM: I understand you co-produced addicted with Danen Reed, who also did some co-writing with you. How does the collaboration usually work with him? Do you usually start with beats when you write a song or…?
QL: The first time we started working together I pulled him aside – he was working with my roommate at the time. He was in a band with him. He was their drummer. I pulled him aside and was like, “Hey, man, I’m awful at drum programming. Will you have a listen to this and tell me what you think?” He was like, “You should definitely try something like Sam Smith’s type high hats.” I was like, “Dude, Sam Smith is the best.” We kind of bonded over that and he started jamming on production with my previous stuff and we slowly started working together more and more and he would send me something and be like, “What do you think of this? Do you think it’s lame or do you like this?” I would be like, “I love this. Can we write to this?” So, we kind of started linking up. And now it’s like the EP was two songs that I had written in the past that I took Danen and was like, “How can we make these better?” And I got him in on that. And then a few songs that we started from scratch. And then backing tracks that he sent me and was like, “What do you think about this?” And I texted him, “Let’s work on this tonight.” So, it was kind of a mix. It comes about in funny ways, but it’s always pretty interesting, linking up together, it seems to flow really, really well, which is so fun to have.
MM: I think my favorite of your songs is “Addicted,” which is an interesting song because it’s very electro, but at the same time it has some elements of trap rap music to the percussion. What were the influences on that one?
QL: I wrote “Addicted” probably three years ago now just on guitar. Still using Garage Band, trying to make something cool. Just tracked the guitars and the vocals and the basics, just super simple, and kind of just sat on it. It was funny, that was when I started to share my stuff with my parents, like, “Hey, what do you think about this? I self-produced this.” And it was funny my Dad pretty blatantly was like, “Yeah, it’s good. But it’s not ready to put out.” I was like, “Oh, OK.” So, we didn’t. And then I took it to Danen and he was like, “Can I just try something?” I was like, “Hell yeah, yeah, try something.” So, he programmed those drums and we just kind of fell in love with the way it went. Like you said, that track kind of has that drop in there and it kind of brought out a whole new element of the song. So, blending those together was super cool and I don’t know what made him want to do it but it was killer and it took the song to another level so I was pretty grateful for that to happen.
MM: Did that end up being the first track you released from the new EP?
QL: No. So, we started with “Rooftop.” “Addicted” was actually the third to come out. The EP itself is a five song EP. So, we wanted to do one a month until the five were out and then have it out as a collected project. We started off with “Rooftop,” which is a track that we started from scratch together, and then did “Heartbreaker” and “Addicted” and then last Friday we put out “Bridges,” which is like a super fancy pop track that we love. And then on the 14th, I think we’re gonna drop our last song and kind of have it out as a collective projected.
MM: Which one is that?
QL: It’s called “Burn Out The Lights.” It’s another song that I wrote a while back and took to Danen and was like, “How can we give this new life?” We just kind of took away a few things, improved on some things and then pushed it to where it should have been and kind of found the sound for that one.
MM: I really like the funk sound of the bass guitar in “Bridges.” Who came up with that part?
QL: That was all Danen. I’ve got to give him credit on that. It’s funny. We were talking about this the other day. People are always like, “Who plays bass on that track?” It’s like pretty crazy how, looking back, we got that sound to come through that song. I grew up listening to Michael McDonald and R&B, kind of like soul, so when that came through we were freaking out when we put that together and he killed it on that one.
MM: Is “Heartbreaker” about someone in particular or more of a general feeling?
QL: It started out super specific. An ex of mine that more so I ended things but the way that I had ended things and the way that I saw it effect her, just that was the thing that really destroyed me. That feeling of hurting someone without trying to hurt them. It took over me and it influenced a big period of my life but as we look back on the track and the track itself evolved it definitely became more general about the fact that we can do that. That we can hurt people. That was the one thing that for me and a lot of people that I know could bring up now more than anything is the fact that we could hurt someone, that that could be the thing, to be your heart breaker. Soul shaker. As cop out of a lyric you could call that, I feel like it’s under-rated. I mean, I’m saying that about my own song, so that’s pretty cheesy, but, I don’t know, it shakes you down to your soul. It’s something that can rock you if it effects you in a certain way. So, that’s kind of what that one’s about.
MM: What formats will your Addicted EP released on? Will it be on vinyl or CD or just digitally?
QL: Yeah, we’ve just been thinking digitally. We haven’t talked about doing vinyl or CDs yet. As we start to book more gigs, I think we might start thinking about that. I would love to – if enough people respond – do some sort of vinyl giveaway or vinyl push now that vinyl’s around and it’s doing well. If there’s a way for us to do that I’d love to be able to do that.
MM: What do you think of the vinyl resurgence that’s been happening over the last several years? Are you a fan of vinyl?
QL: I am. Sadly, I don’t have a record player at the moment. Every time I’ve been in a position to buy one a musical buy for production or for gigging has trumped buying a record player, but I own a few records. Even if – I can’t listen to my records – but it’s something sentimental. It’s a way to have a tangible. [Unlike] digital music, it’s a tangible way to keep that music with you. You know it’s never going anywhere if you can hold that. For me, it’s a way to capture the artists that have had a huge impact on me and that I want to keep with me longer than a playlist on my phone that might go away if I do an update. The first record on vinyl I ever bought was In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith, and that will forever mean everything to me.
MM: Did you sell your CD collection when mp3s became all the rage or do you still have your CDs?
QL: Sadly, I was a digital baby. I didn’t have enough CDs to even try and sell someone.
QL: My Mum and Dad have boxes of CDs though back at the house that they’ll never bring themselves to get rid of, that’s for sure.
MM: What are your plans to otherwise tour or perform live to support the new EP?
QL: We don’t have like a set tour or anything, just because we haven’t lined anything up, but a few opportunities have kind of just jumped out at us and we latched onto them and it’s really hard to say no to good shows. If they pop up, we’ll want to do them and definitely try to make it a point to get around to the cities that listen to us. The cool thing about being able to see your digital statistics is you’re able to see where people are listening to you. The show in New York – looking at our stats on Soundcloud our top cities are Nashville and then New York, Brooklyn. So, it’s like I want to go and see those people that listen to us. Especially when the numbers are small, these are they people, they care and I want to go find them. Trying to get to those cities where people are listening is the plan for now. Just trying to do it in ways that do us justice, that we can see all those people and get to them. Hopefully, we can string together something a little more organized. We’d love to do that as well, but that’s for down the road.
MM: Where else are you seeing that you’re getting the most plays?
QL: It’s looking like New York, LA are our top cities right now for sure, but then Nashville’s up there. I mean, living in Nashville it’s our top city, so that’s good to see. But it’s cool we’ve got like a random Kiev bump, so we’d like to make our way over there somehow. We’ll just see about that. It’s cool to see that international. I was looking on the other day. We’ve got a little Sweden bump, Kiev bump and of course New Zealand’s rooting for us as well. I definitely would like to get over there as soon as possible.
MM: Do you prefer performing live or making music in the studio?
QL: That’s so tough. An awesome question. So tough to answer though. I don’t know. I think the more we play live, the more I just love doing it and the more it just kind of takes over. There’s nothing that trumps that feeling. So, I guess that’s gotta be my answer, playing live, but I get the same feeling when we’re working on new tracks, listening to the first [mix] and being like, this is it, this is it, kind of feeling. It’s about the same feeling when the show’s over, you know? That’s tough. Right now it’s definitely live. Being able to do justice to the songs we’ve put our blood, sweat and tears into means everything to me. So, that’s playing live right now. Ask me in a month, I’ll say the studio.
MM: When you perform live do you do any covers or anything where you’ve only put out so many songs so far?
QL: We are. I mentioned Sam Smith being a huge influence on me so we do a “Latch” cover. We strip that one down and just get to have fun with that and get a little emotional and share that with people. And we’ve got some other fun covers here and there. “Suga Suga” is like one of my all-time – not necessarily a guilty pleasure – but a track that I’ll always absolutely love by Baby Bash. We’ll give that one a go every once in a while. We’re working on some other covers to work into the set. We’re super, super new to live, so we’re working out some kinks and getting everything to where we want it to be.
MM: You collaborated on a track with Chris Buxton called “Nights Like This.” How did that collaboration come about?
QL: Chris actually reached out to me just through Soundcloud. He stumbled across a link to a previously released song that’s not actually out anymore called “Super Sweet.” He was like, “Man, I really like your writing on this. I would like to collab.” He sent me the track and was like – he told me the back story of what he wanted it to be about and he was like, “Sometimes I like those nights that are like this” and I was like, so, “Nights Like This” and I just kind of went with that. He sent me back his verses. I absolutely loved it. So, we got that all sorted and we put it out and it’s done really, really well for him. And I’ve seen a bit of follow through from his followers who come check out my stuff and leave some kind words. So, it’s cool. It’s cool that people can just e-mail someone and be like, hey, let’s work together. He’s from South Carolina. Being able to work with him from Nashville, it’s pretty crazy. I like that kind of stuff.
MM: Do you have any other collaborations in the works?
QL: Not at the moment. I’ve been co-writing a little bit around Nashville with some amazing pop writers and a few other producers as well, but nothing is finished up yet. Hopefully, getting those done in the next couple months and maybe putting something out after that. So, no other collabs for the moment.
MM: I noticed you have a tattoo of a deer on your arm. What does that represent?
QL: I’m super symbolic. This deer kept popping up all over the place in my life on random social media posts and in a few articles I was reading. I was like, this is weird. I’m not usually one to believe in that kind of thing but since I was seeing this everywhere I decided I’ve gotta look up with this means and I saw a few ones that relation to dear is really cohesive across artists and poets. Especially in Native American belief deer are the best at finding nutrients deep in the forest and if you feel that connection to them it correlates to bringing the best from deep inside of you in your art and your music. That kind of just blew me away that that was so spot on me. The fact that the deer and the trees – they kind of form into one down the bottom and then my flowers with petals falling just kind of saying I am the deer. I am the forest. I bring the best out of me through my music and always changing. Definitely my take and my symbolism going on, but, yeah. I’m glad you noticed that actually. People don’t seem to pick up on that.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
QL: I gotta go MJ. I gotta go with Michael Jackson.
MM: Are you a big fan of his?
QL: I am. I mean, he’s the king. He was always the best. There’s no competition. I would love to see him in his prime. Jackson 5 prime. That would be ideal.
MM: Name three artists from your parents record collection who you actually like?
QL: OK, Michael McDonald, Crowded House, James Taylor.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
QL: It was In The Lonely Hour [Sam Smith]. It took a long time for me to get off my parents payroll and do my own thing, sadly, but I got that record and started my collection when I came to Nashville.
MM: Name five of your favorite movies.
QL: Oceans 11 – I think that’s one of the all-time greats. Saving Private Ryan, just awesome. I’m gonna go animated with The Incredibles. We actually watched that on the drive. What else? I’ve gotta think here. I’ve gotta pick good ones now. School of Rock – easy. School of Rock and then what’s number five? Disturbia. So good. I’m not a thriller fan, but Disturbia, I’ll watch it any day of the week. I love it.
MM: What’s the most awkward exchange you’ve ever had with a fellow musician?
QL: That’s tough.
MM: Are there a lot of them?
QL: No. Sadly, it’s all good, good. I’m trying to think back. There’s a much bigger artist I’ll leave unnamed that I really, really look up to and I went up to one of his shows and he was standing in the back and I walked up to him and was like, “Hey, man. I really love what you’ve been doing and just wanted to say thank you for what you do. Can’t wait to see you perform tonight.” He’s like “Thanks, man. What’s your name?” And I go, “Quinn” and he goes, “Quinn Lewis from Twitter.” And immediately it was like you think I’m a stalker. You think I am the craziest person in the world. I was like, “I am not a stalker. I just really like your music. I will leave you alone now.” But he was super cool about it. Hung out and talked to me afterward. It was pretty cool. It definitely went from me feeling really, really awkward to him a nice guy about it for sure.
MM: What is your biggest pet peeve?
QL: I think my entire family is insanely annoyed by loud breathing and chewing. It gets to the point where we’ll call each other out for it, too. It’s a struggle. We hold back a lot. That’s for sure. But that makes us sound crazy, I know.
MM: Have you ever thought about being an actor?
QL: I’ve definitely fantasized about it, but I don’t think I would be good enough. The movie would probably go bankrupt with the amount of takes it would take for me to get it right. I definitely have fantasized about it before.
MM: What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever been given by a fan?
QL: I haven’t actually gotten any gifts from fans yet.
MM: What was the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given and who gave it to you?
QL: I would say probably my Mum and Dad. Just to say they from day one wanted me and my brother and sister to do what we love and to give our all to it. They’re there every step of the way with new tracks and giving criticism when I need it. A shoulder to lean on when I need it. Definitely my Mum and Dad saying do what you love and do it well.
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Extra special thanks to Quinn for taking the time to do this interview! Thanks also to Allie at Girlie Action for arranging it!