From good vibes to groove reggae to discussing their 9 musical lives, A&R Factory sat down with Damien Lewis & Caleb Ford from the psychedelic dream of a duo, Lewis & Ford, ahead of the release of their new single, Secret Beach. We thought we loved the music before getting to the sanctifying gist of it. Now we’re head over heels in those psych-pop soundscapes.
What can we expect from your fifth single, Secret Beach?
Caleb: Secret Beach is an ethereal track that is aimed at transporting the listener to another sonic dimension. In the song, the ‘Secret Beach’ is not a place, so much as a state of mind: a place you can go in your mind to get away from all of the stresses and worries of life. We all need that from time to time in this crazy world! Musically it incorporates some of the palettes that we often like to paint with: groovy reggae drum and bass lines, soothing and soaring melodies, and reverb-laden guitar and dreamy synth pads.
Damien: Secret Beach continues the evolution of our sound drawing on our psychedelic pop landscapes and roots in reggae music, we were the founding member of the roots reggae band Revelation in the 2000s
Is there anything that remains a constant through your singles?
Caleb: In the area of lyrics, we aim to tell a story in an eloquent way that leaves the meaning up for various interpretations. We try to stay away from themes and lines that are “too on the nose,” and, rather, say something in a poetic way that sparks the listener’s imagination. Sonically, our music is typically a product of our musical upbringings and tastes. Elements of psychedelic rock, dub reggae, and dream pop often make their way into our tracks, but usually in an organic way. We never try to force anything, and we try to let the songs develop naturally, and keep an open mind to what each composition needs.
Damien: Our aesthetic is very important to us, both as artists and also in how the public views the group. While we do not ever limit ourselves and pour anything into a mold we do have a sound and use certain instruments and production techniques that are part of our DNA. As artists capable of, and having creating music of any genre it’s important for us that the catalog feels fresh with every single yet not random. We don’t make music for anyone but ourselves or to appease any suits. It feels 100% authentic to us at the end of the day.
You’ve both spent a decade touring, writing, and producing material for other artists; what was behind your motivation to embark on your own project?
Caleb: All of the experiences that we have had working on other people’s projects have been incredibly instructive and have contributed to the musicians that we have become. However, we never stopped hearing the call in the back of our minds to make our own music and let our unique voices be heard. Damien has worked with some of the biggest names in pop music and has been nominated for Grammy awards as an audio engineer. This experience has given him a skill set that enables us to take our productions to a level we never would have dreamed of twenty years ago when we first started writing and recording. As for myself, my time away from music earning a PhD in history afforded me many opportunities for travel and intellectual opportunities that have helped me to come back to music with a fresh perspective. In a big way, our life experiences contribute to who we become as people, and our respective experiences over the past decade or two I think really contribute to giving us a unique musical and lyrical voice.
Damien: Well, really we started with our own project in high school. We had a blues band and played every week at a bar in Detroit. Upon graduating we became sidemen for hire in other people’s bands and started working in the studio. We also had a home studio before it was cool around 2003. Eventually, the overwhelming urge to do your own thing takes over as I’m sure everyone can relate to in any industry.
Amalgams of dream pop, psych and American roots can’t be easy to pull off. What’s your creative process like?
Caleb: There is no one right way to write a song. Sometimes it starts with a single lyric or thematic idea, and sometimes it starts with a guitar riff or drum beat. However, one constant in our songwriting process is that we trust each other’s instincts, and are always willing to let the other person try things out, and take the lead if we think they are onto something. The other side of that is that we are willing to accept that sometimes certain things that we thought could work (like a particular lyrical idea, or a bridge, or hook, etc.) don’t end up being right for a particular song. So, you have to throw away your egos, and always be open to what the song needs. Another factor for us is that we are big believers in the idea that different places and environments can spark musical creativity. Because of this, we usually avoid writing and recording in typical recording studio spaces. A lot of our music has been written and recorded in the high desert near Joshua Tree in Southern California, but we have also written songs in historic buildings in our hometown of Detroit, MI, and in the basements of friends in Jamaica Queens. Every place has its own vibe that can influence and inspire the songwriting process.
Damien: We like to think our sound is unique and we certainly don’t model it after anything, it is quite literally a reflection of our musical past and influences. If one was to dig hard enough, you could find inspiration from all of our favorite records from our life in subliminal ways. We have a certain palette of instruments and processing that we use that we consider the colors we paint with. Sometimes we have words or concepts first, sometimes we build the music first and then write the chorus. We find inspiration in writing in unique environments and surroundings. Many of our new songs were written and recorded from random Air BnBs in the southern California deserts.
Sonic good vibes are scarcely so visceral; what’s your secret?
Caleb: I think the sonic vibrations of our music are really a combination of many factors: our experiences as musicians and people, our respective skill sets, and a combination of our musical influences (everything from reggae, psych rock, classic soul and r&b, gospel, surf rock, and even classic country). We try to take the best from all of those influences and fuse them into our compositions in a natural and organic way. But, again, it is never forced. That’s just the music that comes out of our hearts and imaginations.
Damien: 20 years of writing and producing records, thousands of live shows from 12 to 12,000 people lol. We’ve had 9 lives musically from blues, reggae, funk and pop. Lewis & Ford feels like our most authentic selves right now. We draw upon our life experiences but we are never afraid to push ourselves into new spaces. At the end of the day, the song has to be amazing, that’s the secret really, it’s in the writing. It’s easy to make things sound cool now but can you write a great song and a great hook? That’s the secret sauce we spread around.
As songwriting partners, how would you say your styles complement each other?
Caleb: We grew up with a lot of the same influences (Motown, ‘60s and ‘70s rock, reggae, etc.), so we come from a very similar place and share a lot of the same musical tastes. That makes working together a natural and easy process. I think the other aspect is that we have different strengths that compliment each other well. Damien is a wizard when it comes to production, and has a knack for knowing just what a song needs when it comes to textures and ear candy. He is also a gifted and clever lyricist, with a keen ear for melody and harmony. Also, because drums were his main instrument for a long time, he has a great sense for finding the perfect grooves and rhythms to propel a song forward. On my end, I just try to sing and play guitar (and sometimes keys) in a way that makes a song interesting and pulls the listener in. I also love harmonies (which I think comes from both my gospel upbringing and my love of the Beach Boys, Beatles, Pink Floyd, and other groups that utilized harmonies in an evocative and moving way). Lyrically, I am influenced as much by nineteenth-century English romantic poets as I am by modern raconteurs like Dylan, Lennon, and Marley.
Damien: That’s one of our biggest strengths. Between the two of us, we can play every instrument (which we do on every record) we don’t really use any outside musicians. Our long relationship as friends allows us to tap into a kind of subliminal communication. We also don’t approach any idea or performance be it good or bad with any ego or judgement. We are good at respectfully pushing each other to get the best out of ourselves. Making music together is effortless and fun, we walk away from every session with something good.
(here’s to hoping) Is there a debut album in the pipeline?
Caleb: There absolutely is a debut album in the pipeline. I think we are aiming for the summer of 2023 for that, so stay tuned!
Damien: Yes we have a lot more music on the way, we plan on releasing a steady stream of singles, the next 3 are already lined up. Then we will most likely package everything together with some new material. It’s a singles world once again and we actually prefer it that way.
Listen to Lewis & Ford on Spotify. Connect with them via Facebook and Instagram.
Interview by Amelia Vandergast