Singer Rhys Lewis: When I write music it’s like processing a feeling
If anything makes us sit up and take notice of a new artist, it’s music with a message. And that’s what UK artist Rhys Lewis is all about.
The singer-songwriter’s soulful track Waking Up Without You proved a big hit with digital listeners, shooting to the top of the viral charts. Since its release last year he’s played sold-out shows, headlined gigs and serenaded the crowds at intimate acoustic sets.
“When I write music it’s like processing a feeling,” says Rhys, 26. “I feel like I’ve dealt with something by putting my emotions into words. I can bare my soul.”
The singer grew up in Oxford and started out as a clarinet player, before learning guitar and finding his voice with help from classic albums by Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and Bill Withers.
“Since I was 16, playing open mic nights, I knew I’d love to do this forever, but I didn’t think it was a tangible career,” says Rhys. “Looking at my idols, it was another world.”
Before picking up the mic in public, Rhys was a chef and sang with wedding bands to learn the tricks of the trade.
He then headed to the London College of Creative Media to study music. “Speaking to people there taught me that there was more to being a musician. You could be a songwriter, a composer or an artist, too,” he says.
Rhys’s journey through life in London is where the story begins in his latest single, I Know The Feeling. “When I was at university I was in a little bubble,” he admits. “When I graduated, I left that bubble behind and found myself unemployed with no way of paying my rent. I was hit by panic.
“I wanted to be a musician but there were so many out there – how was I supposed to succeed?”
Waiting tables in the capital city with no gigs, no friends in town and no inspiration, Rhys felt low. But while he struggled, his best friend (an actor) revealed some problems of his own.
“My friend had just turned 30 and was dealing with emotions that came with it for him. He was going through things I can’t quite relate to, but our situations brought us together,” he adds.
Rhys wrote his new single for his friend as a message to say, “I know the feeling.” He’s dealt with plenty of rejection in his early career, just like his actor friend. He knows just how it feels to lose your spark, energy and motivation to follow your dream.
His accompanying music video tells the story of a normal, nice man having a tough time. He struggles through life, wearing clown make-up to hide his feelings. Finally he lets go and has a dance to Rhys’s song.
“There’s an element of sadness to the clown,” Rhys muses. “He’s the guy that makes everyone laugh but no one asks how he’s feeling.
I was the clown in public, full of smiles and having the best time of my life. I was too proud to tell anyone how unhappy I was. London swallowed me up and became the loneliest place in the world.”
When Rhys reflects on the dark time in his life, he thanks music for kicking him back into action. Without a fanbase or friends to give his songs meaning, he found himself at zero. He crafted his feelings into words and wrote a song called Horizon.
“Horizon was all about new beginnings and it was a great way to get things off my chest. I felt isolated but it was my own fault. I could have spoken out.”
At times it seems men’s mental health is still taboo in the public sphere, with phrases like “man up” quashing the confidence to speak up. According to Rhys, “It’s like asking for directions. I find that difficult enough to do, so how on Earth could I talk about how I felt?”
Rhys’s turning point came in the form of a brand-new job, writing music for TV commercials. “I wrote the music for Clover butter spread,” he laughs proudly.
With renewed purpose, the old Rhys bounced back with a bang.
“I had a reason to be writing music everyday. The negativity fell apart and everything felt easier.”
The singer has a simple mantra to keep healthy and happy: Positivity. “I try hard not to make negative thoughts a habit. We should talk about our feelings, no matter how small. It’s not like I’m fine now for the rest of time, but I can talk to people and deal with my emotions.”
As his music grows from strength to strength, Rhys has his sights set away from the charts in favour of his loyal fanbase. “I want to be considered as an artist who puts out music that speaks of me, not of a trend.”
He says he can’t carry off Katy Perry’s dance moves, but with a new album out in 2018, he’s prepared to pull out all the stops on tour and take his music around the world.
“I’m proud of my songs. I don’t care about being number one. I want my songs to find the people they relate to. Let’s book Wembley for next summer.”
We’ll see you there, Rhys.
Rhys’s new single, I Know The Feeling, is out now on Decca Records. His new album will follow in 2018.
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