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Concert Preview & Interview: Lee DeWyze

Grant Walters Grant Walters Concert Preview & Interview: Lee DeWyze
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With a new EP, "Castles," forthcoming this fall, the singer-songwriter brings new music to an intimate show at Rumba Café on Thursday night

On October 25, singer-songwriter Lee DeWyze will release Castles – an EP follow-up to his most recent studio album, Paranoia

One of Castles’ three tracks, the irresistibly airy ballad “Night and Day,” was released as a standalone single in April. 

“’Night and Day’ for me is a song that sonically and lyrically walks the line between our reality and our subconscious,” DeWyze explains in a press release from earlier this year. “It’s an anthem of sorts for those who find themselves in need of an escape, because it’s in these moments we can learn the most about ourselves.”

If you’ve followed any part of DeWyze’s career over the past decade-and-a-half, you’ll already be familiar with the sterling musicianship with which he writes, records, produces and performs. His vocal and guitar work is captivating and effortlessly versatile. But, the heart behind them is his undeniable hook.

His earnestness threads everything together tightly, and across the many occasions we’ve had the opportunity to interact, I’ve been perpetually taken by how carefully and considerately he not only contemplates his own musical journey, but also the one he constructs for his audience. How they hear and interpret his work is paramount to his art.

Thursday night, DeWyze will play Rumba Café in SoHud for the first time since 2017, a venue that invites that intimate connection between him and his listeners.

“I love creating this emotional musical bubble and inviting people into it with me,” he says during our phone interview. “That’s the most fulfilling when I’m performing. There’s a big difference between singing for someone than singing at someone. And in that setting, I feel like I can really sing for the people that are there listening.”

Late last week, we had an opportunity to sit down and dig further into his latest batch of songs. Following Castles, which he’ll be supporting on the road for the next several months, DeWyze has plans to release his eighth full-length studio album.

I believe the last time you and I had a conversation was just shortly after you released Paranoia, and we spoke at length about the technical and emotional routes you explored throughout its making. Tell me about Castles and what creative direction you’re now taking with these new songs.

“You know, I’m also curious what creative direction I’m going in…[laughs] But, to be honest with you, I would say for people who have followed me over the years they’d be able to see the obvious combination of everything I’ve done up to this point in my career put into one. The last record was, you know, a little darker, and more experimental sonically…”

It was, definitely. 

“I think on this one, I get a little bit more back to the…I kind of hit that folk vein that runs within me. That’s definitely more prevalent in these upcoming songs than maybe the last record. Honestly – and I hate even saying this, but I also don’t – I feel like these are some of the best songs I’ve written. I truly feel extremely connected to them. And, I think for me to be able to release these songs specifically in an EP format, which I’ve never done before, felt really good – putting out a few songs in preparation for a new record, which is the plan, by the way.

“For me, these songs really have a deeper meaning, and they’re really close to my heart. They’ve very personal, in a way, but still very accessible. I feel like I was really able to get back to some of the things I love about songwriting. There are really elements of the last four records I’ve done. What’s interesting about this record is that I moved my studio, and I’m in a different space now. I’m in a different space physically, and I’m in a different space mentally, as well. And, I think that your environment really plays a part in the art you’re creating. I truly believe that.”

Absolutely. I’ve talked to a lot of artists in the past couple of years who have made physical moves – across the country, out of the city, into a new home – and the impact that’s had on their approach musically has been just monumental.

“I could tell the change of place for me really, really brought something else out in me. And, I’m just really excited about these three songs, particularly ‘Night and Day’ that we’ve released, but I’m also looking forward to people hearing ‘Castles’ and ‘We Were Alive.’”

I ask this because I’m always interested in knowing where the head and the heart meet for artists when they shift their focus, and not because I want to pry into your personal life, but were there things that happened or affected you in the past year that influenced the way in which you wrote the songs for Castles?

“Yeah, I think the main thing that kind of shifted my writing was getting that last album out of me, if that makes sense. It was a record I needed to make and wanted to make, and I did. And, then it kind of lifted some of the…whatever that was off of my shoulders. I really felt free to in a way that…again, I got back to what it was I loved about the songwriting process, which was sitting down and telling a story. On this EP – and not intentionally, necessarily – I really tapped into the emotions in these songs. Songs deal with nostalgia, reflection…and I never really thought about it this way until I just said it, but there is a reflective thing happening with these songs, and a deeper underlying thing going on emotionally that I think will resonate with people. 

“I just sort of wrote the songs and built around them. I had a plan – and I never really do feel like I have a plan when I make albums. The best way I can describe it is when sometimes just certain flowers are in bloom. And it feels that way with songwriting to me – when the time is right and all the planets align, they start to sprout. That’s how I feel about music and me and songs – it’s that creative writing side of me. I’m not someone that’s just writing all day, every day, all the time. It’s more when the music starts to come, it rushes in, you know?

“With these songs, it was just a flood of emotion – that they needed to be written. ‘Castles’ is one for which I’ve had an idea for a long time, actually. It’s almost like that seed was planted in my brain and, like I said, it just started to sprout. It’s why I named the EP after it – it’s very special to me. I think people are going to love it. There’s something about it that just feels very organic to me. 

“I write in a very visual way, and I like my songs to be this little soundtrack to whatever movie people are playing in their heads when they hear it. And there’s imagery that is always there when I write, and when I perform them, the same images are there. The songs will mean different things to different people, for sure, but I think I was able to tap into something really special in the writing and in the production of them, as well, that I haven’t been connected to in quite the same way in a long time.”

You’ve always been extremely adept at communicating a vision through your music in that sort of cinematic or photographic manner. When I heard “Night and Day” and you described it as a sort of twilight repose, I immediately got that sense as soon as the song started. Songs are always open to interpretation, but I think your work conveys a general idea or emotion so well to your listeners. It’s easy to feel a connection to you as a songwriter and singer in that way.

“I take that as a huge compliment. For ‘Night and Day’ and the rest of the songs on Castles, the goal was to make people feel a certain way. ‘Castles’ talks about that feeling of when you’re a kid. And you have those moments in life where there’s something you’ll hear or you’ll see that will take you back there. You’ll hear people say, ‘wow! I was just taken back to when I was a kid!’ It’s a feeling you can’t really ever get back. You can experience it for just a few moments at a time. The song is very reflective of that – it’s about having to let go of certain parts of yourself, while also maybe having to uncover things you’ve buried. It’s dealing with that, and the release of some of those things, as well. When I first wrote it, I don’t know that I knew exactly what it was – and then I listened to it and I was just, like, ‘wow, okay!’ 

“It’s interesting sometimes that you write about one thing but don’t realize you’re really writing it about another. You know what you’re writing about, and you know why you’re writing it. But, then it kind of takes on a life of its own. Once it does that, it starts to become something different.”

You’ll be touring this summer and fall, and you mentioned you’ll be playing these new songs at upcoming shows. What are you most excited for your audience to experience?

“I’m really excited for people to hear ‘We Were Alive,’ because I love the production on that and what we were able to do in the studio. That song is this emotional climb until the very end, and when you get to the end, you get to reach the top – if that makes sense. And, it feels really good. 

“I want people to listen to these new songs and not just hear them, but garner an emotional response to them one way or the other.”

Lee DeWyze will take the stage on Thursday, August 22 at Rumba Café, 2507 Summit St. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; show begins at 8:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $20.00; VIP meet & greet tickets are $70.00 (plus applicable taxes and fees), and are available via TicketWeb. Learn more about Lee’s music via his official website, or follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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