Over the past few years, Dean Lewis has emerged as a talented singer/songwriter who has built a worldwide following with his heartfelt, passionate songs and strong, soulful voice. Perhaps best known for his global hit “Be Alright,” Lewis has had platinum success and in 2019 he released an impressive debut album, A Place We Knew (on Island Records).
Based in Sydney, Australia, Lewis has built an international fanbase by touring steadily for three years (from 2017 to early 2020). However, when the Covid lockdown started 15 months ago, he (like all artists) has been stuck in his home country, unable to travel abroad or tour.
Despite this predicament, Lewis has made good use of his time during the past year. He has written many new songs, and has finished recording most of the songs for his upcoming second album, which he’s very excited about.
Last month, Lewis released his first new song in a year, an excellent single called “Falling Up.” It’s one of the best songs he’s written, and it’s a solid indication that his second album will further establish him as an acclaimed artist who will return to global status when things open up after Covid.
“Falling Up” is a song that’s full of emotion, and it has a unique title and lyric concept. It’s about the anxiety and thoughts of an artist who may have achieved some of his initial career goals in music, but he realizes that there are still other issues and frustrations that he has to deal with. What also makes the song special is that it has a soaring melody, and Lewis sings the song powerfully.
Lewis’s career as a recording artist began in 2016, when he signed a label deal with Universal Australia & Island Records. He had an immediate impact in Australia with his debut single “Waves,” and in 2017 he released an EP called Same Kind of Different, which included the chart singles “Need You Now,” “Lose My Mind” and “Chemicals.”
Then in 2018, Lewis released his single “Be Alright,” which gradually became a worldwide hit. It was #1 in Australia for five consecutive weeks, and it was Top 5 in several other countries. Notably, it also reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart in the U.S.
Here’s the video of Dean Lewis’ new single, “Falling Up.”
Lewis’s debut album, A Place We Knew, was released in 2019, and it contained “Be Alright” plus the chart singles “7 Minutes,” “Stay Awake,” and his collaboration with DJ/artist Martin Garrix on the single, “Used to Love.”
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Dean Lewis. He tells how he got started as an artist, and he discusses his singles “Falling Up” and “Be Alright.” He also talks about his upcoming album, and his songwriting process.
DK: How did you get started as an artist and songwriter?
Dean Lewis: Well, I was always writing songs in my bedroom, and I would learn by listening to songs by such artists as Oasis, Catfish and the Bottlemen and Bruce Springsteen. As I would write, words would come down, and I’d pick up the guitar and I’d push record, and whatever came down I would record it. Then later on, I started learning the craft of songwriting.
DK: Two years ago, you had a worldwide hit with “Be Alright.” What inspired you to write that song?
Lewis: I was in this relationship, and I saw a message on her phone, and after that relationship ended I wrote this song about that. Then I also included a couple of crazy stories that my friends and family told me over the years. So I combined my story with some stories by friends and family, and came up with the story for “Be Alright.” But this song is really about hope…of going to my brother’s house and he said, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”
I wrote the song on a farm in Melbourne, Australia. I’d gotten a music publishing deal, and at first I would songs for other people. Then Jon Hume and I got together to write. [Around that time] I was in the room on the phone to another ex-girlfriend (laughs), and I was doing this fake rap accent. I was just singing to make her laugh, and the verse came out. Then she said, “You should record that.” So I recorded it and I went into the studio, and then me and Jon started fleshing it out and it became “Be Alright.”
DK: Two years ago, you released your debut album, A Place We Knew. Besides “Be Alright,” what are your favorite songs on the album?
Here’s the video of Dean Lewis’ hit, “Be Alright.”
Lewis: There are three songs from that album that to this day, I still get messaged about. One is “Be Alright,” and the other two are “Waves” and “Half a Man.’ They are very personal songs to me. “Half a Man” is about…How am I supposed to love you when I don’t know who I am? And “Waves” is about getting older every year, and feeling that life’s getting a bit more mundane every year. Those songs were very personal stories that universally connected. And I also love “7 Minutes.”
DK: I really like your new single, “Falling Up.” How did you write this song?
Lewis: I went back to Richmond in London, which is a town that’s on the Thames River that runs through London. And I’d run along the Thames every morning. Then I was in the studio with Merf (of the writing/producing team, TMS) and Phil Plested.
I was riding on a bus in London—it’s a weird story how the song came together. There’s this Hayden Calnin song called “Warm With You.” Hayden Kellman is this incredible Australian artist. And his song came on while I was on the bus there, and I heard the intro with these chords. I said, ”Oh my God.” Then I went into the studio and I started playing the chords. We wrote this song (co-written by Phil Plested, Hayden Calnin and TMS), and it all came out.
In the studio, we recorded the riff and I started singing, “I get so lonely, you get so low, and I looked so stupid when you came to my show.” And I sung that prechorus, and I went back to the verse, and line by line it came out. Every line meant something to me. And then the chanty chorus came after that, and then we had this space for the bridge. I said, “We’ve gotta come up with something for the bridge.” And Merf (of TMS) was recording, and I went to the microphone and sang three different bridges. And the lyrics for the second one was, “I hate the man that I turned into; I’ve come so far, what did I lose? I swear to God I will make it through.”
I was shaking when I sang this. I had been on the road for three years of my life, with “Be Alright” blowing up, and I was thinking… I thought I’d be happy when I get to the next thing…When I get a record deal, when I get a big song in Australia. I would think…What if I had a big song in America? What if I can get my own place (laughs)? Then I got all those things, but I was still bloody stressed and anxious, and that’s stupid because I’ve got so many great things happening in my life. So I realized that’s what “Falling Up” is all about. I realized…This is not right. This is your dream. It was realizing these goals were never gonna make you happy. I’m still trying to figure it out, but that was my diagnosis of my problem.
Here’s the video of Dean Lewis’ first hit, “Waves.”
DK: You’ve been busy writing songs for your next album. Can you talk about your new album?
Lewis: I’ve got two more songs to do. I’ve been stuck in Sydney doing Zooms, instead of being able to tour and travel. But the positive side is that I’ve had a lot of time to write, and so many songs are coming out. I’m like, “Let’s just keep rollin’.” I feel like I’ve written the best songs I’ve ever written. I feel like I’m writing better songs…I’m writing stuff that’s more meaningful.
DK: With your songwriting process, how do you usually come up ideas? Do you usually come up with a title or lyric idea first, or do you like to create the music first?
Lewis: I just pick up the guitar and start playing. Sometimes I’ll be inspired by hearing a new song or seeing a great performance on YouTube of someone playing. You know, greatness inspires creativity. It’s kind of contagious. And I’ll pick up the guitar and start going. Then sometimes, all the words come out. But most of the time, I’ll push record on my iPhone and I’ll record for 10 minutes. And I’ll keep refining it.
I read this book by Mason Currey called Daily Routines. It’s an incredible book. After I finished my first album, I had a year off in L.A.; it was 2019. And I got stuck in this book; when I’d go running I’d listen to it. It was all about these great poets, writers, artists and their routines. A lot of them would start in the morning and work for two to four hours, and that would be it. Then they’d go for walks and stuff.
I was like…Okay, I wanna take this more seriously. So I broke it up into the inspiration phase, which I’ve always done, which is recording ideas on my iPhone. And then I came up with this crafting phase, where I’d start at 10 am and I’d go to 12 noon. And I’d start typing up all the voice memos that I’ve had over the years. You know, there are certain songs that I’d say…I’ve got to finish it. So I’d sit there and type up all the jumbled voice memos which would take a lot of work. Then I’d start refining it and find the parts that made more sense. Then I’d record a demo; it might take me a couple days.
I wanted to become more professional at it. Because in the past, I relied on just letting things flow down. But the crafting thing that I brought into my songwriting has changed my life. The songs are better and it’s taken more seriously.
On my new album, I wrote about half the songs on my own, and half I’m co-writing. I think it’s important to write songs on your own, and then also try to bring other people in and spark ideas back and forth. I think it’s the best of two worlds.