First shooting to fame in 2015 as the ‘singing’ cop’ in a viral video shared by PM Lee Hsien Loong, 20-year old singer-songwriter Lewis Loh, better known by his stage name LEW, has since ORD-ed and seems to be on a real winning streak – he’s already received over a million plays on his songs on Spotify and recently launched his debut LP with a live concert over at the Esplanade’s spanking new Annexe Studio.
Meeting him in person at a cafe one afternoon, LEW is exactly how you’d imagine him as you listen to his husky, breathy voice croon songs of love and heartbreak. LEW is an extremely driven and down to earth individual, believing in the power of his music and lyrics. Realizing that he must first believe in his own work before expecting others to believe in him, he admits that it could have potentially have been a very lonely journey to where he was today, but because of that continued belief, he has never truly needed to seek validation from anyone, and lets his music speak for itself.
Even with his current train of success, LEW is still constantly growing as an artist, and in fact, leaves for the prestigious Berklee College of Music to pursue his higher education in just a little under a week. He explains that as a songwriter, there are always three main intents when it comes to making it big: the first being writing for money, the second being writing songs for yourself, and thirdly, writing songs for others. Each artists prioritises these intentions in different orders, and for himself, prioritises writing for others before himself, and finally for money. That’s not to say money isn’t important to him, but his main motivating factor for songwriting derives from a strange kind of ‘negativity’. In wanting to express his sadness and heartbreaks, he moulds his emotions into creative energy that he hopes will resonate with others.
When it comes to his songwriting influences, LEW cites Passenger frontman Michael David Rosenberg as his main inspiration, due to how Passenger’s songs tend to be written intelligently, and not always literally. Hoping that his songs carry a similar kind of listenership, LEW prefers writing his songs metaphorically, allowing his listeners’ imaginations to give each and every one of them a unique experience in interpreting his music and lyrics. Even though all of his songs are essentially about love, each song is written about a different aspect of love, from devastating breakups to the tiny bumps in a relationship to finding love. LEW enjoys experimenting with his narrative perspectives as well, at times writing from a third person point of view or imagining writing from a different person’s position, allowing him to expand his scope and see these concepts in a new light.
Surprisingly, LEW wants to distance himself from one of his original megahits, ‘Two’. Looking back on the song, LEW explains that he can’t stand how repetitive it is, and how he’s matured and grown a lot as a songwriter since then. LEW personally appreciates the thinking listeners who make an effort to appreciate his less obvious songs, and is always pleasantly surprised when an audience member comes up to him after a show and cites an unexpected song as their favourite. Of the 13 songs on Lullacry, he hopes most people end up finding at least one they can relate to at some point.
On his first single from Lullacry, ‘Loved You So’, LEW explains that despite it being one of the most literal tracks on the album, it’s one of the songs that presents him at his most raw, having written it in a particularly vulnerable state where his lyrics represent the most natural elements of his psyche at the time. For LEW, he wants to use his songwriting gifts as a form of detox for others, creating transformational music that somehow helps others sleep better at night, after having a good cry listening to his music, hence the name Lullacry.
LEW once mentioned in an interview that he was invited to join international singing reality shows, but refused due to his National Service commitments. He admits that even now after ORD-ing, he still does not intend to join any. Even though these reality shows are in a sense, a shortcut into the industry, the image associated with them would corrupt the path he wants to take with his career. He feels that the majority of the ‘successes’ that emerge from these reality shows only have about a year or so to capitalize on their limited television fame, after which they will always be remembered as a reality show contestant and not a singer in their own right that’s built their career on loyal fans and years of hard work, recognizable not because of their face but because of their art. For LEW, the most important part of his artistry is in the creation and songwriting process, and he never wants to be shackled to a label or contract where he ends up singing other songwriters’ songs, and his fear of losing the essence of himself in doing that, even saying that if he didn’t sing his own songs, he’d rather end up being a doctor or a lawyer instead.
LEW’s biggest pillars of support lie in his audience, as without them, his art would cease to have meaning, due to the nature of how music needs listeners. LEW is also thankful for his immediate family – his mother, his father and twin sister, as well as the countless friends and industry professionals, such as mentor Sara Wee of 53A, who’ve helped him along the way. LEW admits he realizes his meteoric rise to success has been extremely fortunate, different from many artists who have struggled for years and still haven’t reached the same level as he has, and that he has been lucky enough to have a constantly snowballing career and never know what it feels like not to get a show. But despite all that, he remains extremely humble and full of respect for his peers, particularly the singer-songwriters such as Linying, Charlie Lim, Jamie Mok and so on, writing their songs out of a non-contrived headspace and not writing for the wrong reasons such as fame or money. Ultimately, LEW hopes to continue on this track for life, signing with a label he can trust and believes in his work as much as he himself does and keep making music that will make little impacts on listeners’ lives.
As a final note, today happens to be LEW’s birthday (yes, National Day!), and he turns 21! LEW truly is a rare find, with good, listenable music that comes from a very real place – his heart. We wish LEW all the best for his final show in Singapore before he heads to Berklee to study music, and that we’ll continue hearing more of his intimate, sincere songs to cry us to sleep as we follow his progress in the years to come.