LEW is the project of Danish musician, Sara Lewis Sørensen, earlier this year she released her debut full length album, Black Feathers. The follow up to 2013’s Drenched In Night, like it’s predecessor Black Feather was produced in collaboration with producer, and often bandmate, Anders Wallin.
The songs on Black Feathers are in many ways songs of everyday living; songs about love, family, the challenges of the everyday and the emotional luggage we are all forced to carry with us throughout our lives. Musically it’s a conscious effort to strip back the electronic influences and produced sound of previous releases and focus on tapping into the way the songs were written and the way they are delivered live. The resulting record is a varied and thrilling selection; whether it’s the exquisite dark-pop of Lights On, the haunting electric guitar work of Raven or the stripped back folk of Home, throughout the record Sara takes the foreground. In the stunning guitar playing, and the emotive vocal delivery, Black Feather is never anything less than delightfully human.
Black Feathers has received support both in Sara’s native Denmark, and across the world, and there’s signs that slowly the world is opening up for LEW to receive the admiration her music so richly deserves. Sara was kind enough to take some time out and talk to us about topics from growing up in Roskilde, her eclectic influences, and the press’ odd tendency to compare her to her fellow female musicians…
FTR: Who, or what, is LEW?
LEW is my artist name, coming out of my middle name Lewis. LEW refers to me as a soloist, but could also be covering that we are a band. In my world LEW could be both female and male, which inspires me to let LEW have a broad expression. LEW means lion in Russian and the lion is my star sign… Most of all I like as a musician to have many faces also, because I am both an instrumentalist and a singer, and I like to improvise.
FTR: Your new album’s called Black Feathers, what’s the title a reference to?
The title Black Feathers refers to the song ‘Black Feathers’ no. 2 on the album. And this title is slightly inspired by another song on the album ‘The Raven’. Both songs, ‘Black Feathers’ and ‘The Raven’, are about a relation to another person. And in both songs this person has kind of a dark past and deep history, and he/she/it comes to mind as a human and a raven. It is a figure that both in nature and physically looks like the raven and a human and in spirit. Like a mythic kind of person…
FTR: How do you write songs?
I usually tune my guitar different and then just play what comes to mind, improvise. When some of it seems settled and nice I sing on top of it. I improvise phrases with non-understandable words, but sound and melodies. If I have a good feeling of some of it I record it and afterwards try to transcribe the vocal sounds. When I have settled on chords and a melody I transcribe the sounds into words. After that there comes a meaning and a story… I like to be as intuitive as possible to keep the sound, feel and nature in the creating process…
FTR: Tell us about the album recording, where did you record it?
We recorded most of the album in our own studio on Vesterbro, Copenhagen. And some of the album is recorded in the drummer Jakob’s studio in Amager, Copenhagen.
FTR: You’ve spoken about this album being closer to your live sound compared to your earlier more electronic work, why did you make that decision?
I felt really locked in the electronic world and I myself come more from an improvising indie rock – jazz world, so I wanted to get back to my expression as a live playing guitarist and singer.
FTR: You grew up in Roskilde? What can you tell us about the place? Has it shaped your music?
Yes, I actually grew up in the countryside outside Roskilde and moved to Roskilde when I was 11. I think that the feel of my childhood, my parents and the music environment in Roskilde, with the festival and all, have had a big influence on me as a person, musician and songwriter.
FTR: Why do you make music?
I love making music and I don’t know how not to make music.
FTR: What music inspires you? Were you listening to anything in particular when you were writing this album?
I’ve been a guitarist from the beginning playing all kinds of rhythmic music in different bands. I’m trained as a guitarist through 5 years from the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen. I have studied and played both rock, indie, jazz and more abstract improvisational music etc… I started to sing late and have kind of grown into being a singer. I have always written music and songs. I’m inspired by all kinds of music and I don’t like to settle on anything too rigidly, but according to my own songs and LEW I feel I finally have found myself as a songwriter, a singer and guitarist, and settled in a sound I think at some point always has been there, but is very obviously and naturally grounded now. I didn’t listen to any records in particular during this process but Eliot Smith, Sonic Youth, Radio Head, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Angel Olsen, Vashti Bunyan and many bands from the Danish indie scene and many of my fellow musician friends in CPH from the more abstract free improvisational sounding scene could be something to mention if there should be a musical sound guiding… Therefore the album has some kind of eclectic feel and I like to experiment with different expressions and atmospheres. One thing I’ve noticed is that the press likes to compare me with other female singers. This has been very funny to read because I’ve used most of my time as a guitarist and as singer listening to men. With the guitar because most lead-guitarist are men and as a singer, because for some reasons my voice is deep and I cling naturally with male voices…
FTR: What do you take inspiration from outside of music?
I like poetry, books, philosophy, I like to paint, a walk in the forest, by the ocean, the people around me, life’s nature; the every day life and stories, I am a mother and I have two small sons, so family live in general it’s beauties and challenges, the ups and down, that nothing stands still, everything is moving, process…
FTR: What are your aspirations for this album? Do you think it’s still feasible to make a career out of music?
I don’t feel like thinking about the money part where I am now. Maybe in a few years, but from where I stand this is a beginning and I’m not making radio hit music, so I have found a way that suits this process.
FTR: You sing in English, what was behind that decision?
My mum is English, she’s from Ramsgate and later on Cambridge and I still have an English family living in the north. Though I live in Denmark we have always been coming a lot to England, two or three times every year and I feel very connected. With the music I make I think it is important to get outside Denmark and English is a language that is heard by people in most parts of the world.
FTR: Your album’s coming out via DME. How did you come to work with them? Do you think labels are still important?
I have known the manager, who I like a lot, from before and I didn’t really try much around. He used to publish another band I was in. I think it is very individual. For me it has been important to have somebody to share the whole thing with and how to release it.
FTR: Do you consider LEW to be a solo project? Do you think that’s easier than being part of a band?
Yes, LEW is a solo project, and from my experience with working in bands it has been easier for me, but I feel very connected to Anders and the rest of the band. And it is important for me to share the music and recording process, live shows etc. with others.
FTR: What can you tell us about the videos for this album? Do you enjoy the non-musical parts of being a musician, photo-shoots, videos etc?
Jonas Bang made the video and it was a very easy and inspiring process. All the pictures we have used for covers also came out of that session. Yes, I really like building up a visual expression that fits the music, but it’s not like I’m most alive in front of a camera…
FTR: How do you think the internet has changed the music industry? Do you think it helps or hinders?
I think everything is different for the artist today. And in one point it’s easier to get out there and be in contact with the audience, but it is also more difficult to control and get an overview. Everything is moving so fast. From where I am it helps, but it also make it more difficult…
FTR: Is your album coming out as a physical release? Do you think it’s still important to give people something physical to own?
We’ve printed cd’s maybe I will make vinyl later on. And yes I think for some people it is important to have something physical.
FTR: There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of opportunities for women in the music industry? Do you feel like being female has made your career more difficult?
No I don’t think so. But I have felt alone in the men’s world at some point being a guitarist.
FTR: What’s next for L E W?
We’ve just been to London doing a live session at Daytrotter.com and they release that session next week. I’m writing new songs and we are in the middle of making plans for this autumn.
FTR: Do you have any plans to tour outside of Denmark?
Yes, we are working on it.
Black Feathers is out now via DME (Danish Music Entertainment) For more information visit LEW’s website HERE.