Australian hitmaker Dean Lewis on his debut album, heartbreak and chicken rice.
Dean Lewis has had an immensely busy day so far doing interviews with radio stations and other press, but as I walk into the room, he is still enthusiastic, receiving me with a warm handshake.
We are in a conference room at the Mandarin Oriental, with an impressive view that overlooks the iconic Singapore skyline. “This really is amazing,” he coos.
The Australian music sensation is in town for a promotional stopover, hot off the heels of the release of his debut album, A Place We Knew. Lewis will be performing an exclusive showcase later today.
While heartbreak anthems that encapsulate pain and anguish like ‘Be Alright’, ‘Stay Awake’, “Waves’ and ‘7 Minutes’ have been defining of who Lewis as an artist is, in person, the 31-year-old is a lot more light-hearted and dare I say, funny.
Speaking to Dean Lewis is like catching up with an old friend – our interview is unfiltered and sincere. He opens up about his personal experiences that inspired the tracks on the album, his adventures in Asia, and his excitement for chicken rice.
ZYRUP: Hey Dean! Welcome to Singapore! How is Singapore so far?
Dean Lewis: It’s a pleasure to be here! It’s very hot. We flew in yesterday from Hong Kong, and tomorrow, we will be going to Malaysia. It’s been an incredible trip.
You look like you’ve been enjoying your tour around Asia! We’ve been keeping up with your adventures on Instagram. We saw that you went to Yardbird at Marina Bay Sands – how was it?
There was like a chicken in this net that was made out in the shape of a chicken and I thought it was pretty funny! And the food was amazing! I also had the ribs and it was delicious! The cornbread was really good too. You have to go.
That sounds amazing! Is there anything in particular that you would like to do while you’re in Singapore?
I was here in 2005, when I was very young, and a lot has changed since I was here. But I always remembered that everyone was very friendly, and it’s very clean. We’ve heard that you should try chicken rice; someone said it’s like a Singaporean food. So yeah, I would like to try that.
Congratulations on the success of ‘Be Alright’, which has garnered over 500 million streams on Spotify alone. Now, that’s got to be a big deal. Did you expect the song to be this massive?
No, I used to play it and people will be like, “Oh, what’s that song called about the phone?” because I play it on my piano and they are like, “The phone song – you should release that!”, so I knew it was special. But I don’t think you can ever tell when a song is going to get that many streams. And I’ll never know, cause I’ll think this song’s better, or this song’s better, or this one will do better than this one. It’s kind of weird. So I knew it was special, but not like this special.
Let’s have a chat about your latest album A Place We Knew. What was the inspiration behind the name of this album and is there a specific place that you are referring to?
I always like it when a phrase tells a story. When I heard the phrase “a place we knew” –I was on a plane when I heard it– I wrote it down. It feels like you’re driving past a house you used to live in the past with an ex or something, and the memories are still there, but you’ve moved on. I really like that thought, and it’s really bittersweet and sad, but there is also this hope in it, because you’ve moved on. I thought that’s how the songs sort of feel, and I was like, “That’s the name of the album!” as soon as I heard it.
And that’s [the] album cover, which is me just sitting right out in front of a house. The place we knew can be anywhere, but for me, it was sort of an imaginary house: like a house from the past. So it wasn’t anywhere specific. We wanted to make it look like it was a place in LA, but we shot the photo of the album near a beach, and there was a bike that was just randomly there. The picture looked good, and it worked out.
You said you’ve written hundreds and hundreds of songs, and for this album, you narrowed it down to just 12 tracks. Was it difficult to choose which songs you wanted to fit the vision of the album?
Yes, it was so hard. But I think if I released this album a year ago, it would have been different. And I could have. But songs will come out and delay everything because they kept doing very well so we didn’t want to rush it. So I just kept writing songs and writing songs. I know what I’m like and [what’s] my sound, so sometimes I will choose the songs that I like over what would be more commercial or whatever, but I made sure I had some big songs in it. It was very hard to choose but I’m very, very happy with how it turned out.
Will you include the other songs that you didn’t put through in your next album?
Yeah, there’s a bunch of songs that are already really good. It’s just that they didn’t sound like me at that time. I might change the lyrics, or re-record them and try again. There’s this song that my family thinks is the best, and they are like “Why are you not putting this song on?”and I’m like, “Eh… it doesn’t feel like me!”. But you know what, I can change some things now because I have time again. So I’ve already got a lot of songs for the next one.
Is there a song in particular from this album that you are the proudest of? Why so?
That’s a tough question, but a good one. I’m really proud of the song called ‘Straight Back Down’ right now. I was almost not going to put that on the album, but it had really personal feelings, and it sounded a bit different from the other songs. Initially, I didn’t know if it felt right, but when I put it together and released it, I was like, wow, this is actually a really special song.
There’s also one called ‘The Place We Knew’, and I used this line in the chorus, “Your heart is my home” – that’s something my ex-girlfriend said to me. That’s like a song dedicated to her, my ex-girlfriend, who is very lovely and but, yeah.
Does it take a lot out of you to reveal all these vulnerable feelings to a large audience?
No, I don’t think so. I always want my songs to be good, so I’m just always obsessing over getting better. I guess it’s easy for me to put [my feelings] across because my songwriting is very direct. It’s deep, but it’s deep and straightforward, not deep and confusing. I just find it easy because I don’t think about what [people are] going to say, or how it is going to be received.
What do you have to say to your Singapore fans and what can we expect from the showcase later?
Bring me lots of chicken rice. [laughs] Kidding! I just want to say that I love you all and I’m sorry that there are only 40 spots for the showcase and it’s limited. I’m sorry if you couldn’t make it. But what is exciting is that whenever my record label brings me here or there, it usually means that we are going to begin something in this place. I think it usually means that we will be back for a show, so hopefully, in a couple of months, we can come back and we can play. I’ll definitely be doing shows here. Definitely!
Portions of this interview were edited for clarity and brevity.
Listen to Dean Lewis’ latest album, A Place We Knew, below: