[Photo Credit: Dominic Episcopo]
I was excited to interview Glenn Lewis for several reasons. Mostly however, I wanted answers — as in why he made us fall in love with him and his music with the 2002 release World Outside My Window, only to have us wait a painstaking 11 years for a satisfying dose of “the voice” and his unique take on life and love that hooked us all in the first damn place. And I’m not even gonna front, I wanted to see those signature dimples up close and personal.
Not 10 minutes into my talk with the Lewis, I realized that he is much more that a fine face and a fierce vocalist. He is an observer, a thinker, a student of life and love. All of these attributes have served Lewis well in the creation of his second album, Moment of Truth. In our hour-long chat Lewis shared that each song is a moment of truth captured, that lends itself to what he’s trying to offer through the music—truthful and real moments, the big and the small. In a world where you’re only as good as your last big hit, and given that it’s been over a decade since his last release, I couldn’t help but wonder just a little to what degree Lewis felt pressure to sell records. But it became crystal clear during my interview that Lewis is right where he should be at this point in time, on track to make his indelible mark on music as only he knows how, all the while striking the perfect balance between achieving success and savoring life’s sweet moments.
[Photo Credit: Whitney Thomas]
VH1: A bit of time has passed since your first album dropped and we all want to know what happened? What took you so long to release another album?
Glenn Lewis: Really, it was inadvertent. I didn’t want to be sitting on the sidelines. But I guess it was a matter of timing. There were a lot of shifts and changes in the business and as a result, with all the success I had at Sony with World Outside My Window, I got around to ’04 and getting ready to put out a new album, the album was completed, it was titled Back for More, but all the people who were instrumental in spearheading the first project — all the key people were gone. So, amicably, Sony and I parted ways in ’04. I’ve been in and out of deals since then, but for one reason or another it was just timing issues, there was a lot of things going on in the business. The downloading thing really affected the game, all this consolidating and downsizing was going on, so it’s a trickle down effect. From what was going on within the labels to even how the labels were doing their business. And so it was one of those things where if you weren’t out the gate a platinum seller from before it was difficult for people to – not that they didn’t show interest – but just to spend that money. They weren’t necessarily able to see their return, and the game is pretty unforgiving. No one really asks much questions of who dropped the ball where, it’s just one of those things where they assume that oh well if it didn’t do this, then what am I supposed to do with that? They just look for the next thing. So it was a little bit of all of those factors but you know, fortunately is the case, I was able to stay busy, people were always interested. And as of 2013 I ran into the co-founder of Ruffhouse Records while I was recording in Philadelphia, and recently reconnected with my longtime fam, brother and one of the producers that worked on my first album, Vidal Davis, we were just cutting records and Chris [Schwartz] was in and out every now and again and he inquired about what I was doing and said we should be working on an album and basically we started talking about the possibilities of working together, and here I am now.
[Photo Credit: Whitney Thomas]
So how have you used the time that has passed between your first album and Moment of Truth to your advantage?
To be honest with you, to have that much time on the bench, you end up asking yourself a lot of questions. At the time, there were moments that were difficult, but looking back on it, the time off definitely served its purpose. Watching how people handle situations, and knowing all of what it takes to be in the position that they’re in, it gave me a different sort of admiration for my peers and it also made me be aware of my own situation and what I needed to bring to the table, in what ways I could show evolution as an artist. There were all these points that I may have been aware of, but it may have been a subtle truth that I may have overlooked to the point where it was like, if things get to moving again I gotta pay attention to this as a performer. One of the best things Will Smith said that always stuck with me is for each moment that you have with people, to be engaging. Because you’re never going to have that moment with them again. Be there. Be present. Enjoy it. Enjoy their company, enjoy what the moment has to offer as best you can. But be 1000% present. I totally agree with that philosophy and that principal. I think it’s important. People can feel that realness. Understand that like for me, I can’t do this on my own. I may have the position of a king but I still have a job to do and something that’s expected of me. So understanding all those things is something that if I wasn’t aware, I’m more sensitive and aware of it now.
What do you want new and old fans to get from your new album?
I definitely want it to deepen my relationship with my fans where they get a little bit more of me, a relatability. And for would-be fans, for it to be the kind of introduction that they would be able to appreciate what it is I’m bringing through music and the contribution I want to make in music.
Speaking of musical contributions, what do you believe you bring to the musical landscape?
Interestingly enough, for as far back as forever, men have been expressing their love for women, and women have been expressing their love for men, and we talk about all different aspects of it—the good and the not so good. From sonnets to ballads to whatever, there’s been millions of love songs that have been written. But interestingly enough, people can fall in love specifically with how one person interprets and expresses an ideal or an experience that’s been heard of or felt times over. So with me, I think what’s signature with what I do is, I may be talking about something that’s familiar, but there’s something in the collection of my experiences that have contributed to my artistic expression and how I might choose to say a particular thing that creates that personal signature touch. As men, obviously we’re not going to always get it right, I’m not always going to get it right, but the one thing I think women can walk away with listening to my music is, “Oh, he’s listening.” What I’m trying to contribute is to be able to be the voice to things that maybe aren’t always discussed. We’re multidimensional, we have so many different sides as men, as women. We can’t hesitate or be reluctant to touch on and address things between us. Even if it’s something that is so simple that it can easily be overlooked, but I think it’s a conversation worth having.
Where do you draw from for your songs’ subject matter?
The funny thing is, sometimes I may have ideas where, like there are songs on this album where I may have felt that way, but I didn’t really know how to express it, or I didn’t feel like it was maybe suitable. Or I might not have felt comfortable talking about it. And then you finally get to a point where you find a way to communicate it in such a way where you’re able to share the experience. Whatever apprehension I’ve had I’ve figured out a way to express it without whatever it was that was affecting me and holding me back from approaching a certain topic. I find inspiration through things closest to me—my own personal experiences, to observing other people’s experiences, people might come up to me and it’ll just come out of conversation—some of the best songs come out that way. A lot of the time when I’m in the studio, a lot of the songs come from that place where I might be talking to the producers or songwriters, and we’re just talking about life, and before you know it, it turns into a song. By now it’s no surprise, but everything we do is for y’all. We trying to impress you, we trying to get your attention. Inspiration comes from everywhere, conversation, experiences, sometimes watching a movie.
And you have a song on the album with Melanie Fiona, the only duet on the album. Can you dish a little about that collabo?
Really it was one of those things where I heard the song first, it’s a reggae-influenced R&B joint, and I went in, I cut it, and Melanie’s always been like, “Dude, whenever you want to do something, let me know.” It was so crazy too because Melanie and I have known each other for awhile, and I’ve seen her on her grind. Like she has poured so much into her craft and it’s her heart and soul. She works really hard and I’ve seen her moving around from trying to get the deal to now, you know where she’s at, Grammy-Award-winning and all that, and she’s always maintained a genuineness. She’s beautiful in every sense of the word, she’s amazing. Just to give you an example of the humility, when we were in the studio she was like, “Hold up. Before we get into anything I need you to understand how real it is,” and she started singing songs off of World Outside My Window and she was like, “I’m gonna tell you right now, before any of this, I’m a fan first.” And I was like wow that’s deep —just the genuineness. Meanwhile it’s like, I’m captivated by her because she’s phenomenal. And so to see everything that she’s done, I’m super proud of her and then to have the opportunity to work with her, and then it’s hometown, we’re both from Toronto, both have West Indian backgrounds—it was just the perfect blend, perfect chemistry. We had a lot of fun making that track.
Speaking of Caribbean roots, where are you people from?
My dad’s Jamaican, and my mother’s Trinidadian. And if you know anything about that, you probably know that that’s been like the forbidden mix for like, ever. Not so much now, but like I know years ago, that was like—Trinis and Jamaicans just did not mix. But somehow my mom and dad found each other, and I’m here.
I saw an old television clip of you performing a gospel hymn with your mother, and your dad was part of a group back in the day. Who do you think you get your vocal prowess from?
From my mom and my dad, definitely. I have early memories of them singing and writing. I didn’t have my dad a lot in my life, but for the moments that I did I remember that. There was just so much music played around the house and they were always doing their thing as well, and the funny thing is I remember early memories of thinking, I’m gonna do my own thing— that’s what they do. They do this music thing, that’s cool. I’m going to create my own path. But I don’t know, I just really fell in love with making music, it was just a way to express myself that was like nothing else. And it also didn’t hurt that girls were like, “Eww you can sing?” Why yes I can! So you know, that always helps. When I first wrote a song and expressed myself that way I was like, man this is cool, coming up with the melody, finding an interesting way to put a twist on something lyrically. It was just a great creative outlet and that was it, I fell in love. I was like that’s it, music is what I want to do, that’s my path, that’s my life’s purpose.
[Photo Credit: Devon Walker]
Do you consider yourself an R&B, neo-soul, or soul artist—what feels most organic to you? Or do you just defy categorization?
To me, I feel like what I do is R&B music. Even the first album. I think it was the era. Kedar Massenburg coined the phrase neo-soul to introduce his artist D’Angelo at the time, because it was so different than what was out. But really D’Angelo, even though his approach, he had a musicality and a sophistication as an artist, but the beats was still rugged and it was kind of cool, the concepts of the record. So he came up with that phrase and anybody who came out in and around that time, suddenly that’s what it became, new soul. Neo-soul. I know what they mean, but I think that the more that you create these derivatives it separates everything, but to me my approach might be different from Usher or Trey Songz, but what we do is driven by rhythm and comes from that blues influence. It’s rhythm and blues. Period.
You and D’Angelo both rocked the straight-backs for minute. From twists to cornrows to a clean cut, you’ve had several distinct hair looks. Can you talk a little about that journey?
The cornrows were really truly closest to me than the twists. It was comfortable. I always just wanted to grow out my hair as long as it possibly could be. The person who actually did my hair [then] her name is Sadiya, she actually did R. Kelly’s hair and Allen Iverson’s. If I had my choice, that’s how people would’ve gotten to know me, but folks were like, “Yo what are you doing? D’Angelo already came out like that, you can’t do that.” To me the typical cut or the typical caesar, there’s no identity in that. When you think of Michael Jackson, there are a number of things that come to mind—glove, socks, whatever else. But you remember how he styled himself, his hair. Beyonce even is synonymous with her hair, so much so that when she cut it everyone was like, “Yo! Did you see the pictures!” It was a big deal. Her hair was a lot of the sexiness. Not to say that she wasn’t sexy with the short hair.
Any reflections about being an artist and approaching the milestone of age 40?
Well, obviously you’re not about to see me in any videos doing no spins, and back flips, and crazy-ass choreography, that is not happening. When I was first getting started, as far as I was concerned in my mind I was destined to be the next Bobby Brown. I’m not about to play myself, but it’s weird, I have moments. There’s times, due to my experience, that I feel that I’m exactly where I’m at in my life—I feel my age. But you know I’ve always been told I have a young energy or a young soul. You never think that men are even conscious of that, but I think it’s an artist thing—you want to have that longevity. I physically feel like I’m in my late twenties. I’ll go out and play ball with my friends, ’cause hoops is everything for me, next to music. But I think being at this particular juncture in my life, I feel great. It’s a beautiful balance of my life experiences coming to a head and really seeing the effects of the application of the knowledge that I’ve acquired transforming into wisdom. But at the same time having enough youth where I can go out and have fun… no one at this age should be living in the club. But I do love to get out and have a good time and enjoy myself. It’s all about balance I guess.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
The aspiration, the drive right now is to be six albums deep, maybe on my fifth movie project, maybe to have done a bit of television in between that time, maybe wrote a book. I have to play in at least one NBA celebrity game during all-star weekend—I have to do that at least once! I want another kid. I’m so living this new chapter in my life that I currently don’t have anyone in my life, but I definitely want to get to that point. Because what’s it even all for if you don’t have anyone to share it with? I want that particular person in my life who’s really my homie, my best friend. I just believe that that can be.
Connect with Glenn Lewis on Twitter @BeingGlennLewis. Moment of Truth is available in stores and online now.