"I finally understood that I was never going to be ready": Australian singer-songwriter Dean Lewis reflects on his breakout success
Heart to heart
You've been thrust into the spotlight in the past year. How's this year been for you?
It's great. man. I feel very lucky. I've been travelling the world and playing shows. From doing a show with nine people in the audience to selling out the American tour, it's ridiculous. I played to 1,400 people in Boston. There's still a long way to go, but the doors feel like they're all open.
Was there a particular time where it felt it was getting somewhere?
It felt big when it went platinum in America. I didn't think America was possible. If you looked at the names on the chart, it was Post Malone, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and then me. It was very surreal. I want to keep this going.
How have you tackled this whole fame game, though?
Well, I don't feel like I'm that famous.I'm more well-known in Australia. I might get recognised maybe two or three times a week so it's not crazy. People know the songs, but they don't really know me that much. I'm trying to balance that out, which is a challenge.
Love is obviously a central theme in your work. What have been some of your key takeaways regarding relationships?
I guess a lot of my songs are about different stages of relationships. The main things are the simple truths: give it some time when something goes wrong; nothing heals the past like time. I wrote the first song of the album five or six years ago, so I think I'm a different person now.
Your songwriting has a really distinct style. It's almost like you're recounting that incident to a friend. Almost everything is in present tense. Was that a conscious decision going in or did it come naturally?
I used to write all these songs when I first started, but the lyrics were bad. The melodies were good, though. Then, I heard Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark". In the second verse, he sings: "Message keep getting clearer/Radio's on and I'm moving 'round the place/I check my look in the mirror/I wanna change my clothes, me and my face". For me, that's how I want to write songs. It has given me a technique to say stuff very directly. It's not over-thought, and it;s not metaphors
Your album A Place We Knew dropped this year. What kind of places were you referring to?
I heard the phrase when I was on the plane. I had plugged into the radio. The guy who was reading a news report mentioned something along the lines of "a place that the couple had been to". I loved the phrase because it tells a story. It's like driving past the house that you used to live in with your ex-girlfriend, and you've moved on, but the house is still there with all the memories. It's a weird, bittersweet, and sad feeling.
Can you give me like 3 places that hold that kind of resonance?
There's a place that I used to live in called Crows Nest in Australia. There was a little apartment that I wrote "Half A Man" in. The other places would be my ex-girlfriend's house, and probably a childhood home.
You've mentioned in previous interviews that saying no has been one of the most important lessons you've picked up so far. What other lessons have you learned?
I wasted so many opportunities when I was growing up, because I didn't feel ready. Whenever an opportunity came up, I would procrastinate and lose the opportunity, job or offer to do something. I didn't know if I was good enough. No one taught me. I finally understood that I was never going to be ready. I become ready slowly, and I learned to deal with that feeling of nervousness and not being ready.
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
I'm touring until March next year, and I'm going to Luxembourg and Oslo, which is exciting.