Conducted by Jennifer Gross
Photos courtesy of Alex Abaunza
Alexander Lewis is one of those unique and outrageously gifted musicians who can literally do it all. Coming onto the electronica music scene a couple of years ago with a background in jazz, he has boldly carved out a place in trap music. His ease of combining live instrumentation with electronic and hip hop layered tracks makes his sound so unique and original that his music is limitless in terms of what he can do. Whether he is remixing a well-known track and turning it into a brass anthem or producing his own original mix of jazz and trap, he is surely an artist to be on your radar. As a mastermind who drops explosive hits with each release, his latest EP, Omni, is another perfect example of his immense talent. I spoke with Alexander on the eve of his Omni’s release!
Festival Squad: You are an incredible producer, talented musician who plays multiple instruments and a sick DJ. How did you realize that you could incorporate them all together?
Alexander Lewis: First of all, thank you for saying such kind things. Playing the horn came first. I played trombone since I was 10 and I have been playing and studying Jazz my whole life, and I went to the Manhattan School of Music for Jazz in New York, which is how I know Brasstracks, so I picked up piano and composition and stuff, and then came producing towards the last year of school when I picked up Ableton and started producing electronic music and a lot of hip hop. I was really influenced by Selection and Antique Supreme. So DJing didn’t really come in for me until I was approached by Brownies and Lemonade and they kind of put the idea in my head. They were like “hey, have you ever thought about playing your own shows and spinning your own music?”. They actually put me on for my very first show down in LA for Brownie & Lemonade Camp Trill. That was before I started to play my horn over my tracks. That came a little bit later, and that’s when things took off, when I added the live brass.
Festival Squad: So live instruments, especially brass instruments have really found a huge audience within electronic dance music. What is your process for creating music when you are combining the electronic aspect and then adding and playing live instruments mixed together?
Alexander Lewis: A lot of the times I will sit down and I will just make a beat. Then when I hear where the horn would sound good I will go back and re-record everything with horns. Layers upon layers of horns. So obviously it will sound really big and present. I mean, that’s how a lot of my remix’s come about. When I hear something that like “oh that would sound really good with horns”. If I hear something that would sound really good with a horn drop instead of the original then yeah. Obviously, out of respect for the artist I like to do it a little bit different. Really it comes out of me just enjoying the original, and it making me want to play that out live. I listened to Mr. Carmack for years and years and it dawned on my that “Pay For What” would sound really great with live horns. So I stayed up late one night and did it.
Festival Squad: You have said before that you have pretty serious stage freight before you go on stage. You look so comfortable and confident on stage though.
Alexander Lewis: I’m terrified of going up on stage. I mean, I relate it to acting. The person I am on-stage is not the person I that I am off-stage. I would definitely say it’s a persona. That I am getting into a character that is there to perform. A lot of it is that I enjoy performing, but just the events leading up to, the preparation and like the lead up to stepping on stage and starting the performance drives me insane.
Festival Squad: Would you say you are a perfectionist?
Alexander Lewis: A couple of years ago, I would have said yes. But, I’ve relaxed a little bit over the years. I’ve learned to kind of not beat myself up over mistakes, cause that was one thing that I was doing a lot. That’s probably one of the things that made me scared of performing. Because I was such a perfectionist it made me really really scared of performing. Because I have been performing for a while, because I have been playing trombone for so long, and that comes with getting up on stage and performing, and I think I made it a habit of psyching myself out because everything had to be perfect. Slowly I’m getting over that, cause I realize that not every performance is gonna be perfect. There’s going to be shitty performances and some that go well, things that are unexpected. You get better and you learn to adapt and when you make a mistake you learn to play it off like “oh, yeah, I meant to do that”.
Festival Squad: Well, you can’t have an amazing fire performance if they are all good.
Alexander Lewis: Exactly! Like the performance at SnowGlobe was something else. I’m really glad that it went off so well. Cause, I didn’t expect a lot of people to be there. I didn’t expect the tent to be filled. And you know and I glad that it was one of those performances that went off really well. I’m glad you got to experience that one.
Festival Squad: You have stated that you don’t want to be surrounded by Yes Men, which is what people typically think of in the music and entertainment business. Many people believe that feedback is a gift and crucial conversations are important for growth. So how are you handling the industry and maintaining your balance as an artist?
Alexander Lewis: That’s a really good question. I don’t think it’s really hit just yet, or if it has I don’t really pay attention. I try really, I think it’s helps and it can hinder, to not pay attention to what other people are doing. And just work on stuff that I think that is dope. And then you don’t really compare yourself to others or what other people are doing. That’s how I think I have been staying sort of sane. But I also have people that I trust that give me honest feedback, when I ask for it. A lot times I don’t want feedback. I mean, I kinda wanna just make what I wanna make. If I am really lost, then I will ask but I really don’t want anyone to tell me how to make my music. Just because it’s like, when you get to certain level it’s all personal opinion anyway.
Festival Squad: The new album is called Omni. The word Omni means limitless or without limits. Was that an intentional choice?
Alexander Lewis: Yeah, I mean, the EP has a lot of different styles and sounds. It will become more apparent when you listen to it all the way through. I like to produce a lot of different styles. I don’t like to be boxed into one sound and I think making a project that has something for everybody. Also, it was fun putting together because it wasn’t just the same seven tracks. Some people put out an album and it will all sound the same. The same type of track 10 times.
Festival Squad: You can transition very easily from these very lush and jazzy tracks like Day One and All Of The Lights. Then get fucking nasty with Wassup and Money On My Mind.
Alexander Lewis: Yeah, that’s what I like to do. I don’t want to be a producer who only does one thing well. I have a lot of different influences and styles that I like to produce and I want to do it all. I think that it’s going to be a re-occurring theme in the way I make music or put together a project. If I want to make a fucking house track, like a Kaytranada inspired track then I’m going to and I’m going to put that on my project if it’s good enough, you know. And if I hear horns on it, then I’m going to put some horns on it.
Festival Squad: So Funilab does all the art work for you singles and the cover art for the new Omni EP is just so great.
Alexander Lewis: Thank you. I was really really happy about that.
Festival Squad: I know you mentioned you’ve played trombone since you were 10 years old and that your grandmother was also a musician as well.
Alexander Lewis: She always had music and jazz playing. She just inspired me to want to be a musician but she didn’t push me just to play trombone. I chose that on my own. She would just always be singing around the house and she was amazing.
Festival Squad: So you just did 3 shows in China. There is some incredible video of you coming down off the stage and blowing your trombone down in the audience. What was that like?
Alexander Lewis: In Shanghai I think, I went out into the crowd. It was cool that they had a ledge, like if you where facing the stage. They had a ledge and I was like fuck that’s cool I’m going over there. I was literally sitting on the ledge looking down at people. I think it was called Arkim, but that venue was super sick. Very dope!
Festival Squad: Are you planning to tour North America for Omni?
Alexander Lewis: Well I’m gonna put together a couple more shows like the Brownies & Lemonade one. Really hoping to come to San Francisco. I think maybe there might be a New York date. Then I plan on a slight tour, but nothing really bid. I’m really excited to have all this music out. When your making it you hear it a lot and you hope people will like it, but then you realize that it won’t sound old to them because they haven’t heard it yet.
Festival Squad: Last question is a fun one. Do you have a nickname for your trombone?
Alexander Lewis: I don’t! Now I wish I did though and I’m gonna have to think of one.
Special thanks to Alex for his time and be sure to keep up with him on the road HERE!