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Striving For That Moment
Grammy Nominated, Juno Award winning Glenn Lewis has the quintessential R&B/soul voice. He is a vintage performer blessed with a delivery that is charged with equal parts passion and vulnerability. A few months ago, the golden-throated Toronto native chose Philadelphia as the city to preview some of the new material from his Moment Of Truth album. A few days later, Glenn spent a great deal of time discussing Philadelphia musicians, passion, performing, vulnerability, striving, connecting, and basketball with Songwriter’s Monthly. Songwriter’s Monthly: Why Philly? Glenn Lewis: Philly just seemed to be that match. There’s a certain gel, a chemistry. Everybody with whom I’ve worked with out there is a real student of the game. These guys just have a plethora of knowledge regarding song writing, song crafting, and how to communicate to the heart. Since that is my focus and that is Philly’s focus, too, there was just that natural blend when we came together. SM: Is there anything that you find unique about Philly musicians? GL: Most of the musicians I’ve met from Philly — and Jersey — have been groomed in such a way that they sound like veterans at a very early stage. They play well beyond their years and they approach
Glenn’s showcase in Philadelphia.
things like the consummate professional. I’ve met fifteen year olds who sit behind the keyboard and they sound like a thirty year old pro! I also admire the approach that Philadelphians take with their craft, particularly on the musicianship side. When these guys play, even if they are sticking to the arrangement, there’s something about the way that they play . . . They might use an inversion or a voicing that isn’t there and what they add just compliments the arrangement so well that you barely notice it, but you do notice it and that makes all the difference. SM: What kind of music did you listen to growing up? GL: While I was growing up, my parents were listening to a lot of great bands and great artists and great songwriters (The Gap Band, Charlie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway), but by my early high school years, I started developing my own tastes (Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Johnny Gill). SM: How did these artists inspire you? GL: As a developing vocalist, my biggest thing was if I could keep up with these individuals whom I considered to be the best, then I’m good. I’ve always placed a great deal of emphasis on honing my vocal stylings in order to become the absolute best vocalist that I could be and these were the artists who inspired me to do that. SM: Why music? GL: Music has pulled at me since the age of 14. It’s pulled at me in a way that . . . I don’t know, I can’t quite give it an explanation, it’s just one of those things where . . . now, this is going to sound corny . . . SM: Go ahead. GL: It’s like music was there before I was born and I was just supposed to step into it. It was preordained or something. I’m constantly striving, even to this day. I’m never going to be good enough, it’s always about what can I do next, what can I learn. SM: That’s a great mindset: never settle.
GL: Yeah, but it gets to the point where it gets on people’s nerves [laughing]! I go in the studio with Vidal [Davis, part of Dre & Vidal, a multi-Grammy Award winning songwriting and production duo] and he’s like, “Dude, it already sounds fine, you’ve already cut it like seven times, it’s cool!” But I’m like, “Nah, it’s gotta feel right.” The one thing they don’t understand about me is when I ask to cut something again, it’s not because it doesn’t sound good, it’s because I need
“It’s like music was there before I was born and I was just supposed to step into it. It was preordained or something.”
to feel a certain way when it comes out. When I sing it, it’s gotta feel right. That energy comes through the recording and the listener feels it, too. People can’t tell you, technically, what it is, but they can tell you how it makes them feel. That’s what records are all about, they are this conveying of spirit, a transferring of energy through vibrations — if I feel good when I cut it, then they’ll feel good, when they hear it. SM: Do you have other passions besides music? GL: Yeah! I love basketball. There are applicable connotations to life that I find in the game. It’s a lot like how people will make comparisons to chess being like the game of life, you know, being able to see six or nine plays down the road so you can apply that to your life planning. The game of basketball is very similar to me in that way. It’s that whole “team” concept and the importance of giving without expecting anything in return. It’s about leaving everything on the floor. SM: Everything I found when researching you, it’s all about respect, respect for you, respect for your music, respect for your voice. How did you gain such respect? GL: People have said some pretty amazing things as far as how my music makes them feel when they hear me sing, but I’m very careful to not get caught up in my own hype. I’m still growing. I’m still pushing. I’m always listening for what’s not there instead of appreciating what is there. I guess that’s typical for a lot of artists because you are always pushing forward, wanting to capture that moment. And every artist has that moment. For Michael Jackson, even though Thriller was his biggest album, there was something magical about Off the Wall. Stevie’s was Songs in the Key of Life. Stevie had all of these incredible moments throughout his career, but there was just something about Songs in the Key of Life, it was bigger than him. I’m still striving for that moment, I’m still striving to create something bigger than me. SM: Will you even recognize that moment when it happens? GL: I probably won’t [laughing]. I don’t think most artists do. The whole idea is you keep looking. When you really love what you do, you’re constantly in competition with yourself, wanting to give people more and more, so, you
keep striving for that next thing because you never know when it’s going to come. At the end of the day, it’s important to know that you’re doing it for other people, not yourself. There’s a point in your career when you have to turn a corner. It’s a Prince Purple Rain moment, that point in the movie when he’s doing his own thing and the owner of the club says, “You gotta get off that weird sh**, you’re the only one who is digging that, no one else is digging that!” As an artist, you get to a point where you think, “Who am I doing this for?” You were given a gift and the whole point of it is to share. SM: I find a great deal of today’s music to be more focused on self-validating than communicating or connecting. GL: It’s just where people are at right now. I don’t want to generalize and say everybody’s like that, but I think that’s just the way things are communicated these days. It’s a reflection of the times. In the 70s, there was a socially conscious vibe going on. Listening to music, it felt like you were standing on a balcony, looking down on a street corner, and seeing what was really happening. There was an attention to detail and a time taken, so there was a different kind of substance. Nowadays, people just cut right to the chase. SM: But there are so many songs out there that are just basically saying, “This is me, look at me, I love to party, come with me, be like me!” GL: Sometimes, it can be about, “Come into my world,” that’s cool, but most of the time it should be about, “Hey I’m no different than you.” It’s about making that connection because that’s the thing that’s going to continue on after you’re
“It’s important to know that you’re doing it for other people, not yourself.”
gone, that’s what you’re supposed to be striving for. SM: Do you think there’s a reason why there are so many songs and artists like that these days? GL: There are two conversations that can be had in songs — there are more than two, but I’m generalizing, here — one is genuine, sincere, “Yo, this is where I’m at, this is how this makes me feel, this is what I think about this, this is why this affected me this way.” But the other type, they keep it surface because they don’t want to show any weakness. Those artists say things in a way that shows a certain kind of strength. A lot of artists on the come up would rather identify with that “show no weakness, show no vulnerability” image. But every so often, a song might come out, a Bruno Mars or a Frank Ocean — or maybe even somebody like myself — and that song will just communicate from the standpoint of, “Yeah, I went through this and this is what it was like for me. I’m talking about this with you because I know that this is something everybody goes through. Maybe it will be helpful to you to hear that this is how I dealt with it.” SM: I can’t help but think of your song, “It’s Not Fair,” as you talk about this. GL: Yeah, that song was vulnerable [laughing]! I remember when we were doing it, I was writing this story about something that happened to me because the music sounded like I could use it to get that story off of my chest. So, I went into the studio and I laid down this kind of a Stevie meets Donny thing. I think it’s better when people discover that kind of a song on an album and go, “Yeah, I feel where he’s coming from,” rather than having it be released as a single because no one necessarily wants to be seen identifying with that. No woman wants to look like they identify with it too much because then it ends up being, “Have you done that to somebody?!” And no dude wants to be seen identifying with it because it’s too vulnerable. I’ve had straight up thugs come up to me and be like, “Man, I just gotta let you know dawg, ’It’s Not Fair?’ I feel you.” But they will never share that sh** with their people. “It’s Not Fair” was one of those conversations that creates a little bit of an awkward moment — people can respect it, but the situation was messed up.
“I’m constantly striving, even to this day. I’m never going to be good enough, it’s always about what can I do next, what can I learn.”
SM: I notice that you refer to songs as conversations. GL: That’s because songs are conversations . . . it’s just that in real time conversations, you can switch the topic. SM: Your new album, Moment of Truth, was recently released. Where did the title come from, was it you feeling that this is it, your “moment of truth?” GL: This is the perfect transition from talking about songs being conversations. Moment of Truth came about from trying to think of a title that did sort of express that whole idea of me coming back around after being on hiatus for a while, but it was more so a reflection of each song being a conversation. I wanted to create something that was a beautiful distraction, reflecting on the things that are positive rather than all the other stuff that’s happening around us. It’s like I was saying before about basketball, you are bearing your soul, you are releasing so much of yourself and leaving so much of yourself out there and there’s a purity in that, a moment of truth. As the album began taking shape, it was like each song was a moment of truth. SM: Your music has a timeless, classic quality to it. Where does that come from?
GL: Coming back around, to me that’s a reflection of Philly artistry, Philly craftsmanship, and Philly creativity. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to be a part of. SM: Final thoughts? GL: After being on an eight year hiatus, I don’t know if this is the project that people will embrace as that bigger-than-me one or not. You don’t know what people are going to respond to or react to, you just do it and then you let it go and whatever comes back to you is what it is. But I will say, like everything I do, I poured everything into this album in hopes that it would affect people the way a lot of the great music that I’ve listened to over the years has affected me. It’s that hope of creating something bigger than me, creating something that ends up being a soundtrack to people’s lives, that hope is what drives me to achieve my best. Moment of Truth is available on Ruffhouse Records. For more information on Glenn Lewis, visit: http://glennlewisofficial.com