Ty Lewis: ‘Not Just Black & White’

GITM: Just some basic questions to start with. Where are you from?

Ty: I’m from Billingham, which is in Teeside.

GITM: How old are you?

Ty: I’m 20. I feel really weird saying 20 as I only turned 20 in February and you’re the first person I’ve spoken to and actually said my age and it still feels weird. It’s my first lockdown birthday. I think we should just go back to the ages we were before the lockdown and just not count these ones.

GITM: Yeah, I’ve had 2 birthdays in lockdown so I agree with that!

You’ve been involved in the music business for quite a long time now, haven’t you?

Ty: Yeah, I’ve been doing music now for probably 10 or 11 years or so but I’ve kinda only been taking it seriously since I was 14 or 15. That’s when I thought “This is what I really want to do” so it’s been about 5 or 6 years that I’ve properly done it.

GITM: It seems strange saying you’ve been doing music for 10 or 11 years when you’re still so young. You’ve packed a lot in so far, could you talk about some of the experiences you’ve had?

 ©Ty Lewis

Ty: Yeah, I started singing lessons when I was about 9 and from there my singing teacher put me in these showcase type events and they were the building of the start of my career and of my confidence. From there, around the age of 12 – 13, I started to enter competitions like Open Mic and Teen Star. Then I went from doing regional things onto the wider area.

From the age of 14/15 is when I started gigging in local pubs and anywhere else I could gig as a 14/15 year old. At 16 more opportunities opened up for me and it was in around 2018 that I entered Open Mic again just to see what happened and I ended up making it to the Grand Final which took place in London.

I was runner up in my age category, which was 16 – 21. That was really nice!

From there, that then lead onto The Voice, which was the 2020 series. I made it to the quarter finals of that and worked with Olly Murs, which was cool. From there I started to release original music; I released my first song in November last year (2020) and I have a new song coming out this week which is exciting.

GITM: I listened to your new single this morning, it’s really good!

Ty: Thank you.

GITM: I went through some of your videos on Youtube this morning and I watched your audition for The Voice. What was it like when Olly Murs first turned his chair around for you?

Ty: Thinking back on it now, it was well over a year ago when we actually filmed it. We filmed it in October 2019 and even now it still doesn’t feel real. No matter how many times I watch it back, it just doesn’t feel real even now. On the stage – in that moment – I was so nervous. I watch the video back and think “Wow, that actually happened!”.

GITM: You didn’t come across as nervous.

Ty: When I was singing, I was in the moment and when I sing I zone out and I forget what is going on around me. I think it’s quite nice because I’m quite easily distracted in normal life but when I’m singing I kinda just shut down and concentrate on singing and I’m in my element and in the zone. It’s good, especially when I’m on a bigger stage with a bigger crowd and I can just hone in on the music and not worry that there’s so many people watching and things like that.

I think it’s nice to have that zone to go into but when I stop singing, on those performances on The Voice especially, when I stopped singing and Emma Willis came up to talk to me, or when one of the judges spoke to me, my legs just went to jelly and I was so nervous.

I’m not normally that nervous, if I’m doing a gig I’m normally fine as I’ve been doing it for so long. I think the fact I had Olly Murs, Meghan Trainor, Tom Jones & Will.I.am all sat staring at me – it was like “OK, this is a little different to what I’m used to!” but it was a really cool opportunity and a great experience.

I also learned a lot from that, things I don’t think I’d have been able to learn if I was just gigging. I think it’s nice to have that in the portfolio and for me to be able to say “I did that” and to have the videos to prove it as well. It’s nice to look back and think “I did that”. It’s a proud moment for me.

 ©Ty Lewis

GITM: We’ve talked about how long you’ve already been in the music business for, and starting singing lessons at 9, but have you always been musical?

Ty: My parents would always be playing music and my mum would play R ‘n’ B, like Neo and Usher. There was always music at the forefront of my interests. I was never really into sports, I would always prefer to watch MTV or things like that.

I had an MP3 player and it was just full of songs that I liked, it was a really weird mix going from High School Musical to Usher and Neo and things like that. But I’ve always loved music and it’s always been something I wanted to do. Well not always something I’ve wanted to do, that came a little later, but it’s always been something I’ve had a passion and love for as I was growing up.

From the singing lessons it just blossomed into something I wanted to do in life and I just realised that this is my path.

GITM: If we can just go back a little to the time when you were doing things like the Teen Star UK contest and the Open Mic UK competition. What were those 2 experiences like at such a young age?

Ty: It was kinda like my time on The Voice in that, getting on the stage I didn’t have an awful lot of experience in gigging but I loved it despite being so nervous. I first entered it when I must have been about 9 or 10 and I didn’t get past the first audition stages. I think that for me was kinda like a kick in the teeth and made me realise that I needed to work harder at it. Looking back though it’s not a surprise as I kinda sounded really bad at 9 or 10 but I think it gave me the push I needed to really want to do this and to go back and prove them wrong in a way.

Teen Star Uk is where I met the singing teacher I have now who is amazing! I think she’s helped me a lot because she’s such an amazing coach, she’s not just helped me with my voice but also my confidence as an artist too. She was there to help me through my time on The Voice and I trust her with my vision as an artist.

I’ve worked with her for 5 or 6 years now and she knows what I want to do and how my voice works and I’ve had a lot of opportunities through her that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

It’s been really good, as much as it was a nerve-wracking experience, it was good too because of the things that came from it, such as I got to play Newcastle Arena at the age of about 17. It was a down-scaled gig so wasn’t the full arena but just to say I’ve had that experience under my belt, to have played an arena is cool.

GITM: Does the same go for Party in The Park, in regards to the experience of having done it?

Ty: I can’t even remember how that came about, I think I reached out to them and asked if they needed performers they actually had me on and it was my first experience of a festival which was amazing. It wasn’t a ‘festival’ festival but it was a gig with such a huge crowd and I was nervous going out there but I loved every single minute of it and that was one of those moments, a turning point, that solidified that this is what I want to do.

I was supposed to go back and play there again last May but with the pandemic and everything going on it was cancelled but fingers crossed I can get back there next year.

I’ve got the Hardwick Festival in August which is headlined by Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and I’ve got a few more things festival-wise coming up and other gigs being booked so hopefully things are opening up and getting back to normal.

GITM: You’ve supported Scouting for Girls and Alexander O’Neil, 2 big names in the music business. How did those opportunities come about and, again, what were those experiences like?

Ty: The Scouting For Girls one was the Party in The Park festival. I didn’t get to meet them but I watched their set and it was weird standing there thinking “I’ve just been on that stage”.

The Alexander O’Neil gig happened when I was about 13. He did some gigs in the North East and one of them was in my home town of Billingham. I happened to have done some work with one of the people who was organising the gig and they asked me if I wanted to open the show.

I didn’t really know who he was at that time but my mum was a big fan of his. It was a really good experience but I can’t really remember much about it because it was quite a while ago and I was so young at the time. But again it was a fantastic opportunity and another really good thing to have under my belt.

Not many people can say they’ve supported Alexander O’Neil at a gig.

 ©Ty Lewis

GITM: In 2020, you were a quarter finalist on The Voice UK. You were on Team Olly. How involved was Olly Murs? Did he get involved a lot in the mentoring and did you learn much from him?

Ty: It was a really weird experience because it all felt surreal. Working with Olly was nice because it almost felt like he was in it as a friend and not as a celebrity. I struggled with a few things that wasn’t quite working and he would be there and he really got involved with the performances and he’d say “Why don’t we try this?” or “What if we do it like that?”.

There was a lot that went on behind the scenes that wasn’t shown. One time we changed the song at the last minute and Olly was always there making sure we knew the song and the way he is on camera, he was the exact same person off camera.

During the knock-outs it was nice because he brought in Ellie Goulding as a guest mentor and that was so nice to speak to her and I had a good chat with them about self-belief and I learned a lot from that conversation, especially with Ellie being such a prominent songwriter. We had a chat about songwriting and the idea of getting involved in songwriting sessions. Typically, about the time I started to look into getting involved in songwriting sessions and writing with other people, everything kind of shut down with the pandemic and everything that’s going on.

But I’m look into getting involved in writing sessions in the next few months. These last 2 songs I’ve written by myself but if I could work with someone else, I can take what I’ve already got and take it up a couple of notches. Working with myself is kinda limiting in a way because I only have my own writing skills and as much as I’m a new writer in a sense, if I was working with someone else then there’s different ideas being put together. That’s something that really crossed my mind until my chat with Olly and Ellie Goulding so I think that was a big thing to me that I thought I really need to take on board and learn. The whole thing was great, to have the experience to work with Olly and to work with the whole team at The Voice was just so nice.

Also to play with the band is something I never get to the opportunity to do because it’s normally just me and the guitar or keys.

GITM: Are you self-taught on those instruments or did you have lessons?

Ty: I had a few guitar lessons when I was younger but I went through a stage, maybe 12 months, where I barely picked up the guitar at all, I really just played it sporadically. Then I picked it back up and started to teach myself to play it. I also taught myself to play the piano. I had one lesson when I was younger but I hated it. It was kinda like a classical piano where you had to sit up straight and it was a case of “You have to play it like this” but I preferred to just play it casually so I taught myself.

I played piano on my first single and also played the guitar and bass and did a lot of the production side on it also. I thought if I could play guitar, piano and produce I would have the ability to make something by myself at home.

GITM: You have a new single out, can you tell us a bit about it? What is the song about and what’s the inspiration behind it?

Ty: ‘Not Just black & White’ is not a follow up single to ‘Used To Be’ but it’s the next one out after it.

It’s pandemic-inspired, which is sort of cringey in a way, because of what’s going on but it’s also nice because it can be interpreted in different ways. It has the idea of a long distance relationship, it’s kind of the feeling of the struggles in a relationship with the distance, social distance, things like that.

It’s the story of having doubts it’s going to work as you’re struggling with distance and the anxiety that comes with that but you both know deep down that you’re meant to be together. The idea it’s not just black and white, it’s not just “we can be together”, it’s not straightforward, there’s things we need to work out.

It’s almost like a conversation, the first verse is like admitting I know I haven’t been as present as I should have been and asking if we can talk through it. The chorus goes inside the conversation of it and then back to admitting things in the second verse.

Musically it’s very much influenced by old school Justin Timberlake, like ‘What Goes Around…Comes Around’, and in the process it kinda emerged like a sort of pop/rock Shaun Mendes influenced tune and it has some cool heavy guitars. With my love of R ‘n’ B its really nice to have that soulful influence and some of those old school kind of riffs.

GITM: Did you record and produce the song yourself?

Ty: No, I’ve been working with Blank Studios in Newcastle with a guy called John Martindale and a guy called Luke Elgin and it was really nice. With my first song I played the instruments myself and I was a bit selfish with it being my first song and wanting it to be very much me. But with this song, Luke’s an amazing guitarist and bass player and it was nice having him playing on it as he had some really cool ideas with the guitar parts. Then there was a guy called Mark who came in and played drums and he was amazing, he added his own little influence with the drums and it was nice to have different parts slotted into the song from different people.

As much as the first song was very much me thinking of everything, it was nice to have a few ideas coming together, almost like the songwriting sessions I mentioned earlier, it took a lot of turns I didn’t expect with the guitars and things like that. That’s the joy of working with other people is that you get things you wouldn’t have thought of yourself.

I did the vocals there in the studio but the backing vocals I did at home. I have a home studio so I recorded some parts at home and john mixed them into the track. It was a big group effort to get the song done and but I’m really happy with how it’s turned out and hopefully people like it.

GITM: Who do you play new music for first? If you finish a song, who do you go to first for an opinion?

I feel like it’s always my parents. They are in a way my biggest critics. If they don’t like it then they will tell me and not sugar coat it. There are some friends who will go to but with this I wanted to keep it wrapped up in a way and keep it secretive. I felt kinda bad as some friends were wanting to hear it but I just kept telling them “not yet”. Normally I send over demos to friends but with this one I just wanted to wait until it was finished. When it was ready I got the feedback from them and was really positive.

GITM: What did you parents think of your new single?

Ty: They really love it. It’s funny, there’s a song I’m working on now that they think is better than this one and they seem to think every song I do I kinda get better with, which is nice as it shows the growth I’m going through.

GITM: What have you got planned next? Anything coming up that you’d like to plug?

Ty: I have a lot of things coming that are going to be exciting. I’m hoping to get an EP out soon which I’m starting work on in a few weeks. I’d really like to see what people think of the new song and them letting me know on social media. I like to get the feedback from people and see what they think.

I’m just looking forward to people hearing it as we worked really hard on it and it will be good to know what people think.

Ty Lewis – ‘Not Just Black & White’

‘Not Just Black & White’ is out now on all digital music platforms.

You can also follow Ty on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Twitter.

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