Interview: Eliot Lewis

Dan McAvinchey: Eliot, congratulations on your guitar-focused EP album "Crusade". When
did you start working on the music for this album, and what were your goals for the project?

Eliot Lewis: Thank you! I started working on these songs and tracks at the end of 2013, not long after I released my first live CD, "Live And Upfront". That album was recorded in Ohio. I do a lot of shows in the midwest and end up doing a lot of long drives, so I always have my iPhone's voice recorder ready and have written several songs on these long drives. Sometimes it's just the title or I'll write a complete song in my head. The song "Crusade" was almost completely written on one of those drives.

My goal at this point is instead of putting out a full 10 song CD every year to year and a half, I decided to release these EPs of 5 songs every 6-8 months. I think this serves two purposes, it's a big enough body of work to allow the listener to get involved in, and it keeps the people interested in my music always engaged in new songs. Growing up, it wasn't uncommon for artists to put out records almost twice a year. I'm always writing so this kind of output makes sense to me.

Dan McAvinchey: That's a great strategy. You play a number of instruments, did you play anything other than guitar on "Crusade"?

Eliot Lewis: Yes, although as an artist I consider myself a guitarist, I'm actually a multi-instrumentalist. I play mostly
keys and organ on the "Live From Daryl's House" show, now in it's eighth year, and also with Daryl Hall & John Oates. I started on drums and played a lot of bass throughout my career, especially during the years I was a member of The Average White Band. So when I record my albums it's all me playing every instrument.

Dan McAvinchey: What is your approach to constructing a great guitar solo?

Eliot Lewis: It would be to definitely think like a singer. I've worked with so many great singers in my career, Daryl Hall, Smokey Robinson, Aaron Neville, Shelby Lynn and on and on, and their phrasing is always inspiring to me. So I always go for a melody with some emotion when building a guitar solo, much like a singer would.

I simply don't have the technical abilities some players do so I tend to focus more on melody and and not so much on speed.

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Dan McAvinchey: Does traditional media (radio, print) play any part for you in
getting the word out there about your albums?

Eliot Lewis: Really not so much. Maybe print a little but not so much radio. I'm very fortunate to get some exposure on "Live from Daryl's House" which is now pretty popular all over the world, so that has really helped. I think ideally you have to be out there reaching people with performances and word of mouth.That's the stuff that sticks. I think now more than ever, an artist needs to take complete control over their own promotion.

Dan McAvinchey: Your YouTube videos are excellent - are you using other social media sites to attract attention to your music?

Eliot Lewis: Thanks. Doing a series of music videos is something I've always wanted to do, as I've always embraced the visual side to being a entertainer. I finally found a small team that I clicked with that can help me interpret my music in a visual way. Of course we're utilizing social media too with Facebook and Twitter but the most direct line to my music would always be my own website, which is Eliot Lewis.

Dan McAvinchey: Will you get the opportunity to perform the tracks from "Crusade" and your other solo recordings in front of an audience any time soon?

Eliot Lewis: Yes, in fact I'm on tour right now out west and playing every song on "Crusade". I'd been performing these songs even before they were recorded. I really like to do that, as I find a song can really develop after playing it in front of people for a while.

Dan McAvinchey: What is your role within the Hall and Oates band?

Eliot Lewis: Well, even though I consider myself a guitarist, the position that was available when I was asked to join Daryl Hall & John Oates was the keyboard position and it just kind of stuck. I do get to play guitar here and there and really embrace the variety my position offers. Working with them is a fantastic experience. First and foremost, they have some amazing songs, many of them hits, and many of them timeless. All I ever wanted to do when I was ten years old was to play music and travel the world and I get to do that on a regular basis.

The band itself is really great, which is so important to me. Not only are they all great musicians but also great people. We all really get along and respect each other. There's six members in the band plus Daryl and John and about seven people in the crew with three buses, so it's a fairly large organization. Through working with Hall & Oates I've gotten to play at places I dreamt about, from playing The Hollywood Bowl to The Budokan Arena in Japan to recently meeting and performing for President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at The Governors Ball. It all just proves that a lot of hard work and determination can bring you your dreams.

Dan McAvinchey: Does the fact that the majority of music now is consumed through downloading of mp3s rather than physical media change the way you prepare and record an "album"? Does the concept of an album have the meaning it once did, when an artist can release a couple of tracks at any time?

Eliot Lewis: It doesn't really change the way I record, which is always to strive for the best quality. I do think we're starting to see a shift in how music will be delivered. Of course most of it will be through streaming and hopefully the quality will get better. A lot of artists are pushing for that, so we have to help expose the younger listeners that grew up on only mp3's that the listening experience can really be so much better.
I think for the kind of "classic rock" sounding music that I write, delivering it in a small group of songs makes more sense than just a single song at a time. That's why I'm doing these five song EP's.

Dan McAvinchey: If a guitar rock music fan has never heard of Eliot Lewis, what are two or three tracks off of "Crusade" that you'd say they would have to hear?

Eliot Lewis: I would say the first three tracks, "Crusade", "Soundtrack" and "Sonic Soldier" sum up what I'm doing as an artist pretty well. I always do some guitar instrumentals on my records because of my influences, great guitar players like Jeff Beck. I always thought, there's different ways to convey a melody and for some songs the guitar makes more sense.

Dan McAvinchey: What are you looking forward to next, what's on your musical agenda?

Eliot Lewis: Everything (laughs)! This year is looking very busy. We just finished a brand new season of "Live From Daryl's House" which will start airing on the Palladia channel in late April. I ended up playing a little guitar on some episodes like I did on the Billy Gibbons episode, so I'm excited about that. There's plenty of Hall & Oates touring and a ton of my own shows including an opening show for Boston later in the summer. I have a fantastic new publicist and I think I'll even be able to release another EP this summer, as I have several new songs already written and in rotation in my shows. I've never been busier and never been happier!

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Multi-instrumentalist Eliot Lewis was a member of Average White Band from 1989 to 2002, and he joined Daryl Hall & John Oates' band in 2003. Lewis is also a featured musician on the award-winning web series, and now weekly TV show, "Live From Daryl's House". He recently released an EP of original material entitled "Crusade".

Dan McAvinchey touched base with Lewis last month to get more information about the artist's career and recent works.