He’s a Canadian gem and world-class talent who has been putting in work on the drums since the tender age of two. Dubbed a child prodigy, in his adult years Lewis has gone on to receive many accolades such as the prestigious “Oscar Peterson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music” (2004) and the Toronto Arts Foundation’s “Emerging Jazz Award” (2017). From Canada’s own Molly Johnson, Divine Brown and Kellylee Evans, to U.S. legends Chaka Khan, Quincy Jones and Joshua Redman, his resume is chock full of artists known to deliver the highest calibre of artistry. Let’s not forget, as the drummer for Grammy Award-winning Snarky Puppy, Lewis continues to bring his talent and expertise to the masses. He’s all ours and we’re more than proud to call him our own. If you don’t know about Lewis or his work, here’s your chance to get to know what the Professor of Music at Humber College is about. ByBlacks spoke to Lewis about the concept for his new album, what inspires his art, and who his dream collaborator (and we mean epic dream collaborator) would be.
Your new album is called Relive The Moment. Since you started your journey, you’ve had so many epic moments in your musical career. A Grammy-Award winning artist and drummer with the incomparable Snarky Puppy, JUNO award nominee, musical director for a tribute to Quincy Jones during TIFF...what was the inspiration behind the album and if you had to relive one of your favourite musical moments, what would it be?
Oh my gosh. Okay, let’s talk about the album first. Relive The Moment is basically for me, reliving and reimagining some of the moments from my previous album "In The Moment". It was recorded during the pandemic. It’s an in-studio performance of me playing drums to some of the tracks from my album, but there’s also a tribute to my ancestry called “Forgotten Ones” that drops with a video on November 20th.
Alright, so now, if you had to relive one of your favourite musical moments what would it be?
Last year, I had the opportunity to tour with Quincy Jones. One of the performances is available on his online channel, Quest TV. Being able to play music he’s written, arranged, composed, and produced, thinking about all the artists he’s worked with...just getting a chance to talk to him and hang out with artists like Marcus Miller. Sheléa is another amazing artist as well who was on the show...just being on stage. Then one of my musical mentors, steel pannist Andy Narell, was in the crowd. So getting to experience music in that way and being in that atmosphere and being in that area was just awesome. That’s one that I would love to relive, for sure.
This album is an interpretation of six tracks from your debut album, In The Moment, with one new track. Seeing that it was your first solo album, was it an easy task to extrapolate or strip down your original tracks to reinterpret them? What was the creative process like?
This reinterpretation is more just on the drum performance aspect. The backing tracks are the same, but the drum performance is inspired by the amount of time I’ve now been able to play the songs. When you’re in the studio and you’re recording stuff for the first time, especially if you’re an artist/producer, there’s a lot that you’re managing at the same time. So you gotta make sure that this is happening... and where’s the catering and who forgot the bagels? Oh, I gotta go get the bagels? Okay. Alright, get some water...you like coffee, you like tea. Wait, is it the other way around? You like tea and you like coffee?
Your brain is scattered with all this stuff. Is this supposed to be an F sharp or an F Larnell? Can we play that again? So there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the moment. Then you have to sit down at your instrument, be effective, and do this performance that everyone is going to hear forever. On top of that, I wanted to just record with the band and not have the pressure of being in front of cameras right away. I wish I’d caught a lot of those moments on film. I ended up having a full out camera team, multi-track recording, and a beautiful facility at Jukasa Studios. I needed video content because as we were getting a little deeper into the pandemic, everyone was trying to pivot and figure out how they could do what they do online. Strengthening my presence with the team was a highpoint. My band and I had done a lot the year before to prepare to go on tour, but since I couldn’t be in the same room with everyone due to COVID-19 restrictions, it made sense to have an in-studio performance and make that available as a new album.
You’re an extremely talented drummer and have been honing your talent since you were a toddler. You were called a youth child prodigy from the jump. That’s a pretty long journey from toddler to now. In what ways do you stretch yourself to grow?
That’s a great question. I was taught to find inspiration in everything. I learned whatever I could from my environment if things got a little bit stale. Sit outside and take a look at the motion of the trees. Is there a rhythm to that which feels comfortable? I mimic that with the music that I’m writing because the wind is not going to blow the same way twice. There’s something in that moment that I would want to capture. Even the flow of a conversation back and forth. When it does or doesn’t feel inspiring, there’s a story behind that too. Think about the people you have in your circle. Are they people that you would like to be on a long car ride with? I feel we can sometimes take these moments for granted. I look at those moments and want to put them in my music. Whether it’s a composition or playing in a compositional-type way to tell that story—that’s a big thing for me. To keep things fresh and to keep things moving because I didn’t have access to lessons that a lot of people had. I grew up in the school of hard knocks and music comes from my family bloodline; further back than I would ever know.
How far back are we talking about?
Well, I only know as far back as my great-grandfather. I know that he was a guitar player in Santo Domingo. I know my grandfather, who I got a chance to jam with when I was about six years old, was a guitarist, violinist and saxophonist. His sons all played. My dad is a multi-instrumentalist and my brother is a drummer as well. A very accomplished drummer...he’s actually the drummer for The Weeknd.
Wow. Well that makes sense.
Yeah. My wife is Joy Lapps-Lewis and she plays steel pan. My kids are banging around on instruments all the time...music for our family was more of a communal get-together thing that we did. There’s lots of food, dancing, and conversation. Then we get to the music part. Every Christmas, or at least every other Christmas, whatever we arrange—The Lewis’ get together. That is just the thing that we do.
That’s a crazy jam session. I have a visual in my head. To be a fly on that wall…
Yeah, those are beautiful musical moments as well that I would love to relive.
You literally take life’s little intricacies and make music about, and around it. That’s a beautiful thing.
Yeah...it’s endless, you know? That’s what it is.
We were just touching upon your family members and the different instruments they play. Your background is so layered with knowledge of many musical genres. Jazz, funk, calypso, soca, and zouk. What I love about Snarky Puppy’s sound is that it’s eclectic and textured. I’m sure you’ve been able to play around and improvise with so many different sounds. Just listening to “We Like It Here” alone...you go absolutely nuts on songs like “What About Me” and you can hear the zouk influence on “Jambone.” How would you describe your development as a drummer over the years to where you are today?
I would describe the development in itself as a journey of self-discovery. I would also say that how a lot of that came to be is, [in] a lot of the environments I was in, people were encouraging me to dig deeper into that zone of self-discovery. To observe my Caribbean roots. To understand what it means to be in Canada. To be connected to America. To understand the funk and soul influence on the Caribbean, and the Caribbean influence on hip hop and jazz, because it actually came before. Just knowing the history and owning it. I think I would describe it as not only self-discovery but also as a direct channel to understanding. I mean, you can’t necessarily own music, but you can own your history and the reflection of it in music. My dad encouraged me to learn different styles and genres and to be at the level to play them in such a way, and respect it in such a way, that people in such regions would connect with me; to appreciate the time spent and the respect that I have for their culture.
I’m going to pivot a little bit. You have a stellar resume that boasts a lot of our favourite musical artists. You’ve worked with the likes of Gregory Porter, Molly Johnson, Lalah Hathaway, Divine Brown, Lisa Fischer and Kellylee Evans—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hypothetically, let’s say you release your next album and it was an album of cameos. Who are a few of your favourite artists today that you would like to collaborate with?
Aww man! (laughs)
We know this list could be mad long, but remember, you only have space for, let’s say, 10 tracks on your album.
Okay. What’s my budget? (laughs)
Great question! No budget! Sky's the limit. You can have anyone you want.
Stevie Wonder. Just...yeah. Stevie Wonder. Absolutely. If he could buss a track with a passage on a course that keeps repeating, or even playing harmonica, or even a spoken word message, that would be just...I hold him so high in terms of his light and what he stood for through each generation. Regardless of what was happening in politics or social dynamics—it didn’t matter. He stood firm. People have their journeys, their ups and their downs, but what he represents to me is the idea of coming together and always encouraging people to turn from fighting to love. That’s what I see. I would love that energy, spirit, and consciousness; the awareness, respect, and gratitude that he has for his life experience. I would love to be a part of that in any way. If that was on my album, I don’t know what I would do with myself. (laughs)
So you’re just going with Stevie? That’s all you need?
I mean, that would fill my cup. That would do it. If I had more to receive? You mentioned two of them definitely—Lalah Hathaway for sure and Lisa Fischer for sure. Lisa...her energy on stage...but then to be so gentle with shifting it? That to me is just...yeah, Lisa Fischer. I love you Lisa. (laughs) Marcus Miller too, he’s another one for me.
What are your plans for the launch of the album and is there anything coming up that we should be looking forward to? Especially with the pivot and everything that we were discussing earlier. I know it’s hard for artists to share their work the way they are used to—putting it out and then touring and all of that. So how is the pivot going to affect you?
The full album will be released digitally on all platforms and there will be a video that drops that day called “The Forgotten Ones” which is my open solo tribute to my ancestors. And if you follow my YouTube page you will see more content from that session. All the videos will be released, once a month, to give everyone some time to process. There’s also some great content coming out as far as sheet music, play-along tracks, and merchandise (hats, sweaters, t-shirts)—so all of that is in the works. The digital album is coming out on November 20th, physical copies of CDs should be out in December, and then we’re actually going to work on vinyl. It’s been mastered already for all of the audiophiles out there who keep on messaging my inbox about, ‘I want this on vinyl!’ Well, I heard you.
Relive The Moment will be released on Friday, November 20th and distributed on all musical platforms.