The death of genre is approaching us.
If you haven’t noticed this yet, perhaps this editorial will help open your eyes a little. Over the past few years, music as an art form has continually broken down the barriers that were previously in place. When you listen to music now, it is becoming easy to see how these genre walls are steadily deteriorating. Sure we still see trends and creative waves that come an go, but those genres; Hip-Hop, Country, Rock & Roll, Pop, are disappearing. A project might have its roots in one area, but the sound is something of its own now. As time progresses, we see creatives adopting this approach today, especially in the next generation of music. We are literally witnessing/listening to history change around us.
A notable creative who is adopting this approach heavily is South Jersey native Lewis IS Dead. Blending many genres to create a sound that is only descriptive of himself. With his core based in Hip-Hop, Lewis has crafted a creative approach unlike any I have ever heard. When I first discovered Lewis, I was instantly on board and knew I had to get a hold of him — to sit down and pick his mind. I was given the opportunity of doing just that.
In the year 2015, music is an experience. The usual formulas are no longer acceptable and artists are going far and wide to create what is them. I wanted to explore this idea of experimental sound in 2015 and thought Lewis was the perfect candidate for a piece centered around this idea. After talking to him, I found that I was right. Lewis might be one of the most interesting humans I have spoken to in a long time. He is truly someone who gets the bigger picture that is around all of us. Read the interview below to learn about his ideas on the death of genre, his creative process and inspirations, his new upcoming film “Inferno”, his upcoming record Daggerwolf, and his take on mainstream music and art today. Then let us know, are genres truly dying? What does that mean? Do creatives like Lewis understand the bigger picture?
My music is all over the place, and that’s not a derogatory thing.”
To start off, who is Lewis Is Dead? Where does he come from, what is he?
Lewis is just another musician who uses music to express and articulate what is on his mind. Whatever I’m feeling goes straight into my music. I create for those who might not necessarily be able to articulate what they are feeling.
My real name is Stephen Lewis Allen III, so that’s where “Lewis” actually comes from, it’s my real middle name. I’m from South Jersey, so there are lots of woods. My father is from Pennsylvania so it’s the same story there. Essentially, my whole life I’ve been surrounded by, like, woods and trees. It’s not the city, but also not the country; it’s kind of both. So growing up, I’ve gotten to experience both sides.
How would you describe your sound? What is it?
Well, essentially at the core, it IS hip-hop. (When) listening, you aren’t going to hear that though because it has evolved to such a new level at this point. There are so many genres mixed together, but listening, you can definitely still catch that hip-hop vibe from it because that’s where it started. Recently, I’ve been listening to more blues and electronic music, so I’m challenging my own music by trying to incorporate those sounds into one. I WANT to challenge the listener with my music. At this point my music is its own genre. My music is all over the place, and that’s not a derogatory thing. By that, I mean It’s just expression. Now, more artists are moving to that approach. That is starting to get rid of genres. Soon it’ll just be a bunch of artists that can only be separated by color. The whole thing is different in 2015. My music, I guess, could be described as alternate or dark. I just try my best to express what I see visually.
A lot of my sound comes from TV shows and films, honestly. You know when you watch something and there is that one character that you relate to? You come out of the movie and start acting like them or taking on their qualities? You just feel inspired? Like when you go watch a badass kung-fu movie and you just wanna kick ass afterwards, or you watch Batman and feel like Batman afterwards? THAT’S what I want. I want to take THAT and put it into my records. When you listen to music now it’s all so blunt. There isn’t any poetry to it. It’s “I got this or I got that”, ok cool, now what? In my music I’ll put that twist to reality in it, exaggerate on the emotion of the music. When you get so upset you start saying things like “I swear I’ll kill him” but you don’t actually want to kill that person, but you still said it. You were so caught up in the emotion that (those words) came out, I want my music to do just that. I bring a poetic and cinematic take to music.
We don’t need totems anymore.”
So you mentioned inspiration from TV and Film, what are some examples? Talk about that, that’s really interesting.
HBO. They BARELY miss there. I just love the vibe most of their shows have, it’s dark and real. Like Game of Thrones, I love that shit. I love Tarantino films, Stanley Kubrick, J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan. They all fit my music. That darker vibe is cool. Those guys represent it best. I love movies like Eyes Wide Shut, American Psycho, Donnie Darko; they are so cerebral. They illustrate that human condition. They explore the dream state and what humans are really thinking. So I watch things like that and basically just create the soundtrack to the scenes that really stick out to me.
With that being said, what else inspires you? Where else do you get inspirations, musically or otherwise?
Honestly, this is going to seem weird, but technology is HUGE for me. I don’t really ever talk about that, but yeah, I’m extremely into technology. I actually work in tech for my day job right now. I love keeping up with all the big dudes like Elon Musk; he’s the CEO of Space X and Tesla, and he’s honestly like my idol right now. I’m just into that whole idea of a different approach. Tech is an entirely different world. I’m trying to find a home in it for my music though. I look at my music as computer software, and then I ask myself “Ok, how can I integrate this?” Doing this inspires me to apply my music to different mediums. Technology already goes hand in hand with music, that fact just usually gets overlooked. Many people don’t even realize that.
Not too long ago I was in a museum with my girl, all around us was all these rocks and stones and such. At one point she stopped and asked me,”Well if this is the museum we look at, what will our museums look like?”. I just pulled out my phone and said, “This.This right here will.” Then she asked me, “Is that ok?”. That made me think, and I came to the conclusion, you know, yeah… that IS ok. We’ve already passed our spiritual stage. We don’t need totems anymore. Religion has figured itself out over thousands of years to where that doesn’t matter anymore, at this point it just exists. Museums show time, when you look back at one point it might have been music, then paintings and shit, well now it’s technology. I’m a musician, right now technology is still just in the news. I think the future of humanity is music integrating with technology.
It’s emotion first.”
What is your creative process like? Where/how do you start? And how does that work?
I start everywhere. I drive a lot, and when I drive, I sing. *laughs* I mean we all do, but I just sing and it starts as just some dumb shit, but eventually over time that turns into something good. I started creating my own beats a little over a year ago. I just got tired of others so I started doing it myself. I mean, sometimes it’s the words first, other times it’s the beat first. One of the biggest things now is that I stopped writing like a year ago as well. So now my music is straight from myself, including all the fuck-ups.
There’s a new song I have that is literally half mumbles. It’s emotion first. I’ve become incredibly improvisational with music now. I don’t force anything. I’m not trying for the best fucking rap verse ever, I’m not no fucking Lauryn Hill with my vocals, I want people to be able to listen and just recognize me. I’m really into cool titles too. A lot of times that is what comes first, it’s just a dope title and then that inspires me to build a world up from that alone. That’s actually a BIG part of my creative process. It’s the first thing you see, that text, when an artist releases their tracklist or you are looking on iTunes. That’s what you see is — that text. So typography, titling, and poetry are really important to me. I mean, it can start anywhere, just really cool shit. I take titling really serious though. That title sets the vibe for what you are going to hear. A good example is this track Carmega and I came up with a few months ago called “Wolves Wear Wolves”, I mean it’s easy to see how that can just set the vibe and make you start thinking about what you are going to listen to. So it’s interesting when I have my own take from a title, but then I also have to try and make it match how others will interpret it. I just love how you can be looking on iTunes and you see something and just go “What the fuck is that…”.
You have a short film coming out soon titled “Inferno”. You want to talk about that at all? There aren’t many details out about it yet; so what’s the story with it?
Yeah, I haven’t talked about it at all, except for one quick snapshot I posted on Instagram. There’s a song on Daggerwolf called “Burning In The Woods”. That’s what it was inspired from. I got in touch with a director on Instagram and I honestly have no clue how it came together. It was like a triangle of events between myself and these other three directors — we were all commenting on a (Instagram) post and then one ended up in my DMs, I think I was drunk honestly. *laughs* But it was this odd chain of events that birthed the idea for this short film. I had watched his short called Cowboy, and I hated the story, but I absolutely loved the visuals. I’ve always wanted to find a way for film; I hate videos now. Youp Wehnes originally reached out to me about designs and stuff, but I was like “Fuck that”, let’s make a film. After that we just started hiring and casting.
The premise for the film is that the main character is sexually aroused by destruction and fire. I wanted a female for the part because it was easier to connect to and get into, where as (Youp) originally wanted a guy and I was like “Fuck that”, that’s too awkward. It stars Anna Ustian and her sister Emma, who are both from the Netherlands. Anna plays “Daughter” who is the main role and her sister Emma plays the younger version of “Daughter” in the past, and she’s actually Anna’s real younger sister so it’s cool. I play the character of “Daggerwolf”, who serves as — a sort of — spiritual guide throughout the film. I’m not going to speak too much more on that right now, as I don’t want to spoil too much of the project. There is no dialogue, it’s not a direct film. The score is still in progress, as my project is still being crafted. My project Daggerwolf and the film Inferno go hand in hand. So far the whole thing is coming out very well. We just hired a Special Effects guy to work with everything and make sure all the CGI comes out right and what not. I just hope people really enjoy it and I hope this could help me enter the film realm. I want film to be my second craft, a lot of musicians do/have that, their second specialty. Now it’s usually just fashion or some shit like that, I want film. I guess i’m more of a visual person than audio which is funny since i make music. *laughs* I love getting into it and learning as much as i can. The whole film is shot in the Netherlands, I executive produced from overseas here.
Let me tell you, film is a completely different world. We were still writing as we shot it too. *laughs* This is my first ever film experience, and so far, it has been REALLY cool. See, in music I’m already pretty skilled because it’s what I do all the time. So if I create something, there is automatically that certain quality to it. It’s not like that for making this film, it’s all new. One thing that’s harder is that, in film, almost everything has to be perfect. Another challenge is that Anna and her sister aren’t actresses, they are just models. So it was critical for them to nail their parts and it was hard because they’ve never done any sort of acting like this before. It’s fucking cool and dope though.
It’s all bite-size entertainment now, that’s the mentality society has today.”
It’s like now, people don’t really watch videos anymore. There is a shorter mindset in society today. All of our media is so short. It’s like no one has 10 minutes anymore. I’d rather put 2-3 grand into a film or a small ass clip than a video. I want to conduct my visuals in different ways. Right now they are just played out and dead, except for a select few who are trying to save the art form. The problem is, no one is willing to spend money on them anymore, nobody wants to spend those millions to make an interesting and effective music video. Everybody has a Canon and all of a sudden they can make visuals. I want to take the guerrilla route, make sure it all hits at home. It’s all bite-size entertainment now, that’s the mentality society has today, is bite-size entertainment. There are all these old traditions and boundaries that continue to get followed, well i’m here to change that. I want to give you audio emotion and expression, not just some packaged shit.
Looking ahead, what are some of your goals? Creatively or in life? Short or long term?
Well short term, definitely quit my job. I want music and entertainment to be my full-time occupation. I want to get paid from doing whatever; from being Lewis. Long term, to evolve into the culture of what’s going on in humanity today. I’m an entertainer, i work in entertainment, but I don’t want to take the usual corny business routes. I’m very idea based, essentially I want to re-design the world. I want to get into anything possible, that’s dope, and be everywhere possible. I don’t want to be JUST “Lewis Allen, The Music Artist”. My goal is, thru my campaign, to gain enough prestige and reputation to be an icon in culture itself. Look at guys like Prince, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin — it’s thanks to them to be able to think that way. They took the whole branding thing to another level. That idea of being more than just a musician, to brand everywhere and enhance everything. I want to be what the Beatles were to Steve Jobs, I want THAT, to inspire the next important people of the world. I want to sit down the leaders of entertainment and media and twist it all up.
Anything pure will be my legacy.”
You look at it right now, everything is based off of right now. Fast Food is everywhere, that’s the culture right now, it’s all so temporary. None of that is going to be here forever. It’s all hype and marketing and you can feel that going into it. I guess if there were a label, Entrepreneur would fit what my goals are. I want to create as much as there is possible to. Whatever fits who I am. Then deliver that with quality, no schemes or tricks. I want to move the world forward with the things I believe in. Then, take all that and apply it to my music. I want to affect the world to move it in a better direction. I want people to get into it more, to create those powerful emotions and feelings. Make people look in different directions and not fear today’s fears. The ultimate goal is to take everything to the next level, I’m essentially open to everything. Right now it’s just music, but that will morph. Anything pure will be my legacy.
Along with “Inferno” you are currently working on your next music project entitled Daggerwolf, you want to speak on that at all? The story, sound, theme/idea or anything?
It’s my next album. It started by me wanting to make my next album. My friend Carmega is working on his debut right now entitled “100 Nights”, which has more of a modern blues sound to it. Well, I got influenced by being around that and I wanted to try the same sound. I went out and started buying instruments and things to achieve that blues sound, I dived right into it. That is what created records like “Burning In The Woods” and “Down By The River”. It became this blues/electronic/hip-hop sound. The mixing was horrible and it was just bad, so it got scrapped. I tried looking at what wasn’t working and realized it wasn’t me. So I said “Fuck that” and it turned into that tribal sound that you hear on “Young Men Don’t Sleep” and what you will hear on “Red Giant” which is coming out soon. “New Tribe/Matriarchs” from my previous project “No Daughters Are Safe” also really fits that sound that i’m gravitating towards. Just tons of drums. I don’t know why, but all those tribal and cultural drums are super easy for me to work with and create with. My records just started becoming based off that tribal sound. If you think about it, that was the original music of the world. It’s history, the drums were the first instruments. I mean even now, you listen to Trap music and I’d consider that tribal. It isn’t spiritual necessarily, but it still contains all those drums. It’s like the future tribal sound. It’s the future but it still contains those ancient tribal vibes.
In the second Matrix movie, that scene with Zion where it’s all fucked up, they are partying in that cave and playing drums, but outside is all the ships and the future around them. THAT’S this album. Dark and tribal. The future is still right outside though. You look at Tron too, it has those vibes as well. Or for example, take a caveman who is painting in this cave, but then all around him are LEDs. That’s the album. When you look at “Young Men Don’t Sleep” it has those tribal drums, smooth, but still super hard.
Nothing sounds like this album. It’s very different and just powerful. The most controversial song I have ever made is on this album. When that releases it will actually fuck certain things up in my life. That might actually be my next single, I haven’t decided yet. I want this project to be that project where down the line this is the one that gets mentioned. When people talk about Lewis and they go “Oh that Daggerwolf was it though, that project was crazy”. This will be the one they remember the most and associate with me best. I also want other artists to listen to this project, and in doing so, influence them to change and believe in who they are. Everybody sings in the shower, that’s YOU, now make that reality, put THAT into your craft.
I really just stopped listening to other artists, it was either listening to myself or nothing. That way I could throw myself into my own world. When you listen you feel ME, nothing else, no other outside influences. If you listen and think “Wow, this is really weird..” that’s fine, if you listen and think “Wow, I love this…” then great. It doesn’t really matter as long as you hear it for what it is: me. I just want to bring that cinematic take to the music, rather than just party or radio music. Your anthem or theme song will be on here. This is movie music. When you listen to tracks like “War Fur” or “I Fight Everyday”, you’ll understand.
How did you arrive at this approach and sound? What made you realize, “Ok this is me, this is what I need to do.”?
This one night, it just all made sense to me. Everything changed. I played the album for myself, listening, I wanted more hits. I spoke to Jake — my manager — and all he said was “Is that you? Is that what you want?”. I was having such a hard time trying to figure this out and then I just realized, I don’t need it. All I have to do is make what I want, it can get taken however it gets taken. I just stopped thinking about others. As an artist that’s hard to do, you are almost always thinking about what people will think, in any medium of art. I just threw myself into that “Fuck it” realm. I wanted to make music that’s myself, where when you listened you would go “Ok, that’s Lewis”. I stopped rapping and just started doing different vocals.
“Young Men Don’t Sleep” is honestly probably the most put together track on the album. “War Fur” is, like, half murmurs and mumbles. That’s on purpose, though. When you listen to a song that you know, but you don’t quite know the words and you try to sing along and mimic it, but that just becomes those murmurs and mumbles, THAT’S what this song is. If you cried when you wrote the song, you should cry IN the song. All the new music is raw, when you listen you can hear I didn’t try. I don’t mean I didn’t put effort in, what I mean by that is nothing is forced. It’s all myself and that was easy. It came straight from my chest. It’s not that I’m lazy, I just didn’t remove the human flaw, or attempt to. The album is human, it’s not perfection, I don’t like (perfection). You listen to music now and everything is just “perfect”. There is nothing there to relate to. When you go to sleep you aren’t thinking about the music or how you related to it. I got tired of that so i just stopped listening to it. After that, everything changed for me. It’s all real shit. So if it offends you I’m sorry, I have to say it, though. It’s like my journal, it’s fucked up but that’s cool.
Before we wrap up, are there any last words to the youth you’d like to share? Anything you’d like to get off your mind before we go?
To anyone out there reading this, you don’t have to do what others think is “cool” to be cool. The coolest thing out there is confidence in your self. Whatever you do, do it with confidence and you will achieve success. All that other fucked up shit that people show off to be “cool” is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to show these bad habits off to be “cool”. As public figures, there is a responsibility there to influence those following us in the correct ways, to at least be aware of what we portray to them. This gladiator match for fame is not cool. Just be yourself. The rest is just ignorance and bullshit. Don’t chase or try to be what others do. You like what you like. At the end of it all, if the power goes out we are all the same people. Don’t follow.