Most western musicians hoping to tour in Asia usually wait until they have a handful of popular releases and a solid fan base before venturing east. But British singer-songwriter Rhys Lewis is doing things a little differently: he’s hoping to win over Asian audiences before even releasing his debut album.
We spoke on the phone to Lewis, who is in the middle of a jam-packed festival season, to find out about his writing evolution, his Asia tour, and his latest single What If, which came out in July.
“I basically went through a weird patch in my life where I was very busy with work and my relationship was suffering because of it,” says the singer, discussing the inspiration behind the emotional lyrics of What If. “Instead of trying to figure it out, and work through it with my girlfriend at the time, I bailed, and threw her to the wayside, as I carried on with my career. Looking back on it, I thought ‘Have I made the right decision here? Was that the right thing to do?’ and I’m still considering the whole relationship.”
A self-professed overthinker, Lewis admits his tendency to romanticise the past can “create a narrative that can end up being almost a delusion”.
Still, it’s this depth of thought in his writing which seems to be resonating with people around the world, resulting in more than 100 million streams on Spotify alone. On his most recent EP, In Between Minds, which was released in April, Lewis pushed himself to tackle more nuanced subjects than he had on earlier releases.
“A thousand love songs get written every day, but I think [the key is] trying to approach it in its most honest and original way,” he says. “Maybe they’re not obvious, but I approached some themes like politics and the state of the world. On the first EP, I still felt passionate about those things, but wasn’t necessarily able to find a channel for those ideas in my music – but they can be as equally emotional for me, as well as for my listeners.”
His social media channels are equally appealing, often featuring humorous videos alongside new release announcements or tour dates, which has helped break down that barrier between creator and consumer.
“Social media has taken over, and I think for people getting involved in music now, there’s probably quite a conflict on what you should spend your time doing,” says Lewis, who never used social media until he started releasing his own music.
“Some people have their online personas, but I want to make sure mine is as true to me as possible. Slowly over time, I think I’ve felt more comfortable being myself online, but ultimately, what’s going to lead your musical career is having honest and good songs.”
The 27-year-old’s tour kicked off in Singapore before he headed to Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, mainland China, South Korea, and Japan. During his stop in Hong Kong, he performed at Terrible Baby in Kowloon on August 3.
“I’ve only ever been to Shanghai before, and that was the first time I’d ever experienced any part of Asia, so I’m mega excited to experience the culture,” Rhys says.
His stripped-backed shows consist of just him, his acoustic guitar, and a keyboard player. “I have no idea what to expect with how my music will be received,” he admits, “but it’ll be surreal to know there’s people who might know some of the songs.
“To be that far from home, and to know there’s a small fan base in these places will be really special.”