Watford-born, Jay Lewn is an artist to watch. Breaking into the industry as an engineer for acts like Beabadoobee, Yuna and Gucci Mane, Jay Lewn is carving out a space for his own creativity. His debut, FORM 01, blurred genres of pop and RnB for an effortlessly sexy and cool album. With two singles out in the world off of his follow up, LOVERBOY, Lewn is taking that style with him as he explores the complex and twisted experiences of love.
We caught up with Jay Lewn about his process, inspiration, and his recent single “Glitter Ain’t Gold” off of the upcoming album, LOVERBOY.
Starting off, what sort of music did you listen to growing up?
I had quite an eclectic mix growing up, my dad would always play Stevie Wonder in the car so I was put onto one of the greats since early. It’s safe to say that Stevie has definitely had an impact on my song-writing in the best way. I’m from a big family so there was a lot on rotation from Britney to 50 Cent and System of the Down to Portishead; I’ve always been pretty open to any genre and any style of music. And I definitely had an infatuation with 00s Pop-Punk aha! Being musically receptive leaves you open to be pleasantly surprised by an artist you would have never listened to otherwise.
So I guess in short…pretty much everything.
I read you studied at the Abbey Road Institute. What’s that training meant to how you approach your music?
I loved my time there, it definitely taught me discipline and studio etiquette. There were a lot of rules and ‘correct ways to do things’ and to a point I get it, especially with engineering and mixing. With creativity though, there was a level of ‘unlearning’ I had to do after my time there. Obsessing over sonic details and fine tuning mic placements is great but I had to shift my perspective on making a record, zoom out and focus on the song-writing as a whole. It doesn’t matter how good your snare sounds if the song is trash aha! That being said it’s an amazing institution and I am so proud to have been a part of it even in a small way!
Building on your work as an engineer, has anything been surprising about creating and writing for your own vision?
I produce (or co-produce) and mix all of my own music, partly because I’m OCD about it and partly because I couldn’t afford to pay for an engineer who would take as much care as me! I don’t take my training and engineering background for granted at all; it was a very intense time with long hours often 7 days a week but I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I thrive off the long hours tbh!
I definitely try to take a ‘lets just go for it’ stance when it comes to creativity. It took me a while to get there, and honestly I’m still in a constant cycle of development with it, but having the confidence to trust your gut and ignore your inner critic opens you up to exciting new sounds and ideas.
Recently, I’m surprised by my willingness to throw out the rule book! There are technical things that I do that would make my younger self or mentors upset but right now, it’s anyone’s game and I’m just taking it as it comes! More exciting that way!
The past year has been challenging for many reasons, but what’s your experience been like making music in the past year?
Autonomy, that’s’ the word that comes to mind. I’ve always been independent and like everyone in 2020 I had to face up to myself to decide how I would deal with the global panoramic…The biggest challenge for me was finding a new approach to make a record; working remotely (or dreaded zoom sessions…) and sending parts back and forth.
If I’m being honest, music making really thrived initially as everyone was keen to work and be involved with anything creative! I wrote most of my LOVERBOY project at the beginning of the first lockdown. Of course there have been other challenges like finances, my mental health and motivation which often are all closely related; it’s been a balancing act but I’m grateful to say I’ve been able to come through into 2021 looking forward to what’s to come!
In a dream post-COVID festival line-up, who are you performing alongside?
I’ll keep it local because the UK has seen an amazing amount of new music over the past year.
Shygirl, Bree Runway, Louis Culture, Biig Piig, RADA, JGrrey, Lava La Rue, Kasien, Ragz Originale, Kish!, [KSR], Rina Sawayama & Rada.
There’s so many more but I’m loving all of the UK right now! Would be a nice little motive aha!
What were some of your inspirations for your upcoming record Loverboy?
I have to start by saying Frank Ocean and Stevie Wonder are pretty much always somewhere in my subconscious when I’m creating! Beyond them, I was listening to a lot of UK music: Louis Culture and Haich Ber Na – I loved their approach to production and freedom to jump between genres and textures unapologetically!
Each track on LOVERBOY focuses on a different perspective around the theme of love. Some more explicit, like heartbreak and relationships, some are a little more abstract like communication and romance in the digital world. I love to have visual representation when I’m songwriting and that normally comes in the form of playing a video on mute whilst I’m writing; 9 times out of 10 it was Ghost in the Shell (Anime, 1995) there’s something fantastical about the world’s created in anime series and movies that inspire me so much. I’ve been diving into the work of Ren Hang and Hajime Sorayama too!
The visuals for “Glitter Ain’t Gold” are like a sexy, psychedelic western in the best way. How did that come together?
I’m a punk at heart! I love flipping the world on its head and presenting my music in a way that wouldn’t be expected! I had five words for the video team as my brief, BDSM-Punk-on the Range. Jamie A Waters and the JAW team have directed all the videos for the LOVERBOY project so far as well as design all the artworks. We have worked very closely over the past 9 months building our ‘fruity-punk’ world piece by piece; I’m extremely grateful for their help and excited for what else we will create.
Glitter Ain’t Gold was a lockdown baby! We shot the entire video remotely, we set up all the equipment ourselves in our living rooms and the JAW team directed through zoom! It was definitely a reflection of the global panasonic – would I shoot a music video remotely again, maybe not lol, but I’m so proud of the JAW team for producing something fucking incredible! DIY forever baby!!!
Lucinda Graham is a close friend, eco-punk-dream, and long-time collaborator of mine. Lucinda has been a creative sounding board and stylist for me since my debut project, FORM 01, and she always encourages my weird and wonderful ideas and more often than not she pushes me into the best version of myself. Of course, a very special shout out to the sexiest cow on the range, Danni Spooner! They have performed in other videos of mine as well and I am so so so lucky to have been able to work with them and have them contribute to my art!
Lastly, what do you hope listeners take away from Loverboy?
That Jay Lewn is an artist they want to keep an eye (and ear) on! There’s so much more to come after LOVERBOY but I want listeners not to expect anything. All I can promise is great music, fresh and unique collaborations, and the visual world we create will be more weird and as wonderful than it’s been so far! I want them to enjoy the journey through my world, it’s going to be fun!