Debuts don’t come more dazzling, fully realized or powerful than EP1, the opening musical statement of singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Lewis, a.k.a. Pleasure Craft. Heads are going to spin.
EP1 is that rarest of releases, one that scans effortlessly as pop, alternative and 80’s throwback, yet is beholden to none. Powered equally by vivid lyrics and Lewis’s plaintive delivery, which conjures Nick Cave and David Byrne by way of Ian Curtis, this brilliant sonic taster boldly announces a towering new talent.
Indeed, the Toronto-based Lewis has distilled a lifetime’s worth of experiences —including (but not limited to) guitar by age 10, trumpet by age 11, solo world travel, aeronautics training, gigging with retro-rockers Lovers Touch, and a heap of fly-on-the-wall observing — into five utterly unique songs that seep into the consciousness and stay firmly put.
Written by Lewis between 2016 and 2018, and recorded at home and at Humber Recording Studios with notable assists from multiple guest singers and musicians — many encountered by Lewis while studying jazz trumpet at Toronto’s acclaimed Humber College — EP1 clarifies the prevailing Pleasure Craft ethos: music created by Lewis but buoyed by input from collaborators.
“I like to produce and write everything myself to establish the mood, lyrics, and core of each song,” he explains. “But I find if I include other people — send a demo off to one of my friends to add a synth line or a guitar part — the songs get a more rounded, multi-dimensional sound.”
Lewis continues: “When I started writing songs as a teenager, I’d work stuff out on guitar. With this record, everything started with my laptop. I opened up the program Ableton Live and produced a beat or a two-bar loop. From that vibe, I’d sing over it and come up with the lyrics and melody.
“I’ve gotten really into electronic production through my roommate, Andrew Feels. It’s a very free way of writing. I don’t have to think about what my hands are doing. I can just turn off the lights and really get into the words.”
Perhaps ironically, that freewheeling songwriting approach culminates in EP1’s baroque ambiance. Take first single “It’s Not Real” which grafts dreamlike lyrics (“It’s not real/it’s just a magic in my head that makes me feel like it’s not real/it’s in the cars out the window of an airplane…)” onto an iridescent, softly propulsive backdrop. “That song is where the record started, about three years ago when I first moved to Toronto,” Lewis offers, “it’s pretty much about that experience and how unreal it all seemed.”
With its chugging synth and hollered chorus, follow-up single “Back in the Game” — written just prior to EP1’s recording — is equally beguiling. As Lewis explains, it was similarly inspired by the idea of exploring/forging a new identity in a new city, one much bigger and busier than sleepy Salt Spring Island, B.C., where Lewis grew up devouring an eclectic stew of prevailing 90s rock and grunge and parental influences ranging from the Beatles to Renée Fleming to Miles Davis.
“I am quite introverted and introspective and I don’t speak a lot socially,” Lewis chuckles, “but I have a lot to say. I find writing music is the easiest way for me to express myself.”
Interestingly, while Lewis admits to loving jazz, continuing to study it via trumpet, nothing on EP1 nods to the genre. In fact, tracks like the creeping “Fine” — co-written, produced, and mixed by Andrew Feels and propelled at the bridge by ascending, harp-like keyboard scales and throughout by cooing “woo-hoo-hoo” vocals — conjures a spooky, almost cinematic feel.
What genre is EP1 filed under? “The question of genre is frustrating,” Lewis allows “to me it’s just pop music, for the playlists and categories it would probably fall in alternative, but it’s a formality. The music speaks for itself.”
“My hope is that some people will listen to this project as a cohesive piece. It’s only an EP but the lyrics and narrative are meaningful and intentional, I hope that gets across to someone at least.”
Experiencing Pleasure Craft’s superb EP1, only a fool would bet against it.
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