Transcribed by Kaylee Ellis
A native of Singapore and current student at Berklee College of Music, Lewis ‘Lew’ Loh has made big waves already within the singer-songwriter circles, having garnered over 1M streams on spotify with hit “Loved You So”. He has most recently released EP Red Flags, featuring various collaborators also from Berklee. I have the honour of calling him a friend and accompanied him on violin in an intimate songwriter set last year; most recently however, I attended a striking late night EP release show of his at Boston’s Lilypad.
How did you get into singing and songwriting?
I started taking it seriously at 18, when I moved from Hong Kong to Singapore. I was a police officer in Singapore for two years and was best trainee in my class. That was my job from Monday to Friday, so Saturday and Sunday were when I would pursue my music stuff. That’s when I started performing around Singapore - on the weekends I would see if I could get some gigs and shows to play, and if not I would write songs. Whenever I had time I would write a little bit...poems, lyrics, stuff.
Had you been playing music before that?
In high school I just sang, but I had never really written. I’d always felt like writing music was too hard for me. But once I started doing it, I realized it wasn’t that bad - just take the chords from songs you like and write different melodies.
Who inspired you?
My top two inspirations are Passenger and Birdy. I love Birdy’s melodies and emotional content, and Passenger’s lyrics and phrasing. Obviously you start off by mimicking and creating melodies that sound like something they would do, and then you start to find your own sound.
When did you decide to attend Berklee?
I knew when I came for Five-Week in 2013 that I wanted to come to Berklee for college, but then I had to serve for two years. After I served I applied to Berklee and only Berklee. I thought, “If I don’t get in, I’m not going to school.” But I got in and that’s why I’m here.
When did you release your first single?
My first single was in 2016. It was a song called “Two”, and I never play it anymore because it’s so cheesy. I’m not proud of the song, but I’m proud of 2016 me for releasing it, because it was a good foot in the door and it made me want to release more. The year after that I released my first album, which was a big stepping stone for me, and it was triggered by the first single.
Everything is kind of independently released because I’m not under a label, but I distribute through The Orchard, an aggregator company. So I am an indie artist, but I go to a distributing service to get my music out.
The single off the album called “Love You So,” has been streamed 1M times. It’s the song I always get the audience to sing along to, just because it’s always nice to involve your listeners and make them be a part of the song, you know? That’s also a very sneaky way of getting them to learn your lyrics.
When did you realize it was that successful?
Because it was only my second single at the time, I didn’t have much to go off in terms of how well it was doing. Then I realized that a lot of people who came to my shows came for that song, and they’d be waiting for me to play it. Usually people know the chorus, but when your listeners start to sing with you in the verses, that’s when you know they love the song.
In a very weird way that song’s meaning is about letting go of the one you loved because you loved them. That contextually makes sense in every aspect of my life so far. My environment and atmosphere changes when I move around, but that sentiment for me is a very important one. So even today I’m singing a song I wrote about my ex who cheated on me, but even though it means something else to me now, it still has meaning. I’m glad I wrote it.
What inspired your latest release?
In October or November of last year, I had written Red Flags with some friends. Then I realized the concept was strong enough to be a whole EP. That was also the time I wrote “Somebody New” and “Serendipity,” and it just so happened that they all linked up and made sense. “Screaming” I had written earlier, and “In Time” was written three years ago. So it was put in the cupboard for a little bit, but I remembered I had written it with two of my friends in Singapore. It made sense to take her back out, update her and add her to the collection.
My EP Red Flags covers a range of nuances in any relationship, but it’s focusing more on the negative aspects - like fighting, toxic relationships, disagreeing, abandonment. Each of those songs as an EP speaks about the same relationship, but from different lenses and points of their relationship. For example, “Screaming” is about when you finally leave a relationship or are left behind, but “Serendipity” is about hitting pause on all the relationship problems and just existing with the person in that moment. “In Time” is about doubt, and “Somebody New” is about understanding that fighting is not all bad, because love is all about fighting for what you believe in. The last one is “Red Flags,” the title track, which is pretty self explanatory.
How have your experiences at Berklee informed or hindered your artistry?
It has definitely improved my writing. I believe that music school is not for everyone, but it definitely is for me. I already had a pretty decent intuition with melodies and sound, but in order for me to be the best songwriter I could be, I needed to learn the craft to understand what I was doing. Not necessarily learn how to do it more, because I was already writing a lot, but things like why some of my ideas worked and some of them didn’t. By learning harmony and music theory I was able to develop my understanding of music to the point where now, when I’m writing, I know even more spaces I can go, and I don’t feel afraid to try new things. It used to be that I would think of some things as “too out" - I thought a flat two chord would be too much. But now I’ve realized if it makes sense in the song, why not? Also, my songwriting classes have forced me to write under constraint. Even though sometimes it might have been uncomfortable, it challenged me in a good way. Now when someone asks me to write a song in 30 minutes, I’m not afraid. For me, I love Berklee; it definitely improved my music.
Is there anything about Berklee that you wish could be changed?
I think that before people come to music school they should have a one or two year gap, because I think writing, specifically music, is about life experience. A lot of people come into music school knowing why they like, but not why they love music. That definitely affects the atmosphere. There are a lot of people who aren’t prioritizing the right things, and that can affect you. Music school shouldn't be something you take straight after high school. Live life first, go get a job, and you’ll come back knowing a little more about who you are as a person before you slap on the music.
How do you #getinthegroove?
I remind myself why I’m doing what I do, and that keeps me focused. There’s so much noise around us all the time, and it’s so easy to indulge in things that aren’t helpful or are a waste of time, so when I remind myself I’m here because I want to be a better writer and help people with my music. That gets me out of complacency.