"I've waited for a lifetime," SG Lewis declares emphatically on his single "Lifetime," one of the standout tracks on his sophomore album AudioLust & HigherLove, which is out next week.
For the singer, musician and producer, whose many past collaborations have kept him largely behind-the-scenes for the earlier part of his career, he seems to be having a real moment, and if all goes as it appears, 2023 could be his biggest yet.
On Wednesday night (Jan. 18), the artist born Samuel George Lewis made his big debut performing "Lifetime" on NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, which comes literally days after Lewis was confirmed as part of the highly anticipated lineup for Coachella, which will feature headliners Frank Ocean, Blackpink and Bad Bunny over two weekends this April. Oh, and his new album just happens to be out on Jan. 27!
While Lewis did perform virtually in early 2021 on CBS's The Late Late Show with James Corden, it was a pre-recorded clip done off-site as most late-night shows (and television productions in general) were running with skeletal crews and mostly remote interviews. So, in a sense, the Fallon performance was Lewis' opportunity for a proper late-night debut, in-person and on the cusp of releasing his sophomore record.
"It was a really strange moment," recalls Lewis of his James Corden appearance, speaking with Variance ahead of his performance on The Tonight Show. "We did the performance pre-recorded because of the pandemic and then I did the interview on Zoom from my parents' attic. It was kind of this moment that was meant to be really grand [and] incredible. But it was also an extremely, sort of humble and ordinary moment because after I finished the interview, I closed my laptop and then I went and ate dinner with my family."
Although Lewis' star has steadily been on the rise, his name is long familiar to many fans of Dua Lipa, Elton John, Tove Lo, G-Eazy, Nile Rodgers, LANY and many others, all of whom have previously collaborated with Lewis.
Now, he's the one recruiting big-name collaborators, with Tove Lo appearing on his new song "Call On Me" and heavyweight Ty Dolla $ign and singer Lucky Daye, who's currently nominated for multiple Grammy Awards including songwriting credits for Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige, both appeared on the super-infectious single "Vibe Like This," which Variance quickly dubbed our Big Obsession pick when it was released in September.
"I previously collaborated with Lucky on the last album, so we kind of had a good working relationship and I had met Ty before and we'd sort of crossed paths in the studio," recalls Lewis of how the track came together. "But we were both working on another artist's project and so we worked on something remotely, and I think through that, we had a mutual respect and then we basically reached out to each other to get in the studio."
He continues: "I played them the idea and then we just went from there really, and then we started writing and it kind of all came together in front of me, which was a really kind of awesome thing to witness—because they're both two amazing artists in their own right, and they kind of just go back and forth. It was pretty crazy."
Even as Lewis takes the spotlight more, with the Tonight Show appearance and coveted Coachella slot, he's a reluctant star, acknowledging he's much more comfortable in the background, having drawn early influence from the likes of James Blake and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, both of whom frequently perform with minimal lighting, happy to let someone else take center stage.
"I think I'll always resonate with this sort of—I want to say, quiet path, but I like being behind the scenes," admits Lewis with a shy smile. "It's just my nature. I definitely find the spotlight is not a natural thing to stand in. I think that there's people that are kind of born to absorb that light but my heroes are the guys that are kind of behind the boards of it."
Lewis acknowledges this chapter of his career certainly feels different, and he's quick to point out, even as his new album is looming just days away, he already has plenty of material and additional collaborations in the works beyond this record. But he's still cautiously playing it by ear.
"The album was very much like a pandemic album for me," he recalls. "And I feel like I have a new lease of inspiration since the world has sort of opened up again. And so I'm keen to just get back in the studio and keep feeding people new music."
As for what comes next, he's watching and waiting, and trying to soak up as much of this moment as possible, while keeping one eye on the road ahead.
"I kind of feel more and more people taking notice and joining the party," he says. "But there's never any moment that particularly makes you go, 'Oh, I've arrived!' It all happens so quietly, in a strange way. We'll have to see how the Coachella set goes. The show at The Greek [in Los Angeles] was definitely a moment where you're like, 'OK, something's going on here.' But at the same time, I'm always in my brain kind of looking to the next stage."
He adds: "I'm always like, 'OK, I'm here, but I'm not there yet.'"
SG Lewis' new full-length album AudioLust & HigherLove arrives Jan. 27 on Astralwerks.