jakub | June 7, 2023

After exiting Hall & Oates, Eliot Lewis talks new music, new technology and new solo career – Onstage Magazine.com


Eliot Lewis has spent most of his career as a band member. After several years with The Average White Band, Lewis joined Hall & Oates, spending the next 18 years as a keyboardist with them. During that time life was an Adventure, touring the world and performing in venues he dreamed of when he was a kid. As one of the musicians involved with Daryl Hall’s webcast, “Live From Daryl’s House,” Lewis had the opportunity to play with many of his musical heroes. More recently, tours with Todd Rundgren and Daryl Hall have kept him busy while he simultaneously booked solo shows on days off from the tours. Early this year, Lewis made the decision to take his career in a new direction – as a solo artist.

Onstage recently caught up with Eliot between tour dates to talk about this next phase of his career.

Onstage Magazine: You’ve gone completely solo. How did it all come about, that this was the time?

Eliot Lewis: Well I had been thinking about that for years actually, like even 4 or 5 years. Just looking for the right timing to line up. It’s all good. I’m very, very happy.

The last time we connected was during Covid, and you graciously wrote for Onstage on how you dealt with the time off. Then you went out with Hall & Oates, you went out with Todd Rundgren, but now you have nothing to fall back on but yourself. Is that scary after all this time?

People have been asking me if it was a huge decision or if it was a difficult decision to make, and it wasn’t. And why it wasn’t is because I’ve done it for so long. I’ve been with them for just over 18 years. So it was a long time. And the experiences were great, but I always set out to be my own artist. My goal from the start in my career wasn’t always just to be a musician. It was really to be an artist, to write music, to perform, to put out records. So I had been juggling, an artist being on the road doing my own shows with them for years, as you know. It just became very challenging to try and schedule both of those worlds. And there wasn’t any sort of creative room in that situation to ultimately make me creatively happy.

The experiences were incredible. It was an incredible experience being with Daryl and John. It got challenging with all the scheduling and all the touring because I had been getting offers for my own shows, and typically you have to book anywhere from three to nine months out, sometimes a year. Sometimes festivals are set up a year out, and I wouldn’t really know what their schedule was going to be sometimes til like two months out. It would really diminish what I was able to get on my own. So now I have the complete freedom to book out six, seven months in advance and get the better shows I had been looking for.

You have a following in the tri-state area (NY/NJ/CT) and a lot of fans in Ohio and that area. How do you start expanding?

It’s all of the obvious things. You have to build a following either by getting exposure in certain areas, or word of mouth of course. Trying to do what I’m doing now solo, I definitely have my work cut out for me. I can’t go into a big theater or arena like Hall & Oates of course, I have a very small following compared to what those guys built up over fifty years. But I have a little bit of a head start, and I’m so grateful for the fans I have. I didn’t play this area (NY tristate) too much, I always concentrated on other areas. There’s definitely some in the tristate area but I started going out to Ohio about 12 years ago, got a great reception and it just kept building from there. So I would make it to Chicago, I just played Decatur, Illinois a couple of  weeks ago. Michigan, Indiana, of course Ohio, so yeah, the Midwest in general has been a good fit for me musically. So I have that started and I’m trying to get over to the west coast on my own this year. It takes a lot of work to build a following. It takes a little bit of an investment but I love it. I’m having the time of my life.

I’ve seen you solo sometimes by yourself and other times you would have Brian (Dunne) on drums and possibly a backup singer. Any plans on doing that or will you just be on your own?

Right now it’s just solo. I’ll certainly work with other musicians at some point, but right now I’m focused on this new show that I’ve been doing for about a year and a half. It’s really unique. I don’t know if you know about looping.

Yes, I’ve watched a few of your facebook live shows that you did during Covid, and I had seen Melissa Etheridge use it during her facebook live shows. It’s interesting.

Yeah now I’m taking it to a much further level. What I was doing on the facebook live streams was just literally, scratching the surface of what I’m doing now. I’m basically creating a whole bands’ worth of music on stage live in front of an audience.

Isn’t that terrifying?

It’s a little terrifying Kath, I have to admit. But I was sort of determined to try and create this vision I had for it. In the past I would sometimes use some of my own backing tracks, but now I’m doing 100% live and I have been for a while. Yeah, it’s a little scary but when it comes together it’s really satisfying. It’s using a little technology, and sometimes things can go wrong and you just try to make the best of it. The good thing about it is it’s the most spontaneous way for me to play as a solo artist because I almost feel like I’m playing with a band.

Every time I do a song, the arrangement is different, the tempo is different. I’m not sure what’s really going to happen. I have a good idea of how the songs go, you have to have good, clear knowledge of the arrangements and all the parts that are created in the songs. I’m creating the drums, the bass parts, guitar. I’m singing the lead and adding 3-part harmony to that. The great thing is I have the freedom to do anything I want with the song. I can shorten it, lengthen it, add things, subtract things, I can morph it into another song if I want. It’s really, really cool. There’s a lot of people that do this looping thing but I don’t know if there’s a lot of people doing exactly what I’m doing now. I like to try to do something a little bit unique if I can.

I can see where doing the looping you get what you want, if all goes well. You get exactly the sound that you want. But do you miss the interaction with a band where you get the different colors and flavors the musicians play?

Oh absolutely. In my mind it’s all really, really good. Playing on my own and doing this sort of looping thing I get maybe even more satisfaction out of it, but nothing would replace playing with other accomplished musicians. There’s still an energy that happens between people when you have a good connection that you can’t duplicate. I’m sure I’ll work with Brian again, I have a few drummers I’ve worked with over the years that are great. 

I’ve always had to do my best to keep things streamlined because honestly there’s the logistics and the economics of it, to have a band. If I had a band and was just playing in one area, it would be easy. But I’m traveling all over the country so to hire a band, pay salaries, hotel rooms and all the expenses you have, you need to be at a certain scale and making “X” amount of dollars to make it all economical or you’re losing money. So doing a solo approach allows me to work very quickly cause I don’t have to necessarily spend three weeks in rehearsal with a band and then all of the other planning that goes into it when you have four or five people involved.

I will definitely have a band at some point. Another big part of the reason that I moved on from Daryl was to not only pursue my own music and my own goals, but it’s also to free me up to look at other artists to work with. That was definitely one of the motivations. When you’re attached to something like Hall & Oates or Daryl, people won’t call you because they know you have a “home.” So now I’m getting offers from people in different situations and projects, and I knew that would be the case. And I’m really happy about that because I want to experience different things. It was hard to walk away from because we were doing such cool things. Especially when Daryl’s show (Live From Daryl’s House) started, I was working with all these many amazing artists. But now I have the freedom to do some great things and mix it up.

So I find it interesting that you make this announcement when your newest CD is titled Anything Is Possible. Tell me a little bit about the CD.

The title track is one of the songs and it just sums up how I feel. That was the phrase that so many people say and I was saying that since I was a kid. When I discovered music and knew I was going to make a life out of this, I always thought that I had this thing in me, that it happened for other people, maybe I can do it. Anything is possible. I would always say that. So the record really has that message. There’s a song called “It’s What We Make It,” and it’s just about pursuing your dreams, making the most of every day and the most of your time. It’s like asking the question, “what really matters?”

Then there’s another song on the record that addresses that, it’s called “Legacy.” The message in that is really, what did we do with our time here?  What have we contributed? Will we be happy looking back? What is our legacy? So the record deals with a lot of that stuff. Very, very optimistic.

As are most of your songs.

Yeah, exactly. Well I’m writing from how I feel and my experiences. And honestly, I have been so blessed with this career that it’s hard for me to write about anything really negative and really bad.

I was thinking about how you do your entire CD. You write, you sing, you play all the instruments, you produce it… that’s a massive undertaking when you think about it. Doing all the harmonies, doing all the instruments, it’s crazy how much time and effort you have to put into that.

Yeah, for me it’s so normal and natural, I feel that it would take even longer to put a band together and get all the things I wanted out of it. I’ve played different instruments for so long that if I have an idea in my head, I can put it down very quickly. So being a self-contained multi-instrumentalist allows me to work, I think, very quickly. More quickly than some maybe. Having said that, I’m a perfectionist like a lot of artists that I work with like Daryl or Todd. Kenny Loggins, most of the very high level musicians are very, very particular. They’re perfectionists, they put a lot into what they’re doing. So working on my own allows me to do that fairly quickly. 

I saw this week that you posted, and I had no knowledge of this before, that you played on “Simply The Best” for Tina Turner.

I did, I did. It was one of the first sort of high level things that I ever did. My brother had introduced me to Dan Hartman in the mid-80s. He became a very prominent producer. He worked with James Brown, of course Tina Turner. He had me on a Joe Cocker record. He put me on a Nona Hendryx record. He took me under his wing playing and he was producing with me watching over his shoulder. It was an incredible time for me. I was only about twenty-five and the “Simply The Best” song came up and he had me over and I played three or so things on that track. So it was pretty cool.

So what’s in store for the foreseeable future?

I plan a lot more touring and getting to places I haven’t gotten to yet. I’m going to make it through to the west coast, I’m hoping to do at least a couple this year. Really this year is about setting up next year. This is my transition year so once I decided to make this move I knew there would be a lot of things I needed to set up for next year.

A lot more new music. I already have, aside from Anything Is Possible, a lot of new songs. And actually a lot of earlier works of mine that aren’t really available because I have a new record distribution deal I’m working on through Universal. They’re going to release Anything Is Possible and my last instrumental record called Sonic Soldier. Then we’re probably going to re-release a lot of early stuff that I’m re-recording and remixing. Then I have all this new material to put out. There’s a lot of new music coming. A lot of touring and I’m going to be doing a lot of new videos, and I’m looking to do some sort of a podcast. But yeah, this year is really about exploring a lot of new territory. I’m very excited to see what it all brings.

See Eliot Lewis live at The Kate Theatre, Friday June 23

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Shows:

Darrick’s Place Darrick’s Place, Candor, NY
Watermans Cafe & Tasting Barn Benefit for Humane Society Apalachin, NY
The Room at Cedar Grove Lewes, DE
The Kate Theater The Kate Theater, Old Saybrook, CT
Barn CT Groton, CT
Eliot Lewis Live at The Red Lion The Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA
Jonathan’s Ogunquit Ogunquit, ME
Emlen Pysick Estate Cape May, NJ
Brookfield Theater Fundraiser Brookfield, CT
Private Event Findlay, OH
Knight Stage at Akron Civic Akron, OH
Eliot Lewis @ Dan Lew Exchange Mansfield, OH
Old Dog Tavern Kalamazoo, MI
Eliot Lewis @ The Big E West Springfield, MA
Stumble Inn Stumble Inn, Londonderry, NH
Lizzie Rose Music Room Tuckerton, NJ

Interview by Kath Galasso @KatsTheory





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