There’s an undeniable charm to Sylvie Lewis, a singer-songwriter who was born in London, England, lives in Rome, Italy, and speaks four languages. It’s not only that she’s studied at an acclaimed American college (Berklee School of Music), taught English to Hollywood stars before anyone knew who they were, had a lead actor from Harry Potter contribute to her latest Kickstarter campaign (for the music video of the track “The Fish and The Bird”), or that she comes from the family of renowned BBC newscaster Martyn Lewis (her father), ex-model Liz Carse (mother), and polar explorer and actor Duncan Carse (grandfather). Of course, all of these naturally contribute to help define who she is, but her allure truly comes into focus around her craft of writing beautiful songs. Her collection of compositions on It’s All True covers love in all its forms, life, death, and moments of time in which transformation occurs and the possibility of change presents itself.
Produced by Richard Swift (The Shins)—who recently produced new albums from Jesse Baylin and The Mynabirds—It’s All True features the sultry songstress alongside renowned writing partners and special guests such as Gary Go, Sondre Lerche, Don Henry, and Pasquale Catalano. Included are nine original songs, an adaptation of Italian singer-songwriters Bobo Rondelli and Stefano Bollani’s track “Gocce,” and a re-interpretation of the folk standard, “Give Me The Roses Now.”
It’s All True opens with the song “Dylan’s Arms,” which highlights Lewis’s writing collaboration with Grammy Award-winning songwriter Don Henry. Lewis discovered Henry upon a recommendation from songwriter Maia Sharp. Lewis recalls, “This song came about when I was having a particularly bad bout of insomnia due to a broken heart. In order to calm my middle-of-the-night-hysteria, I daydream myself back to sleep by pretending I’m in Bob Dylan’s arms. Leonard Cohen’s arms also work wonders, but ‘Cohen’s Arms’ didn’t sound as good as Dylan’s in the writing—I hope they would both agree on my artistic choice.”
The album continues with “Leaving, For The Last Time,” Lewis’s response to an exhibition of William Blake’s etchings. As a teenager she visited the exhibit, and the drawing, “The Reluctant Soul Leaving The Body,” particularly stood out to her. Lewis remembers, “It depicted a corpse laid out on a bed and the soul hovering above the body, looking down longingly with outstretched arms. I never forgot it, and it came back to me recently when I asked my grandmother whether life was a long time or a short time. She replied, ‘I think life is a short time but I think some of us live too long.’”
The standout single on the album, “The Song I Sang Before I Met You,” is a co-write with UK pop/electronica star Gary Go. Soothing guitar lines and a stripped-down drum beat dance around Lewis’s caressing vocals. Swift employs that less is definitely more on this singular track, a true album stunner. “This track is really about how objects are just objects,” says Lewis. “They only carry the meaning that we project onto them—and that meaning changes according to our experience. Songs are like this—it’s happened several times for me that a song’s meaning shifts and it is no longer what it once was because of something new I’ve learned.”
A common theme that floats through her work is Sylvia Plath—or rather how she imagines her to have been. Lewis notes, “I read somewhere that one of her final acts on this planet was to leave a bowl of bread and milk inside the nursery door for her children. She sealed them in afterwards and went down and put her head in a gas oven. I think of the fact that when she could no longer face this world, through the veil of depression, she still got it together to make a gesture of nourishment and protection toward her children. That story just killed me and I wrote the song ‘Kindness.’”
“Summersalt” is very much about living in the now, and is a nod to the old siren reference on account of the lyric, “let’s go down to the water and jump right in.” It also references a spelling mistake one of her students made while she was teaching in Los Angeles after she graduated from Berklee School of Music in 1998. One of her students, who later became a Hollywood actress, incorrectly spelt somersault, and Lewis saw the beauty in it. She notes, “I had this title written down for ages. I’ve always been a big fan of children’s spelling mistakes—there are some lovely ideas about the world in those errors and I used to write my favorite ones down. ‘Summersalt’ was irresistible to me.”
Following the completion of It’s All True, Lewis ran a successful Kickstarter campaign raising $7,800 to finance an animated video by acclaimed director Marco Morandi for the track “The Fish And The Bird.” As mentioned above, she received a surprise contribution by a lead actor in the Harry Potter films (who remains anonymous), which enabled her to reach her goal.
As for the track, Lewis states, “‘The Fish And The Bird’ is a fable about two totally different beings, who inhabit different worlds, and how they fall in love and have to navigate their differences.” A reoccurring theme in her work is dreaming. She often finds herself standing and staring out of a window, and although it might seem as if she’s not up to much, she’s actually “excavating or climbing a tree or figuring out the rhythm of a building—hence the last shot in the video for this song is of me at the window day-dreaming. Sometimes songs are half about wishing.”
Next up is “The Doorman,” which she says, “is my attempt to write something like the Robert Graves poem ‘Love Without Hope,’ except it’s modern day and set in New York. That city is a bit of a muse of mine, and she shows up somewhere on every album.” Regarding the tune, “The Ballad Of Honeymouth,” she comments, “This is a song about a sweet talking Southern poet who all the girls fall in love with because of his way with words. In the end he falls in love with a girl who is deaf. I think so many people need to be needed in a quiet, secret way and only they know the key that fits.”
“Gocce” is the cover of a song by Italian singer/songwriter Bobo Rondelli and Stefano Bollani. With his kind permission, she wrote an additional third verse in English. “Streets of Rome” features Sondre Lerche on guitar, and Lewis notes, “if you listen carefully you can hear him count off in Norwegian, which I just love. Rome really is a dreamy place and it encourages my habit of making me a dreamer inside a dream.”
The album closer is “Give Me The Roses Now,” an old folk tune that she re-wrote. Lewis comments, “I like the folk tradition because songs are always getting re-interpreted, re-written and turned upside down so they mean something new. To me, that’s beautiful because it keeps music living and breathing. On this tune, I decided I wanted to re-write the harmonies, bits of the melody, and I added my own second verse focusing on how my heart is actually a drummer.”