It takes thick skin to make it in the music biz. Just ask San Jose-based producer and songwriter Brad Lewis. He’s been playing music for more than a decade and for the past five years he’s been grinding hard in the industry—producing work and co-writing material with the likes of Bad Rabbits, K.Flay, Grieves and Chris Brown.
And he’s only just scratching the surface.
“You definitely have to have a short term memory,” Lewis says of the music industry. “Not everyone is going to like you right away. If you hold on to that it will hold you back from attacking new opportunities.”
And so, Lewis—who writes and records under the name B. Lewis—is upping his game. Last year he made his debut as a vocalist on the track “Strange Things.” The track, which has since racked up 1.3 million streams on Spotify, was recently pressed on wax by San Jose label and record shop Needle to the Groove.
The release was aimed at proving he was more than an engineer and beatmaker. “Now I’m not just a producer,” he says. “I’m a songwriter. That opens more doors. That gives people more of an idea of how well-rounded I am.”
If that sounds cold and calculating, it’s because it is. Somewhere around 2013—when Bad Rabbits released their first LP, which Lewis produced—he realized that if he was going to make a career of music, he would have to get better at playing the game.
That meant networking and building connections, getting more savvy about he marketed himself and learning to strip his songs down to their bare essentials.
“My older beats were very chaotic and crazy,” he says of early work, like 2011’s Science Within Reason, which earned him considerable attention from the music blogosphere.
But where Science was a sprawling 30-track set of glitchy beats, maximal synths, future funk bass and laser beam leads, “Strange Things” is a standalone single that comes in just under the three-minute mark.
The track starts with a plucky electric piano riff that quickly ramps up into a rich and soulful vocal harmony before dropping into a simple drum beat and muted, Motown bass groove.
“It’s a very marketable song,” Lewis says, explaining how with “Strange Things” he sought to blend retro soul with a modern mixing style. “I’m learning to take things away instead of adding more and more and more. That’s really against the grain for what I’m used to making.”
However, where Lewis was once thrilled with shaping a cluttered sonic block into a complex beauty, he is now finding rewards in exercising restraint. “It’s actually very challenging to write a pop song.”
Lewis’ latest development as a professional musician has also brought him back to where his love of music began.
Raised by a jazz musician father, Lewis has fond memories of listening to his father play music at home and attending gigs on the road. In high school he played in a band, teaching himself a variety of instruments before finding his way to digital production using tools like the Akai MPC and desktop audio workstations like Pro Tools and Reason. With his latest projects, Lewis is combining both live instrumentation and digital production, plus his own singing voice.
“Everything is coming full circle,” he says.
In the coming weeks, Lewis will be stepping out from behind the laptop to perform with a string of shows—beginning with Sep. 20 headlining date at BackBar SoFa, followed by a Sep. 23 opening set for Flamingosis at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. He continues his series of live outings by kicking off a monthly gig at The Continental; he will play every final Thursday of the month as part of the weekly Changing Same party, which is presented by Universal Grammar.
Sep 20, 9pm, $5+
Back Bar SoFa, San Jose