Sophie talks to songwriter Freddie Lewis about his newest single, A Bookshop in Toronto.
Freddie is a BIMM Bristol songwriting graduate and is someone you need to keep an eye on, his way with words is nothing short of magical. He released his debut single Growing Pains just over a month ago and had incredible success, including selling out his merch within a few days! I jumped at the chance to speak to him about his newest track A Bookshop in Toronto, before it is released to the world on 11th August.
“I try to notice lots about things around me and note these down in my phone notes or a notebook: pictures, colours, characters, words, phrases, anything that makes me feel a bit more intensely about the moment I’m in.”
You have been very open on social media about your journey as a trans man, the difficulties, the growth, the joy. Growing Pains is a very emotionally powered song. How did you find writing A Bookshop in Toronto? Did the writing process change at all?
The writing process for A Bookshop in Toronto was a lot more methodical, Growing Pains poured out of me whereas Bookshop (my affectionate nickname for what is otherwise quite a long song title) was definitely a more crafted song. I think you can get that from the final piece.
I wanted Bookshop to talk about a much more pinpointed experience whereas Growing Pains just walks through a timeline. Really they are talking about the same thing: my becoming me. I can place Bookshop on the Growing Pains timeline actually - in the last verse of Growing Pains I say ‘whiplash and dreaming of a moustache, I’m sitting on the bus back and I see it just like that’ - I’m on the bus back from A Bookshop in Toronto in this verse. I definitely am one to ‘write what I know’.
The section of Growing Pains where you record yourself reading your poem through each month of being on T made me blubber, how important was it for you to include this?
Honestly, this was probably one of the best in-the-moment production decisions I’ve ever made. I was just recording the Growing Pains vocal, in the demo stage of it’s production and I had someone leave a comment on my T poem video, only then did I realise the connection between the two pieces in that they reference looking in the mirror. It was a real 💡 moment.
“To me, music is a way for me to tell stories that people might not otherwise hear. It’s a way to build understanding between people and a way to build community too.”
What is your songwriting process? I’ve listened to loads of your poems, do you often write poems with the intention of putting music to them?
It’s always evolving, and I go through phases of writing in different ways. Usually writing is a very little-and-often process for me though. I try to notice lots about things around me and note these down in my phone notes or a notebook: pictures, colours, characters, words, phrases, anything that makes me feel a bit more intensely about the moment I’m in. Then if I feel like I’m continually writing about similar things or ideas I’ll decide that it’s time to sort them out. Sometimes this is poetry, sometimes it’s more of a poetic prose section, and on occasion it’s a song. When the songs come it’s always much more of an all-encompassing feeling, the poetry and the prose feel calmer. I love the feeling of both a lot.
You describe yourself as a storyteller which is apparent with your imagery, I personally find it really easy to connect with your songwriting due to your full frontal honesty. How did you get to where you are now with your songwriting?
This is a really good question, thank you for asking this. It’s been a process of learning what I like in other writing, what makes me tick both in song form and poetry. There’s three really key things that I feel make up my specific approach to writing.
I’m very nerdy about phrasing - for anyone not familiar with it (I wasn’t for ages) it’s essentially the way you emphasise words in a song. In my music I like to align the phrasing with how I’d actually say the word aloud, rather than emphasise different syllables to fit the melody. This is just personal taste.
I don’t use my music to paint an emotion completely in isolation. For example in Bookshop there’s a lot of fear but a lot of optimism too. There are so many songwriters who are so good at doing complete emotions so I’d have stiff competition - I’d never be able to do heart break like Adele.
I talk lots about bus journeys and cups of tea and sitting in bookshops. I like to romanticise the everyday - I figure it’s probably the best thing to romanticise.
“I think as marginalised people you kind of have a big red shame button built in, and it’s very hard to stop pushing it.”
A Bookshop in Toronto is being released next week! I’m so excited for you. How are you feeling? Seeing how well Growing Pains did within a month, we’re all waiting on tenterhooks to see what happens next for you.
Oh you KNOW I’m excited. I have been so overwhelmed with the response from Growing Pains and I’m just excited to see how this one does! I have no idea! What a hoot! Also for people to hear me do much more singing and to hear a bit of a bigger production - it’s going to be wonderful just to see another thing I’ve worked really hard on belong to a lot more people.
For people who haven’t heard your music before, how would you describe your sound?
Phil Taggart described it as ‘left-leaning pop, but not *that* left leaning’, it’s bedroom-pop really. I take some influence from more art song stuff when there’s spoken sections, some influence from R&B and soul, a little electronic influence in places; I grew up on a diet of classical music and songs from the shows so there’s a little of that in my melody structure I feel. I favour dryer, more mellow sounds, intimate vocals and stripped back production. I try to let the lyrics lead the way for the most part.
What does music mean to you?
To me, music is a way for me to tell stories that people might not otherwise hear. It’s a way to build understanding between people and a way to build community too. There are some really amazing LGBTQ+ artists out there and the thing that always gets me emotional is seeing the friendship in the audience. It’s a total cliché but music really does bring people together.
The sharing of music is just like magic really isn’t it. I basically just write down my feelings and then someone hundreds of miles away hears it and feels it. Magic.
As mentioned before you’re open on social media about your gender and sexuality, I’ve personally learnt so much from you, so thank you! I’m really grateful for your unfiltered joy. How has social media helped you professionally and personally?
Professionally it’s helped me to reach people with my songs, I have no idea how I’d have done it without social media, especially with the last month. It’s helped me to see much more possibility for me and it’s opened loads of doors to different opportunities. I’ve recently been doing a lot of work with the platform We Create Space who specialise in creative queer self-empowerment. I get to hang out with cool LGBTQ+ folks on zoom and chat about songwriting! How cool is that!
Personally, it’s helped me a lot to see queer individuals out there just loving life. That’s what I want to do. It’s what I am doing (most of the time - bad days still happen). I think as marginalised people you kind of have a big red shame button built in, and it’s very hard to stop pushing it. I’m still on this journey for sure but I’m definitely learning to be more unconditional in my self-love. It’s tricky but I’m grateful for how far I’ve come and how far I’ve yet to go.
What can we expect to see next from you?
A Bookshop In Toronto for now, in about 10 years I’d like to have a hairless cat who sits on my desk while I write songs. I have big ambitions.
What artists are you listening to right now?
A lot of Orla Gartland ahead of her debut album which I will likely cry over. Same with Maisie Peters. Forever spinning Collapsed In Sunbeams (Arlo Parks) and life’s a beach (Easy Life). Going through my annual Nick Drake phase too. ‘Pink moon’ makes any bad day a lot better. Also Serena Isioma is crushing it at the moment, and Joy Crookes’ new single is ridiculous. Tom Rosenthal just brought out the nicest single ever called ‘Not A Catastrophe’. There’s so much to enjoy at the moment!
Thank you so much for chatting to me Freddie. Take care!
Thank you for having me! Have a lovely weekend.
Pre-save Freddie’s new release, A Bookshop in Toronto here:
Listen to Freddie’s debut single, Growing Pains, here: