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Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

Lewis OfMan

Interview by Robbie Whitehead
Photography by Iris Humm

Summer has wound down in Barcelona and so has Lewis Delhomme aka Lewis OfMan’s year-long stay in the Catalan capital. Lewis, a French singer, musician, songwriter, and producer, came to the city to spend time recording his debut album, which is due out in early 2020. At only 23 years of age, he’s impressively accomplished. Forthcoming album aside, he’s already toured China (after having toured North America twice, supporting Irish rapper Rejjie Snow in 2018 and French singer Yelle in 2017). He’s produced Premiers Émois, the debut album of French singer Vendredi Sur Mer. He’s released notable remixes, created for Paris fashion shows, and collaborated with artists such as The Pirouettes. His second EP, Yo Bene, was released in 2017, and since then he’s released well-known singles such as ‘Plein de Bisous’, featuring his girlfriend, Milena Leblanc.

His stay in Barcelona came about almost by accident, with an invitation to participate in a one-week residency at a local hotel changing his preconception of Barcelona as just a fun place to spend the summer. After a glimpse into its intricacies and the day-to-day life of some of its more permanent inhabitants, Lewis decided that this was the place to record his new album. To do so, he installed himself in a 40m2 rooftop apartment in the city’s Gothic quarter. There, nestled among Barcelona’s iconic skyline, he’s spent the past year in near isolation, for the first time being able to concentrate 100 percent on his music.

Lewis’s inspiration comes from many places. In the past he’s written songs based on photographs of interiors he’s found on Pinterest, Italian film soundtracks from the ‘70s, and the iconic library music catalogue, KPM 1000. When asked how he’d describe his own music if he had to, he said ‘melodic groove’, or ‘dreaming while dancing’. His musical style up until now could be (and has been) pigeon-holed as a type of lo-fi French pop. But after talking to Lewis about life as a burgeoning musician over ice cream, figs, and beer, it’s clear that this isn’t the way he wants to be seen. We discuss the lessons he’s learnt on his first three tours—mainly that things never turn out how you expect them to, which is OK, and that it can be really great to know you can rely on your dad.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

What’s the weirdest interview you’ve had?

Once I did an interview and the guy was really old. Maybe 50? It’s usually young guys. He had a laptop, I was saying things, and he was like tktktktk, typing away. I had to think hard because he was asking tough questions. I felt like I was being interrogated by Homeland Security when you go to the USA. He was not cool, he wasn’t a nice guy. It was weird, but it was good in a way.

I’m trying to spend more time with the people I interview. Have you heard of this guy called Gay Talese?

No.

He’s like the godfather of interviews. He used to do these pieces for big magazines back in the ‘60s. He’d go and spend a whole month putting a piece together, he’d spend lots of time with the subject, he’d go around with them, the magazine would pay for everything.

I have this book called The Private Life of Pablo Picasso. It’s by this American photographer that spent a lot of time with him in his villa in the south of France.

Yeah, I know the one. David Douglas Duncan.

It’s just him and Picasso. You have the feeling he was just another member of the family.

This other guy, Talese, one of his most famous pieces is on Frank Sinatra, ‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’. He ends up interviewing everyone except Sinatra, because Frank has this cold. You end up understanding him so much better than if it was a Q&A with Frank Sinatra.

That actually may be the best form of interview. I had some friends that were launching a new magazine; they did something similar. They came here for one week, just to chill with me and everything. Then they sent me the draft, and I was like, ‘Oh shit! I said that? Man, it’s so rude, I didn’t mean it!’ Those kinds of interviews are like the good old days. I guess everyone had much more money.

This guy was getting like $12,000 for one article, expenses paid.

In a way, magazines and music are kind of in the same situation. They both had a huge golden age in the past century. When you see documentaries about these artists, they had crazy studios. The jazz artists had so many huge instruments. Now everyone’s struggling. These days it’s a little bit better, now that the streaming platforms have arrived, but before, when the CD was dying—

You think things have evened out a bit?

These days it’s OK, because Spotify’s an old streaming platform now. They kind of know what they’re doing. They’ve adapted, but they were completely lost at one point.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

Do you have a label?

Actually, I just signed with a label for my new album. Before that, it was just me and my manager. It was interesting, but it took up too much energy. I had to—me, myself—negotiate my own contracts, I had to call the guy that was renting the studio to shoot my videos, all those kinds of things. And of course I’d be on holiday or something and I’d get a call from someone saying, ‘You forgot to pay me!’ And I’m like, ‘Ahh! I don’t know how to do this!’

‘Leave me alone!’

Yeah. I was spending so much money—money I had just earned. So for the album, I decided I didn’t want to waste my time with all this stuff. I wanted to focus on the album. Calm, just me and my music.

And you decided to come to Barcelona for a year.

Yeah. Now the album is really underway. I have all the songs. What I don’t have is the order, the track listing. It’s the most difficult part in a way. You have to put the final touches on each song. Every song needs to have the same vibe; you need to feel that they come from the same album.

Why did you choose Barcelona?

Originally I was invited to come and do a residency. Before that I had no idea what Barcelona was like. For me, it was a city where my friends went during the summer. I didn’t know if I should come, but finally I said, ‘OK, let’s go’.

Tell me about the residency.

This beautiful hotel called Casa Bonay invited me to come for a week; in exchange I had to produce something. On the first day I was alone and didn’t know what to do. At the time I was a huge fan of, not soundtrack music, but catalogue library music. There’s this thing called the KPM 1000 Series and there’s so much stuff, it’s crazy. So I tried to do the same. I had my keyboard, I did four songs, and we made a really nice vinyl. I felt so much freedom there. So much so that I said to myself, ‘OK, I have to come here to do my album’.

How was it at the start?

During the summer just before coming here I did two songs, and I was like, ‘Man, I have to do an album starting with these two songs’. It was just the beginning of me feeling freedom in what I do. Before that, I was producing music for other artists, or I was live on stage with bands, but it was not me doing my thing. So I quit all those things and I came to Barcelona.

It’s like the dream.

At the beginning it was a bit stressful, because you arrive and think, ‘I have to do the album here. I have something to do’. There’s quite a lot of pressure. Usually I don’t make any rules for myself; ideas just jump on you. But I discovered here that sometimes I have to force myself to make music. You’re struggling and struggling and working really hard to find the right thing, and when you find it, it’s the most crazy thing because you’ve spent the whole day searching for this idea, doing random bad songs, bad shit. And then at one point you’re like, ‘Oh! This is it!’ This is where I learned that there’s no overall rule for how I work. Sometimes it just comes to me, sometimes I have to search for it, and sometimes nothing happens.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

Were there many times when you thought, ‘This is not working’?

Yeah.

Like months at a time or weeks at a time?

No, not months, but days and maybe weeks. You just feel so alone, because you’re alone in the city. Then the day after, you wake up, take a coffee, and something’s going on. Exactly at this moment—I don’t know why, but it always happens to me—that’s the moment when suddenly you have friends in the city, you have things going on and you have to leave. For me this is the best feeling. You’re doing something cool that you like, but you have to go to a dinner or—

You like that feeling?

Yeah!

What happens if you lose what you were trying to do?

You never lose it. For me, it’s always best to do a little bit of something cool, then leave. First of all, you’re really happy when you leave. And then when you come back, you don’t know anything about the song anymore. You have the base, really the best part. You forget the songs, which means you’re feeling all the things that they could make someone feel.

Like ‘sleeping on it’, or something like that?

Exactly. But when you’re doing an album, there’s also the fact that it’s going to be out there eventually. It gets taken out of your hands. That’s the scary part. And sometimes you’re going to make better songs than others.

Like, after the album is done?

You think the album is OK and it’s done: ‘This is the best I can do’. Then a month later, you’re doing crazy songs. It happened to me this summer, and I was like, ‘Shit, I have to put them on the album’. But when you compare them with the other songs, they have nothing to do with each other.

Sometimes when I take a magazine or a book to print, it can be so stressful beforehand that afterwards when I get to see the final product I don’t want to look at it for another six months. Then I’m like, ‘Damn, that’s a nice book’.

Actually, this happened to me with an album I produced for a French singer called Vendredi Sur Mer, right before I arrived in Barcelona. We were doing the final mixing and mastering, which is the most stressful part. I was very focused on starting my album, and I was not that focused on the mix, although I was trying as hard as I could. So I said, ‘OK, it’s cool. I like the mix’. And when the album came out I thought, ‘What the fuck did I do with this mix?’ I couldn’t listen to it for five months.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

That sucks.

You feel so dead inside. The thing is that you’ve been doing the album alone in your room with a friend, that’s all you knew. And suddenly there’s a lot of money involved because you have to pay this guy, pay that guy. Money enters into the game and there’s so much stress, so many responsibilities. You cannot fuck up.

But even with this album? Or especially with this album?

Even more so with this album, because it’s my album, and it’s the first time I’m doing my own album. I’ve been living with these songs for almost a year now, so I don’t want to betray them. I don’t want to betray all the thoughts I had during the year, about how I want to make it so personal. But we’ll see. The fact is that now that I’m almost done, I’ve had to start planning my move from Barcelona back to Paris. That is a real nightmare. I don’t have so much stuff, but I have too much to deal with by myself in a simple way.

Yeah, it’s such a pain.

Finally I asked my father to come; he just confirmed today.

That’s funny, my dad helped me when I moved to Barcelona. He came to Sydney all the way from Brisbane and put all my stuff in the car. The next day I flew off.

It’s like the dad mission.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

Come and rescue your child. Do you get along with your dad?

Of course, of course. Actually, I have a lot of stories with him regarding my music because he’s come and rescued me so many times—when I was trying to do the thing alone and was just shitting myself. I was doing a tour in the US for the first time, and it wasn’t very well organised. There was no money; at the end of the tour we were in the red. But for a French person it was such a huge step to do shows in America.

How did the tour come about?

One day I got an email from someone in Toronto asking me to do a private show in this co-working space. They’d pay for the flights and everything, so I said, ‘OK, this is a point of entry for North America’, and we went for it. My manager was able to find some more shows with other people, and, as it happened, Yelle was doing a US tour, and they ended up inviting me to do some support shows. After touring with them I had to go to New York because my manager had found another two shows there, but I had to go alone because he just couldn’t make it. Luckily my father happened to be there for work, so I could go and stay with him. There I was in New York, it was the day of the show, pouring with rain. Rain in New York, you know: a total nightmare.

I was there once and it rained like crazy; it was impossible. I was with my dad, funnily enough.

Yeah. Also, I was just starting out, so I had this enormous keyboard, really heavy. It was the first synthesiser I ever had, so it was basically just a huge toy. The guys at the venue were kind of laughing at me, like, ‘What is this?’ But anyway, so I’m in New York, huge keyboard, and it’s pouring with rain.

No taxis?

No, there were taxis, but they were pissed off because you have this big thing.

A fucking huge keyboard.

Plus the show was in Soho, which was quite far from where we were staying, and it was 5pm: rush hour. I get an Uber, and the Uber driver is this weird guy, like it’s his second day on the job. His phone was not working. He couldn’t hear the GPS thing, so he kept slapping his phone, and I was like, ‘Ahh, stop doing this’.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

It sounds terrible.

The sound check was at six and it was almost seven. I didn’t have internet, so I couldn’t call them. I was texting my father saying I didn’t know what to do, that we weren’t moving. I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown, basically. He said, ‘OK, I’m coming with a real taxi, get out of the Uber’. I get out, it’s still raining, and at this moment I’m thinking, ‘I want to quit music. Why am I doing this?’ Suddenly I see my father in the taxi telling me to come over. By the way, that’s also when his phone falls into a huge New York puddle. We get to the venue and take almost 30 minutes to find the entry. But in the end the show was great. Afterwards we went for dinner to celebrate, in an Uber again, but the Uber was too small for the keyboard, so we had to drive around with the window open and the keyboard sticking out.

That would’ve been a great photo. It could have been your album cover!

We didn’t get one unfortunately. For the next show I went alone, and I was waiting to be let into the venue and had my fly case leaning against a wall. A big gust of wind came through and it just fell on the ground.

With the keyboard inside?

Yeah. I’m like, ‘OK, fuck, I’ll just ignore that’. I pick it up and go into the venue and just forget about it. I start to set up everything, plug in my synthesiser, and the sound technicians are asking me, ‘Are you sure you’re plugged in?’ Then I remember the damn thing fell on the ground. ‘Oh my god, OK, it’s broken’.

‘I need a keyboard’.

Just at this moment these guys come over and say, ‘Hey, we’re here for the interview! Can we film?’ I’m like, ‘Wait, my keyboard is broken, I can’t even perform at the moment’. We ended up doing the interview and during this whole thing I’d texted my father saying that my keyboard wasn’t working and I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t looking at my phone during the interview, but he’d written to say that he was on his way to buy another one! As soon as I saw my father’s text—do you know what MIDI means? Basically I could just transfer the MIDI things to another keyboard, which was just a shitty synthesiser. But I did it, and it worked, so I had to tell my dad, ‘It’s OK, I can manage’. Anyway, there are lots of those kinds of things. He’s always—

Saving the day.

Yes. This tour was my training thing for the future. Actually, I didn’t tell you, but the first show in Toronto, I plugged the big keyboard into a socket, forgetting that in Canada it’s not the same voltage as in France, and there was a little buzz. We said, ‘OK, there’s a buzz, it’s OK’. I was wondering what the hell it could be and CLAP, the thing burned. This was in Toronto, we still had the whole tour to do. I typed ‘synthesiser + Toronto’ into Google to try and find a guy to fix it. I finally found someone, but only for the next day. The guy from the venue rented another keyboard that was kind of shitty, but it was OK. At least I played music.

Lewis OfMan | Apartamento Magazine

It teaches you to be cool in a crisis.

Of course. Because these things always happen to me. It’s never fluid and easy. It’s always shit and shit. I didn’t even tell you about the time my laptop crashed during a show. It was such a nightmare, but it was crazy because the audience was completely with me, everyone was laughing. It was such a great moment; it was the first time I realised I really have my own crowd.

Like a following?

Yeah. Because at all these shows I did before, it was about having to deal with people that didn’t know my music. This time, people knew everything I was doing, and that was crazy. They’d sing the words; they’d enjoy the instrumentals. Sometimes when you play at a festival or support another band, people expect you to sing for the whole show and don’t get why I’m only playing instrumentals for five songs. But when you play to your people, it’s like a dream. It’s really great.

What are your thoughts on going back to Paris, in terms of creativity and inspiration?

It’s going to be different. The thing is that I didn’t really meet that many people in the past year; I didn’t do any collaborations with other artists, it was just me doing my thing, alone. So going back to Paris is like going back to the city where everyone on my label is based, and there will be a lot of things happening.

Where did you spend your summer this year?

I was finishing my tour and had some of my last gigs in Beirut. I stayed there for a week. It was really, really powerful. Actually, before that I was in China, and this was really interesting—the crowd in China is something way different to what you’d imagine.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan
Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

In a good way or a bad way?

In an interesting way. If you don’t sing, they’re not really into what you’re doing; they don’t see it. Apart from that, they’re probably going to enjoy the show, but they’re not going to show it. They won’t scream, for example. They applaud, but not so much.

Any dancing?

Sometimes. Of course there are the cool kids everywhere you go, but usually they didn’t dance that much. I went to cities deeper inside the country, and once I was playing in this huge parking lot. The funny thing in China is that they have such good equipment in terms of lighting and video, everything is LED, enormous. Then there were so many cops. So many cops! And the parking lot wasn’t even half full.

They’re there just to control everything?

Yeah. Sometimes in China you’re not allowed to have more than 200 people in the same venue, because it could be considered a protest or something. They’re really careful about this. Anyway, I’m playing my show, and there are all these cops just staring at me. I also met a few artists there, and, for example, they didn’t have YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, or Facebook. They have their own social media.

I was going to ask you about this—what you think about it and how important it is for your music.

It’s funny because nowadays I don’t use it. It’s starting to be a bit weird. At the beginning, when I was starting my project, I was like, ‘OK, I have to post another picture of me, I have to do a photoshoot’. Afterwards I’d think, ‘This is a weird thing to do, to post a photo of myself’. So now I just try to post my music. But I think the thing is just to not care about it all too much, and to just do your thing. I’d be terrified if I were an influencer and had my life based on it.

Apartamento Magazine - Lewis OfMan

Yeah, I know one or two influencers, and even though they don’t share the real version of themselves, but a version that’s curated for Instagram, the fact is it’s all fake.

Yeah, that pisses me off too; there are all these people getting famous for nothing. They get interviewed and talk about themselves, but they do nothing. I don’t know if those kinds of people existed before.

If you look at Andy Warhol, his Factory, there have always been cool people, good-looking people, and that’s just what they did: be cool and good looking. So, yes, I think it’s always existed.

Maybe you’re right.

Now it’s just so easy to see that you’re being manipulated. It’s like what they say, ‘If it’s free, then you’re the product’. You know what I mean?

Yeah, exactly. You’re the one being used. But then there is one that is completely out of control: Twitter. Did you see Donald Trump tweet this video? It was him with a map of the hurricane in Florida, like it was a CNN report. There was an emoji, a gif of a cat, and you see Trump with a fake laser. Someone put the laser in, and there’s funny music and the cat playing with the laser, and he’s posting this. I’m like, ‘It’s a hurricane!’

People are dying.

For me it’s kind of like a bug.

Like a glitch in the matrix.

Yes, exactly.

For me there’s nothing better than when he visited the Prince of Whales.

Reality is becoming less and less real. Nothing makes any sense.

Want some figs?

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