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Freddie Lewis01

Freddie Lewis is escaping the restraints of language

11 October 2023, 09:00

Ahead of releasing new EP More Than That, Bristol poet and songwriter Freddie Lewis tells Cailean Coffey about accepting his flaws, the love of family, and delving into his feelings.

It’s a brisk, overcast Friday morning when the Bournemouth-born, Bristol-based musician sits down in his mustard-coloured kitchen and prepares to discuss his first full-length in 2 years.

Only a couple weeks away from releasing five-track EP More Than That, it’s an exciting time for Freddie Lewis, but it’s not only the music that’s got him animated. “I’m going to Amsterdam this afternoon,” he smiles gleefully, “I’ve briefly been through there as a kid, but have never really visited. I can’t wait.”

Born in Winchester, Lewis spent the majority of his youth growing up in a town called Parkstone – which sits comfortably between Bournemouth and Poole – with his mum, stepdad and older sister. Despite his stepdad’s passion for rock and his Mum’s love of musicals, it was the older generation that first truly awoke Lewis’ passion for music. Admittedly, he has music to thank for his whole existence, he explains, with his grandparents first meeting in a choir. “Nanny taught herself piano whilst Grandad was a part of a few brass bands,” the artist recalls, “I’d turn the pages for him while he played and I’d pass out fruit pastilles during rehearsals.”

His grandmother would often push Lewis towards music, asking him to step in time whilst she accompanied on the keys. Inspired, he asked his mother for singing lessons and while, by his own admission, he wasn’t the greatest singer at the time, a teacher agreed and took him under her wing. “I had to do an audition and I sang ‘Ugly’ by The Sugababes,” he recalls with a laugh, “and the opening is ‘when I was seven they said I was strange’. I auditioned when I was eight so the mental image of me harkening back to seven-year-old me cracks me up every time.” Although he went on to spend the next six years training in opera, at the age of 14 Lewis stepped back, determined to give pop a proper try.


Once again, it was his grandparents who helped his journey – gifted a secondhand keyboard by his grandmother and a classical nylon stringed guitar from his grandfather. “When I got the guitar I gave myself one week to learn a song for an open mic night,” he admits. “I chickened out in the end but had inadvertently learned four chords. From then on, I just listened to as much Taylor Swift as I could and set about teaching myself to write songs. I’d get home from school and write about the day and it just grew from there.”

After finishing school, Lewis moved to Bristol to study songwriting at BIMM, and It was in this environment that he committed to becoming the best lyricist he could be. “Lyrics feel the most natural to me now. The consideration is how it connects to what’s underneath,” he offers by way of explanation. While finishing his third year at BIMM, Lewis wrote his debut single. “Growing Pains”, was released in the summer of 2021, and his debut project Lilac Underpass Mixtape followed shortly afterwards. “I wanted to leave uni with a body of work to start my solo career and to start having something out there for people to listen to,” the songwriter explains, nodding to his reasoning at the time. “I wrote ‘Growing Pains’ very quickly, it was very cathartic, and it was only then that I began to think that it could be for other people.”

“I was singing it around the house and my mum and stepdad would ask ‘what’s that?’ and that’s when I realised they were connecting with something in it and I sent a demo to my producer as we were working remotely and he said ‘yeah, I just kinda cried’. That’s when I realised it had to be the first single,” he explains. “‘Growing Pains’ and one other [song] was specifically about being trans and I wanted something that spoke directly to my community and said, ‘hey, I’m here and here's something for you and something we can share’... The one thing the queer community can really do, especially in the UK, is really connect with the community and watch a load of people get behind you because they want to support queer art.”

Prettiest Secret

The success of “Growing Pains” catapulted Lewis to the top of many of ‘Artists To Watch’ lists, and 2022 saw things rocket when he played Glastonbury and The Great Escape Festival, after which he was chosen as one of PRS’s Keychange Artists of 2023.

Since then, his songwriting has taken on a deeper meaning and seen Lewis develop a focused sense of self, crafting his sound in his own image and setting out to tell his story the only way he knows how – through his work. “I took my time with it and I worked really hard on my own individual production,” he notes when asked about the journey of More Than That. “It made me more aware of what sound I was trying to make. I’m better able to communicate things more subtly and more sincerely than I ever was before.”

On the process leading up to the new EP’s release, he shares: “when I released my first mixtape I wrote the songs quite separately, so in trying to weave them together after I wrote a poetry book. With this EP, I tried to make it as an EP, and in order to do that I reversed my process from last time. I wrote a poetry book, which I don’t think I’ll release, but it gave me loads of ideas for what I wanted to be talking about and what I was thinking about.”

Heed My Warning artwork

As a body of work, More Than That documents the complexity of life for those in the trans community. “It’s about the idea that trans people existing and not being able to be quite defined by our current definition of gender and paradigms and the word transgender doesn’t really work, as some people don’t feel it or do feel it and some people feel transexual and use different words,” Lewis details. “The fact that all this exists, and that all we’ve got are these paradigms of gender, is evidence that humans, people, and also by default everything, are more than what the current paradigm we are living under can hold. If we look beyond that and stop trying to language ourselves in, we can be more than that.”

Despite the project at times containing quite heavy and nuanced themes, the narrative throughout is nonetheless quite hopeful, heading towards “Dawn in June” which imagines a world free of gender structures. While Lewis does admit to writing a lot of the EP with the trans community at the front of his mind, he notes he’s always been aware that the trans and cis experiences oftentimes aren’t too dissimilar if you look hard enough. Nonetheless, he is viewing the EP as a way of breaking down his own flaws and delving deep into his own feelings and experiences. He notes that track "Heed My Warning" is about "trying to be a good trans person and what that feels like. What I can and can't achieve, and how I can and can’t represent experience, whilst some of the other tracks are about sex and have elements of me being deeply flawed within them," before adding that “She Wouldn’t Believe” alludes to the fact that, in his own words: “I’m not brave or bold as a trans person. I’m just vibes.”

With the release fast-approaching, there's one core message Lewis is hoping listeners will take away. “I want people, trans or not, to know that it’s okay to be flawed… and that doesn’t make you unlovable."

Freddie Lewis’ new EP More Than That is out 20 October.

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