Analogue Music | Lewis Del Mar

Lewis Del Mar

By Matt Conner

Think of the COVID-19 pandemic as just another set of creative constraints.

That's how Danny Miller describes his approach to this current global scenario. The lockdown has given both Miller and his longtime friend Max Harwood, who together comprise the experimental pop duo Lewis Del Mar, plenty of time to spread the word about forthcoming album, August, as well as create new music. Instead of fretting over what they can't control, the focus is on what they can.

Perhaps the ability to sit with the tension comes as part of their overall vision. Weathering a trying year is nothing when you're focused on building a career in the arts. While the band experienced fairly quick success with hits like "Loud(y)" or "Painting (Masterpiece)," Miller says Lewis Del Mar's vision is all about long-term sustainability, a goal that heavily influenced the band's sophomore release.

Read on for our conversation with Miller about Lewis Del Mar's new album, the duo's creative chemistry, and why they feel healthier now than ever before.

Analogue: How are you coping with 2020 and all that's come with it?

Danny Miller: I think we're just embracing the circumstances. That's a big part of what Max and I do as artists is working with limitations and confines. This is just like any other situation in that I've really embraced and enjoyed the challenge of it and having to adapt. It's led to some interesting ideas creatively. A lot of this has been without Max and I in the same room, but it's pushed into some territories that we wouldn't have gone for otherwise. I think that's a great thing. I think as artists, it's our job to be in dialogue with what's going on in the world. I totally embrace the challenge of creating something during this time and I think we're going to see, over the next six months, a lot of artists finding really brilliant ways to bridge these circumstances.

"I think we're going to see, over the next six months, a lot of artists finding really brilliant ways to bridge these circumstances."

Analogue: Does the meaning of the songs change for you given the context into which they're released?

Danny: Well, I think what we're seeing is that these circumstances, whether it's systemic racism and oppression or us being on the brink of a pandemic, are always the case. The fact that they're happening right now is a by-product of time and circumstance, but the reality of it is that I think people were already feeling like we're on the brink for a long time. Certainly these heavy issues that our country is just now reckoning with have been around forever. A lot of these songs feel at home in this space because they come from this space because this is really life in U.S.

Analogue: I was listening to "Rosalie" and there's a line that says "I need to reach a life outside my mind" and it struck me as this timely statement for where we're living even though you didn't write it in the middle of a pandemic.

Danny: As I say, it's the by-product of a larger method of thought, which is just that we've come to accept isolation as a lifestyle in this country and many other parts of the world. We're seeing that fully manifested in the form of this pandemic, but I think long before now, the lines that sort of connect everybody were being eroded.

Analogue: When you write that you want to reach that place outside of yourself, does music help you reach that or navigate that journey?

Danny: I guess I equate reaching a different consciousness or living outside of yourself as presence or being present. Yes I certainly think that playing music, practicing music, writing, those are some of the times in my life I find myself to be the most present.

Analogue: Knowing how long you've been making music with Max, I was hoping to ask about the chemistry between the two of you heading into this album. Can you still tell a difference in how you work together as time goes on?

Danny: I think it's been really interesting to track our artistic growth both together and separately. Like any friendship or relationship of this length—and Max and I have known each other for about 20 years now—and depth—since there are so many levels of our friendship and we have a professional relationship—it's really like a marriage. Our chemistry together is always the thing that matters most, no matter where our relationship is at emotionally. So no matter how much time has passed, the constant in that relationship has always been, no matter our abilities, we need to be in sync emotionally and as people and friends to really reach the height of our creative potential together.

'AUGUST' cover art
'AUGUST' cover art

Analogue: Is that easy to maintain or were there even hurdles on making this album toward achieving that goal?

Danny: Yeah, I'd say there were really significant hurdles. Max and I probably went through the most difficult patch of our 20-year friendship, and I think it's because we went through the most growth as individuals probably. From when we moved to New York together and began this group to it taking off and touring the world to coming back to New York, it was a really, really emotionally charged and action-packed three or four years. I think there was a lot for us to process individually.

We also felt collectively that maybe our career wasn't headed in the direction that we wanted it to, so we had to hit the brakes on that. I think slowing down gave us a lot of space to reflect on our entire position. Certainly, there were a lot of tough conversations and a lot of distance in our friendship at points in this process, but ultimately, as always, I think we've been able to open up and be vulnerable with one another. I think that's what led to the album's completion.

Analogue: Can you make that tangible for me? When you say you didn't like where the career was headed——

Danny: I think it looked like serving the system of music creation and promotion more than serving our creativity.

Analogue: How do you combat that? I mean, you have to deal with some things at the intersection of art and commerce, right?

Danny: Ultimately it's hard for me to articulate, but it was just a feeling. It was a feeling in my gut that we were on the side of a line I didn't want to be on. It's pretty much that simple. In terms of the larger conversation about art and commerce, it's a never-ending debate. I'm sure a lot of people have opinions about it and I'm certainly grateful for the access to music that we have nowadays. Some of that necessitates this commercialization.

Analogue: In practice, what did that look like on the other side?

Danny: I think you begin taking stock of your strengths and weaknesses. You think about how it is you'll develop a team and the resources to really create a sustainable career. Sustainability is something we talk about a lot in our group. That's a multi-faceted approach, obviously, but one of them is definitely striving to put ourselves in a position that's going to foster our growth long-term. We want it to allow us to play this music and be artists as a lifestyle and not just as some out-of-body experience. [Laughs] I don't know.

Analogue: Does that mean saying no to some opportunities for the sake of having more space?

Danny: Of course. But if you're in the right position and representing the things you want and your actions are in line with your words, the opportunities that will come to you are ones that are generally favorable. That was a part of it. We were in a position where we were getting a lot of offers but we couldn't say yes to them because they conflicted with our virtues and our beliefs. That was difficult for the people around us, obviously. So putting yourself in a position where there's not always this terribly difficult decision to make is important. I think part of it is surrounding yourself with people who are going to bring you the right opportunities.

Analogue: Does that mean that you're feeling healthier than before?

Danny: Absolutely. I feel really good right now, all things considered. A lot of what's been happening and seeing the music find a home in this time has really connected us with our purpose. It makes us feel very much like we're doing the right thing and that we're in the place we want to be.

Analogue: Musically speaking, what are you most proud of on August?

Danny: Hmmm... we created an environment within which we wanted this album to live. It had to do with generating a soundscape that was evocative of a very specific time in my life and the emotions that accompanied that. The album really goes on an arc that explores that idea and that concept really fully. I was really proud of our ability to connect what I would say is the thematic and sort of conceptual ethos of the songwriting and the lyrics with this environment in which the music lives. I think us getting those two worlds to connect and really be in dialogue with one another is why Max and I really enjoy working together.

Analogue: Are there hopes that the listener is able to listen and understand at a deeper level then?

Danny: The truth is that I have zero expectations for anybody that listens to the music. As a person, I really like the feeling of just doing this work and going as far as I want with it, to the place that I feel is right in my heart, and then just letting that be. Whoever comes along and discovers it and what they feel about it is obviously beyond my control. What I do enjoy is moments, like what you said earlier about a line that resonated, I really enjoy that.

We recently got this phone number that people can just text us and we talk to fans on. It's been so beautiful to see all these people talking about the way a song or lyric fit into this or that instance of their lives. That's a beautiful feeling.

This emotion of trying to get outside of my mind, that's something I experienced in isolation and wrote about in isolation but then it's being broadcast to this world where other people like yourself are experiencing it in isolation. That's really what I want to do in this world, to help remind people that we're really all connected.

VISIT: Lewis Del Mar

Credit: Rubberband