The up-and-coming musician speaks on finding his sound, falling in love, and keeping away from ‘vampire people’
The first time I met Lewis OfMan was in Paris, at an exhibition opening held in an abandoned warehouse. It was just before the second wave of Covid restrictions, in October of 2020, and Lewis had the entire venue of Parisian artists, skaters, and fashion types moshing to renditions of what’s now his debut album: Sonic Poems, released just this past Friday. Not too long into our friendship, Lewis spontaneously asked me to send him voice recordings. Sonic Poems features 18 such recordings in total, a result of his idiosyncratic recording process of requesting voice notes from friends, past and present lovers, and memorable personalities he’s encountered on his travels. Whether exclaiming the title of the track—what Lewis calls the “slogan”— or sharing a story of love at first sight, the natural accent, enunciation, and emotion behind each voice helps set the frame of mind Lewis hopes for his listeners to be in.
Lewis OfMan’s career began when he started creating GarageBand mixes on his iPad at just 11 years old. A little over a decade later, the Parisian artist has released two EPs, performed in China, Lebanon, and supported Rejjie Snow on tour in North America. After the fashion industry took a liking to him, Lewis went on to produce tracks for runway shows for brands such as Sonia Rykiel, collaborate on a perfume for Diptyque, and most recently, have his song “Attitude” featured on a Versace campaign. Unsatisfied with being categorized as an electronic musician, Lewis prefers to define his work as existing under its own genre: sonic poems—the origin of his album’s title. This speaks to the album’s range in sound, from angsty rock to dreamy love ballads. Lewis isn’t afraid to sing in his imperfect English, or share brutal honesty in his lyrics to evoke a precise feeling.
The self-proclaimed “dancy boy” has spent the past three years dedicating himself to the creation of his debut album. For Lewis, this meant spending time in foreign cities such as Barcelona, Florence, and Los Angeles—gathering inspiration from daily interactions, “opening the doors of his personality to invite an exchange with others,” and seeking solitude to work in isolation when the time called. Lewis shares that over 80% of his album was finished in the final months—at first alongside Tim Goldsworthy, founder of DFA records, and eventually all alone in the French countryside, where he began each day by listening to João Gilberto’s Amoroso with what he calls “a fresh ear.”
When Lewis and I connect on FaceTime, he’s just finished signing 200 vinyl copies of Sonic Poems at Universal Studios’ office in Paris. Less than 24 hours earlier, he was kicking off his Sonic Poems tour in London. In this interview, he opens up about the relationships, cities, and vampire people he’s encountered in the process of creating Sonic Poems—the album he describes as “a bouquet of flowers in a concrete vase.”
“I take those visions I have, that can set everyone in a mood, and I express them with melodies and chords and sounds.”
Sarah Daoui: Did you have a good start to your Sonic Poems tour in London?
Lewis OfMan: London was insane. It was sold out! It was the first time I was playing in front of an audience that really knew me. People were screaming the melodies of ‘Attitude,’ it was surreal.
Sarah: Sonic Poems is such a roller coaster of emotions in the most freeing way. I can only imagine how fulfilling the live performance must be. You go from moments of tenderness and confessions of love in ‘Love Parade,’ to somewhat unapologetic tales of infidelity, like in ‘Sorry Not Sorry’—from upbeat notes of unwavering positivity in ‘Such a good day,’ to a borderline alarming call for help in ‘S.O.S.’
What was the first emotion that initiated this album? And how long have you spent working on it?
Lewis: Three years. At the end of 2018, I moved to Barcelona to make my album. But I was still a young guy; I was still with my first love, and when you’re with your first love since 18—I was 21 at the time—it’s kind of like a protection. You’re in your little cocoon, so you still have this innocence and naivety in you. I left Barcelona one year later, and my first love and I broke up. That’s when I was like, Woah, woah, woah, I’m experiencing all these feelings I don’t know.
Sarah: It sounds like the making of Sonic Poems was somewhat of a cathartic process for you. And that really comes through in the album—you feel the way you really immersed yourself in all these emotions that come with, not only love, but also heartbreak.
Lewis: You have to experience real loneliness and despair, or the real feeling of jealousy, and what it’s like to put yourself in situations that could be toxic. In order to fight against loneliness, you’re trying to find love everywhere. I was experiencing all these new things, so I was like, Fuck! I have to do some songs about these things.
In the third year of album making, I went to live in Italy where I was invited to [participate in] the Numeroventi Design Residency. I got to experience all these parties in palazzettos. In Florence, there are some quite interesting people with strange lives, and you get inspired by those exchanges. But when you’re traveling alone, you can also meet those vampire people, and you get the feeling that you can lose yourself to an experience.
Sarah: I think I have an idea of what you mean by a ‘vampire person.’ But could you describe one in your own words?
Lewis: There are two types of vampires. The first one is the desperate vampire: Someone who’s lost in drugs or just life in general. This vampire is gonna see a fresh soul arriving in its life and think, I’m gonna use this fresh soul to do my stuff! Because you’re a fresh soul and you’re innocent, you’re like, Oh! Who is this interesting new person? And suddenly, you find yourself jailed in the vampire’s projects. When you realize their stuff is shit, it’s too late. You’re already trapped. They’re too desperate for you to abandon them, and so you end up forgetting yourself in them.
The second vampire is more common, especially for people like myself who are creating something. I’m very curious, so I love to talk to people and open the doors of my personality to get an exchange. But some people have this technique to get the keys to your brain apartment. They tell you that everything you’ve done is wrong, but that they, and only they, can help you make it better. This type of vampire will often try to corner you at a party, but you must immediately run away.
Sarah: I think vampire people might be an international breed. How and where did you run away from the vampire people you encountered?
Lewis: Luckily, I had the chance to run away from the vampire people in my life and went to London. There I got in the studio with this producer, Tim Goldsworthy, who produced LCD Soundsystem’s first album, and brought a lot of elements to mine. I had 12 drafts for ‘Love Parade,’ and it was only with Tim that I was finally able to feel like, Yes! This is how I wanted this to sound! Then, in the last month of the album making process, I went alone to the [French] countryside. That was like the last sprint, where I made giant steps on the album and wrapped it all up.
Sarah: How do you know when it’s time for an isolating moment like that?
Lewis: I was just fed up with Paris shit. And I was lost. Sometimes, it’s really good to be lost, because it creates an escape. And having the desire to run away from something makes you go back to yourself. This is actually what I said at the end of ‘Dancy Girl,’ about the feeling of going back to yourself when you’ve been out of yourself for a long time. Finally, you find yourself alone with no phone, and have the time to take a huge step back from everything and just work.
Sarah: The idea of disconnecting from your phone makes me think of ‘Too Much Text.’ I think everyone, at some point or another, has felt the stress and anxiety that can come with texting. Was there a certain text that pushed you to make this song?
“It’s like making a great joke: You just have a feeling it’s going to make people laugh. And I guess that’s how I feel about some tracks.”
Lewis: The idea bumped up during the first lockdown. Obviously, you couldn’t meet people, so I had this text relationship going on. Everything was going well. And then, I don’t know exactly what text I sent, but there was no answer for a whole fucking week. All of a sudden this text—that you didn’t even think twice about, and thought was part of the conversation—makes you think: Did I just ruin everything?
Sarah: Have you ever ghosted anyone?
Lewis: Yeah, yeah… Of course. I do it because everyone’s doing the same thing. Who knows, maybe I’m even someone’s vampire.
Sarah: What a vicious cycle. Is anyone ghosting you these days?
Lewis: Well, not to be cheesy, but these days I feel like I have the dancy girl of my dreams. Violette, my girlfriend, is really the dancy girl.
Having a dancy girl or dancy boy or dancy person you love—it’s about being in love with someone that’s gonna make everything you live multiply. Everything you do is always going to be twice as much fun, because you’re with the person that’s vibing with you so much that even if everything goes wrong, it’s still going to be fun. These days, this is how I see the perfect love.
Sarah: That’s so sweet. And it’s her voice at the end of ‘Love Parade,’ right?
Lewis: Yes, that is her saying the ‘I love yous.’
Sarah: Your album features an impressive number of voice snippets—anonymous people speaking in different languages, tones, and accents. I’m curious to know how you find these people. Do you already have someone in mind when you’re writing, or is it more spontaneous than that?
Lewis: Well, for example, when I was making the instrumental base for ‘Such a good day,’ I thought, If we could hear some people saying, ‘It’s such a good day!’ that would take it to the next level. So I texted everyone I know that speaks English. Sometimes, it’s as easy as that. I remember for ‘Such a Good Day,’ my friend Talus literally sent me a WeTransfer with 16 different takes. One of him shouting, one whispering, one where he’s shouting from the back of the room. It’s always full of surprises, because you can’t really predict how it’s gonna sound. You finally get to see how the song gets its life, and it’s always a fun moment. On ‘Sorry Not Sorry,’ it’s my friend Elisabetha’s voice—an Italian girl I met in Florence, who has such a heavy voice and thick accent, right out of a Sorrentino film.
Sarah: I notice that you seem to prefer singing in English over French. Why is English the language you use to express your emotions?
Lewis: English is a lighter language for certain subjects. To be funny in French, I would be put into the box of ‘a funny artist,’ or someone who makes jokes with songs. But in English, when you make jokes in music, it doesn’t categorize you. And I like to use simple words, so in a song like ‘S.O.S,’ it’s more universal to say ‘help me’ in English. Everyone understands those words. To me, a song like ‘Too Much Text’ is like a surrealist poem—so to do it in French might be a bit pretentious. My songs are about such specific ideas that it’s good to shout the idea right in them, like a slogan. For the song ‘Attitude,’ it changed everything that someone was saying ‘Attitude!’ over and over.
Sarah: I feel like ‘Attitude’ is starting to gain a cult following. It’s hit 8 million streams on Spotify alone. I’ve heard it in so many different settings, from on set in Paris, to eating a breakfast burrito at Golden Diner in Chinatown, to my friend Jade Croo’s DJ set. Every time, people are so excited to find out that someone in the room also knows and loves the song. Did you expect for it to have such an impact?
“Sometimes, it’s really good to be lost, because it creates an escape. And having the desire to run away from something makes you go back to yourself.”
Lewis: It’s like making a great joke: You just have a feeling it’s going to make people laugh. And I guess that’s how I feel about some tracks. That it’s going to make some people react, maybe not now, but eventually. I always compare my music to planting an African Baobab tree. I prefer that to planting a rose that’s only going to last months. With ‘Attitude,’ I tried to make a song I would want to listen to—that would put me in a good mood. Most of the time, when you’re happy with something, people can relate to that happiness in a timeless way.
Sarah: Absolutely. There’s such a range of emotions that people can relate to on this album. When I listen to ‘Sorry Not Sorry,’ I imagine myself power walking at night alone in an empty city, or dancing at a house party.
Lewis: Sarah, did you know that the image I had in mind when writing ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ was the going away party we had for you when you left Paris?
I remember, at some point of the party, I felt such a strong mood. All the lights were turned off, there were some people here dancing, other people there kissing. And that’s the kind of moment I want this song to be played in.
Sarah: What a special memory. Would you ever consider doing a music video for that song?
Lewis: Yes! Actually, with the reference and aesthetics I had in mind for that song, my dream would be to have Paolo Sorrentino shoot the music video.
Sarah: Your time in Florence did sound very La Grande Bellezza-esque.
Just a few months ago, you shot the music videos for ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘Too Much Text’ in New York. What would be your ideal space for a New York show, and can we expect one?
Lewis: I’m hoping to come back to New York in September and would love to play a show. I think my dream setting would be to play at an empty loft. To play a song like ‘Toxic Night’ in this empty loft would be the best. That song is inspired by New York. I imagined a night drive in Manhattan, on your way to the party, and you’re listening to this song, and you’re coming from another party, but you’re going to meet the person you’re trying to seduce in this empty loft, and obviously he’s going to destroy you. Because, you know, this person is really toxic. [Laughs]
Sarah: I love that idea—let’s make the empty loft show happen. How does it feel to be an artist in New York versus Paris?
Lewis: French people are not really welcoming to something new or different. But that’s never the situation in London or New York, where you’re actually part of society by being different. In New York, I was not feeling awkward at all shooting my music videos in the streets. I was just some other guy doing his thing.
But I’m not living in New York, because I think feeling different can be good; I like to cultivate this thing in Paris, where I have my fantasy style and I’m in my own world. It’s good for my creativity. In terms of music, France is going in too much of an industrialized direction. Everybody wants to have a hit single, and so they’re mixing pop with rap and calling it French urban pop. It’s really bad. In France, we’re missing this independent feeling of, Let’s just do great music and not care about those radios.
Sarah: I admire you for bringing that forward-thinking approach to this album. What genre do you feel your music falls under?
Lewis: My songs are electronic, but electronic can mean so many different things. Some people ask me: ‘Oh, so you’re a DJ? Is it techno? Or house? Or pop?’ This is how I found the title Sonic Poems, actually. I consider my music to be sonic poems. I take those visions I have, that can set everyone in a mood, and I express them with melodies and chords and sounds.
Sarah: What exactly does the word sonic mean to you?
Lewis: There’s this thing about the fact that it’s literally electricity that gives me the power to share an emotion. And so that’s why, in the word sonic, I hear the word electronic also. Speakers and sound systems, to me, are such a symbol and element in my music. I have this image of these big speakers throwing some love in the air. So that’s what my genre is.
Sarah: That’s really beautiful. If you could describe a visual of the Sonic Poems album, what would it look like?
Lewis: I sometimes say that Sonic Poems is like a bouquet of flowers in a concrete vase. You have this contrast, with those drums knocking, and then being really dusty in ‘Love Parade.’ That’s why I love ‘Love Parade,’ because you have this mix of simple drums, and then you have these soft, tiny notes with melodies playing. And that’s why I’m thinking of flowers in the concrete.