Lewis continues to say ‘YNOT?’ to performance
Musician Paul Lewis has developed an ear for lucid, expressive sound that reverberates throughout his career. He has fronted bands that play to sold-out crowds, established his name and record label to echo from coast to coast, and released album after album to a growing fan following.
The Eastern Shore native has practically done it all when it comes to music, and he is in no way about to stop.
Lewis used to joke, “Music first, then sanity,” and his hectic, wavering schedule often reflects that precise approach on life.
A graduate of James M. Bennett High School in Wicomico County, Md., he took an early liking to music. He started writing his own music at 14 and displayed his interest in the performing arts.
After high school, he enrolled at Salisbury State University to pursue his artistic dream. There, he joined a rock band with some fellow students, and as Lewis said, “It was all over after that.”
While studying theater, Lewis was approached by a group of musicians, including bassist and vocalist Steve Wallace, after a performance.
“They were looking for a frontman for their band,” Lewis explained. “I had always enjoyed every aspect of performing, and I thought ‘Why not?’”
Coincidentally enough, the band got together and shortly thereafter took on the name YNOT?!. Starting out, the band began gigging, often performing five or six times a week, and, before long, the group was gaining a large local popularity.
“It was great,” Lewis said. “The set list was accommodating for my style and my vocals and the music we played was a real attention-getter.”
YNOT?! achieved a slew of acclaimed performances before sold-out crowds, time and time again, spanning throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and the D.C. area. The band dispersed half a decade after its start, however, with members developing different directions and expectations for the band.
Lewis wasn’t about to budge from the performance bug that had bit him so long ago, though. He moved to Los Angeles to ignite his solo career and “make a mark.” While out there, he founded his production company, Realize Records, in August 2000. He headlined gigs throughout the Los Angeles region and picked up radio airplay.
“The move out to L.A. really helped kickstart my career,” he said.
But the East Coast beckoned Lewis, and he returned with wife Michelle to her hometown of Middletown, Del., to start their family and further Realize Records.
Lewis currently teaches voice at Middletown’s Premier Centre for the Arts (PCA). He’s directing seven students through a theatrical production called “Hear My Voice,” which follows the ambitions of young performing artists. The show is set to debut at PCA on April 19 at 7 p.m.
“I enjoy helping other aspiring artists,” he explained.
His daughter has shown interest in theater, as well. This summer, he is assembling the Unicity Festival in Middletown, the first annual visual and performing arts festival of its kind. The event, scheduled for Aug. 2, will feature everything from punk rock bands to ballet.
“It’s a chance for local performers to showcase their talents,” he said. “It’s the first project like this in the region, and we’re really excited.”
Comedy, juggling, dance, and musical performances will be assimilated in the all-day event, as well as visual art presentations.
“We’re joining forces with a number of entities,” he said. “We’re working on getting national acts to headline in the evening. Our goal is to eventually get a draw from all over the country.”
In addition to teaching and organizing festivals, the family man juggles roles as a musician, writer and producer. The fast pace of the music scene is more than enough to keep him occupied, but as he stated, “I wouldn’t have it any other way. I wear a lot of different hats,” he added, “and I enjoy each one.”
It’s the hat of the performer, however, that Lewis says really brings out who he is.
“I feel it’s important that, as an artist, you stay true to yourself,” he noted. “You have to be careful not to give in.”
He refutes the traditional collection of acoustic songs most commonly represented at shows.
“That’s not me,” he claimed. “I’ve always gone with what I enjoy and what feels right.”
Through the years, Lewis hasn’t quite escaped the satisfaction that comes with a live performance.
“Getting up in front of that crowd is the epitome of joy,” he said. “I have my huge background in theater, and that hasn’t escaped me. There’s nothing better than getting that reaction from the people. It’s the best thing in the world.”
Writing and sharing his own music has provided Lewis with the opportunity to explore what else is out there for him.
“Your music really reflects who you are and makes a difference how you are perceived,” he said.
His sound plays off of the bands and solo artists that have inspired him through the years, from The Beatles, Prince, David Bowie and the Talking Heads to more modern artists like Nirvana, Radiohead, R.E.M. and Dépêche Mode. Lewis even covers songs from notable groups such as Nine Inch Nails, Tonic and Green Day.
“I like to surprise people, keep things fresh,” he said.
The alternative and rock sounds of the ’90s are among the most influential for him.
“I incorporate a lot of things that inspire me,” he said. “I don’t play songs or artists that I don’t like. My set list is very eclectic. A lot of it concentrates on my record. My own music usually seems to fit the atmosphere I’m playing in.”
Lewis’ talent has caught the attention of numerous artists, and he has provided accompaniment and vocals for duos, trios and other full bands. He primarily performs under the name Paul Lewis Band, touring across the tri-state region and into New Jersey, too. Wallace, to this day, joins Lewis for many of his performances.
Following the summer of 2005, Lewis released his seventh (and latest) recorded project, a solo album titled “Trading Horror Stories,” which has developed a close spot in his personal life. He describes it as “the record that almost wasn’t,” as it came at a pivotal point in his career.
In a devastating turn of events, drummer Steve Miller, an original member of YNOT?!, tragically lost his life when he was just 33 years old. Shortly after, a close friend of Lewis lost a fight against cancer. Only two weeks after that, when things already appeared their worst, Lewis was involved in a horrific car accident that left him hospitalized and unable to perform for the first time in his life.
“It was incredible,” he said. “They were the most trying moments of my life. They say out of tragedy comes greatness, and that which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. ‘Trading Horror Stories’ developed from this inspiration. I really grew a lot, and it brought everyone who helped with the record together.”
The commended album was well-received by listeners. Lewis was able to experiment with a lot of his own writing, and even ventured into new aspects of music, supplying drum loops and bass lines in the songs. The album even received six first-round Grammy nominations — an esteemed honor for an indie recording of Paul Lewis’ caliber.
“It’s really nice to know people looked at and listened to the record,” he said.
Lewis will be making a stop during his upcoming performance series at The Chalkboard in Bethany Beach on Saturday, March 8, at 9 p.m. Music lovers can stop by for an entertaining evening and opportunity to meet the artist and purchase two of his albums, “Get On With It,” his first solo record, and “YNOT?! — The Archives Vol.1,” which features original and live tracks from the band’s performances. Additional merchandise is available through his Web site at www.paul-lewis.com.
Check out the Web sites at www.tradingorrorstories.com and www.unicityfestival.com for additional coverage of Lewis’ projects, or go to www.myspace.com/paullewismusic for updates on tour information and streaming audio.