Veronica Lewis has hit 2021 on the ground running, with a new video and new album on the horizon. She’s working with Ben Rogers and the mysterious Margaret. We caught up to her to have a brief chat, and here’s we found out:
Americana Highways: Your album is named after the title track song “You Ain’t Unlucky.” Can you tell us a little about how this title fits in with your larger perspectives on life?
I decided to choose ‘You Ain’t Unlucky’ as the title track because it is a very personal song to me and it holds a lot of meaning. When I was writing the song I reflected on my own experiences and I wanted to share how I deal with tough things in my life. One of the lyrics in the song says ‘Some people think it’s bad every cherry has a pit, but honey, inside every pit is a whole ‘nother tree’. This is definitely an overarching theme of the song which is, in life something may seem bad, or like an obstacle in your way, but if you look at it from a different point of view, you can at least try to find something to appreciate and be grateful for. This idea of changing your point of view to find gratitude in the tough moments in our lives is something I try to do all the time. It can definitely be hard, but it has helped get me through this year and this pandemic. Being able to love and appreciate everything and everyone in my life has been one of the most important things I have learned in this crazy year.”
AH: What was it like working with Ben Rogers on this album?
VL: Ben Rogers, at Loud Sun Studios, is amazing. I had met him a few years ago and we are able to work so well together. We did most of the instrumentals in the studio. However, on this album, three of the tracks were recorded at my house on ‘Margaret,’ my 115-year-old piano. This is the first and only piano I have ever had, and I learned to play on ‘Margaret’. Ben came to my house and we recorded a few songs on the piano and it is so special to have that a part of my debut album. Also, because of Covid, I recorded most of the vocal tracks for this album at home, and Ben helped teach me how to use the recording equipment and software. I couldn’t have finished this album this year without him, and I am very, very grateful to be able to work with him.
AH: You’re a piano player. In one of the songs, you had your 115-year-old piano in the mix. What kind of piano is this, what’s the history of your piano, and how did that support the song?
VL: When I was 6 years old, we moved to our first house, north of Boston. We noticed that one of the neighbors had an old upright piano sitting in a barn that they were going to get rid of. So, we decided to rescue the piano and we found that the name ‘Margaret’ was inscribed on the front of it. We don’t know who ‘Margaret’ is, but the name stuck and she is the only piano I’ve ever had. I felt it was really important to have ‘Margaret’ recorded on this album because I have written so many songs on this piano (including tracks from this album) and this piano has been a big part of my life. When I was first starting to play the piano (at 6), I would tell myself ‘Margaret’s going to get lonely, so I better go play with her’ and that helped keep me motivated.
One of the songs that’s recorded on ‘Margaret’ is “Memphis Train,” the last track of the album. The song is one of the first I ever wrote and it’s about your chance in life. No matter what it is, or what you want to do, The Memphis Train represents the opportunity to follow your dreams. Who knows? The Memphis Train could pull up in front of your house any day and you’ve got to be ready. When I first wrote the song, I imagined the Memphis Train pulling up in front of my house with all of my music heroes aboard, and it would take us all the way down to Memphis. As I’ve grown as a musician, it’s come to mean so much more. It’s become a driving motivation for me to always keep trying my best and moving forward in whatever I do. It was a huge part of the album to have ‘Margaret’ recorded on this track because not only was this song a big part of the beginning of my music career, but ‘Margaret’ was as well.”
AH: On your album, you have a trio of musicians and have done away with the usual bass and guitar. What made you decide to do that, and how has it captured your songs?
VL: I wanted this album to showcase the songwriting and have a very authentic sound. I want people to know who I am as a player, singer, and songwriter by capturing a live, intimate sound, rather than a big production. The way I play piano, and the style I write in, I basically am the bass player. So I didn’t want to change that. Since I started playing, I always supported my own songs with a steady bassline in the left hand. The way I play piano is really percussive, almost like 88 tiny drums. So, having just the right drummer, using a small kit, (just bass drum, snare ride, and cymbal) was really the most critical addition to my sound. Mike Walsh who has done almost all my shows with me and most of the album, is just the best. Also, I worked with Chris Anzalone from Roomful of Blues, who did two songs on the album. He was amazing to work with too. My sound engineer Ben even played drums on one song! My choice to just have a saxophone and no guitar was an easy one because that is how I have been doing my shows. I wanted to stay with that sound for the album. The trio is such a full-on sound and it is exactly how I always heard these songs in my head, so why change it. These guys are total pros with years and years of experience, nuisance, and heart. I love working with Don Davis who also played many shows with me and all but one song on the album. Joel Edinburg was amazing too and played saxophone for one song on the album. Who’s to say how I may envision my next album, but for this batch of songs the trio is perfect.”
AH: Would you say the piano and drums provide more rhythm and melody than the bass and guitar often provide?
VL: I’m not sure about that. But I do know having piano and drums drive it home is how I always heard the songs in my head. I just didn’t hear a guitar on these songs. I had very clear and specific images and sounds that I wanted for these songs. For instance, when I wrote ‘Put Your Wig On Mama’ I knew exactly what kind of saxophone sound and licks I wanted. Don Davis brought that song to life perfectly and he really lets loose on that one in live shows too. My songs are just as much about nuance as they are about power. Having just three musicians really allowed each one of us to integrate and develop our sound together. Remember too, this is my first band. We met in June 2019 and played our first show together in August 2019, so this is still pretty new. But fate was on our side and brought us together for sure on this project. Working with such talented Drummers and Saxophonists, created a tight, full sound that helped to bring my songs to another level. It was a real honor to work with all the musicians on the album. They helped to create a tight rhythm section on all the tracks and it really brought my songs to life”
AH: How did your production style on the album help communicate your music?
VL: I wanted the album to be a stakeholder of my early career and musical journey so far. I wanted each track to be as real and authentic as it could be. I imagined I only had one shot to lay it down in the studio, as if I walked into a recording studio somewhere back in time, like Sun or Stax and the producer just pressed the ‘record’ button and said ‘Ok, Kid, let me hear what you’ve got.’ I wanted the sound and the production style to highlight the musicianship, the instrumentation, and to showcase my songwriting. A few of the tracks on the album are some of the first songs that I ever wrote, and in order to pay respect to my early influences and the beginning of my career, I wanted people to get to know me through the music. I think that the messages I’m trying to get across with this album and the production of the tracks pair well together. Another part of the production is that there are very little to no effects on my vocals. That plays a big part in people hearing who I am and getting to know me.
AH: For your video for “You Ain’t Unlucky,” what goal did you have in mind for the song, and how did the video work to convey your message?
VL: I wanted the video to feel like it would if you got to stand directly in front of me at a show and could see everything I do. Like I was playing just for you, and you got to really feel my energy and passion as a performer. The ‘You Ain’t Unlucky’ video was very spontaneous. No crew, almost no budget, no plan really, and it was very, very last minute. I knew I wanted a video for this title track because I wanted people to see and connect with my love for performing and playing. I also have a deep connection with nature and I wanted that to be a part of the story being told. The video was all shot outside in one day and I basically walked outside with my keyboard, we hit record, and I just performed. The personal message of the song, and how it connects to my life, is why I felt it was important to show the song and my performance, in a place that I love… nature. The most important part of this video was allowing everyone to connect with me and my music.