The country artist (who is also well-known as vocalist and primary songwriter for the metal-tinged hard rock band Staind) says he decided long ago he would succeed or fail on his own terms and his music’s merit.
This outlook has become especially apparent as Lewis has started a country music career.
He’ll bring that country sound to The Country Club at 10 p.m. Friday, May 31. Doors open at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $3 girls, $5 guys after 8:30 p.m. For details, see augustacountry.com.
With Staind, the band’s music happened to fit with hard-rock trends, and the band has gone on to become a successful act in the genre.
Beginning with its third album, 2001’s Break the Cycle, the group had three straight albums atop the Billboard magazine album chart (2003’s 14 Shades of Grey and 2005’s Chapter V were the others) and the two albums that followed, The Illusion of Progress (2008) and Staind (2011), were also significant successes.
With country music, though, Lewis is bucking current trends toward the more rock- and pop-driven sounds of mainstream country. Instead, he’s making music that recalls Merle Haggard, George Jones and Waylon Jennings.
“There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s pushing the envelope of country music, that is being accepted as mainstream country music right now,” Lewis said in a mid-May phone interview. “And there’s kind of a void for good, old-fashioned your grandfather’s country music.
“I guess at the risk of offending some folks, I really, a lot of times find it a bit of a stretch to even classify the music that is being played (on country radio) as being country,” he said.
“Just because you stick a little bit of pedal steel way, way back where you can just barely hear it, and you throw a little fiddle in there, you might put the fiddle way up front because that can really make any song sound country, and put it over a pop chord progression with a pop melody and a pop chorus, and call it country just because you ever-so-slightly flavored it that way musically and then the person who’s singing it has a twang in their voice, that doesn’t make it country to me.”
That the music Lewis has made on his 2011 EP, Town Line and his 2012 full-length debut, The Road, gravitates toward classic country music makes sense when one considers the way he grew up in western Massachusetts.
“Traditional country music was what my childhood soundtrack was,” he said. “My grandfather was a huge country music fan, and the radio, the music, was on all the time, always, always, always, from the time that people woke up in the morning to the time that the last light got shut out.”
In his teen years, Lewis moved to Vermont, where his friends introduced him to rock. That’s what sent him down his path into metal-tinged music. But on an early Staind tour with Kid Rock, Lewis rediscovered country.
“I found myself riding on his (Kid Rock’s) bus a lot on that first tour we were ever on, because there were so many people on our bus,” Lewis said. “We would sit in the back lounge of the bus and stay up until the wee hours of the morning, and the music that was playing in the background was all this old country that was like a blast down memory lane. I had all of these memories associated with this music. And from there, I just slowly more and more and more and more got drawn to the country side of things, to now it’s a rarity for me to even put rock music on the radio.”
The way Lewis made The Road seems to suggest that country music comes naturally to him.
“It was a very, very fun, inspired process,” Lewis said. “It took like 30 hours to record the entire record – and write – write and record, like 30 hours, like seven or eight four-hour sessions.”
Songs like 75; Red, White & Blue; State Lines and Anywhere But Here are built around Lewis’ solid vocal melodies, with guitars, fiddle, dobro and pedal steel frequently adding even more of a country flavor.