A heavy-duty hobby

Sarah Smellie
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Victor Lewis has good intentions

Singer/songwriter Victor Lewis stands in front of his own personal slot of CD's at Fred's Records. - Photo by Sarah Smellie/Special to The Telelgram

After just a few months, Victor Lewis has found people to jam with out on Random Island.

The prolific and revered St. John's musician moved there four months ago, when his girlfriend got a job with Eastern Health.

In addition to finding himself a few co-players, in those four months he built himself a music room and then recorded his latest album in it. Called "It Still Wonders Me," he released it at the end of February.

Described by The Scope's music writer, Damian Lethbridge, as "another giant of an album amongst the tall trees that make up the Victor Lewis discography," "It Still Wonders Me" combines '70s rock riffs, harmonies worthy of the Beatles, and sweeping disco-grade choruses with Lewis's trademark voice, which slides from funk falsetto to full-on howl.

As with his other solo albums, he played most of the instruments on the recording and, though it holds true to that unmistakable Victor Lewis quality, it's a sharp and interesting departure from his previous solo release, 2010's "The New Depression," and from the albums he's put out in between: "Bonding," by his gritty, grinding rock outfit Casual Male, shortlisted for the 2011 Atlantis Prize; and "Strange Beliefs," by his psych-tinged electro-80s project "Mercury Topaz," which made the 2011 Atlantis Prize long list.

Like all of his work, "It Still Wonders Me" was posted all over the Facebook walls of local musicians and music fans just minutes after it was uploaded.

Lethbridge called him a "musical genius" and, once again, musicians across the city hunkered down with the new Victor Lewis creation to listen and learn.

"I guess music is a pretty heavy-duty hobby for me," says Lewis.

"Well, a passion, really. I can't remember not doing it."

Lewis grew up in Gander, with musical parents that had him taking piano lessons by age six.

"My mother is a talented singer and she's always loved singing in choirs," he says. "She taught me my first few guitar chords. My father was never a musician, but he's a huge music buff; he's a record collector. He's got really good taste and has a pretty extensive library. He was actually the one who turned me on to Nirvana, I was still a little bit too young. But yeah, between the two of them, music was always really important."

He started playing in bands in junior high, and began making albums in high school.

After his first few recordings, he quickly made a habit of recording two or three full albums a year.

He moved to St. John's in 2000, and played guitar in the now-legendary Trailer Camp.

In 2008, he released two solo albums - "Death Come Creepin'" and "Vicki Lou's Good Intentions" - and formed the band Kujo, with Adam Cardwell, Brad Power and Craig Follett.

Their 2009 self-titled album won three MusicNL nominations. He put out another solo album in 2009, "Great Invention," and then formed Casual Male and Mercury Topaz, both with Power, while continuing to make his own music on the side.

In other words, he's been very busy.

"All through growing up, I remember always having a little tape recorder," he says. "I've always been interested in hearing myself recorded on tape.

"But," he adds, laughing, "it's only the albums from the last few years that are available to anybody outside of my immediate circle."

At the rate he records, that's enough to warrant his own section down at Fred's Records on Duckworth Street.

Fred's staff are known for being seriously picky, and seriously dedicated music fans, so to have them designate someone a special space in their racks is a high honour.

"We all just friggin' die for him down here," says Fred's employee Burke Brokenshire, who practically jumps through the phone when I mention Lewis.

"His masterful production and his ability to emulate so many people - he can sound like the Byrds or the Beatles, just like it's nothing.

"But he still make the music his own. We all have really different tastes here, but we all love Vic's music.

"We all think he should be world famous," he adds.

Though most agree that he could easily be playing on larger stages in larger cities, to much larger audiences, Lewis isn't thinking about hordes of screaming fans when he makes music.

"I mainly work on these CDs for myself, because I'm trying to make these pastiches of my favourite kinds of music," he says.

"But if there is someone outside of myself who I think of next, who might dig it and get some of the reference points, it's Dad. Dad and a handful of my friends, but he's usually the first one to call up and tell me what he got out of the first listen. It's just a lot of fun that we have as music geeks."

He's also not a proponent of self-promotion, preferring instead to have his records played by people who share his taste and will therefore genuinely love what they hear.

"I like the idea of people hearing it for the right reason," says Lewis.

"It's a labour of love and I do it for no other reason than to entertain myself and to play it for my family and friends who share my tastes. But I really freeze up if I start thinking about actively hawking it to people. Like, that would be different from my intent, which is to make music that I really like. And whenever anything goes through my head that's different from my intent, the magic just goes right out of it."

telegram@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Beatles, Casual Male, Fred's

Geographic location: Random Island, St. John's, Gander Duckworth Street

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  • Andrew H
    May 02, 2012 - 07:14

    I've known Victor since high school, and I was able to witness his transformation from gee-whiz-wow guitar phenom to accomplished and meticulous songwriter. There was a time when he would pour hundreds of hours into writing and recording an album, which he would distribute to only a half-dozen people. Getting a specially reserved copy of those early albums was always a joy, partly because the music was so good, partly because he had worked so hard for only himself and a handful of people. I've never met some one who was so respectful and curious about the various rock and popular music traditions, and who was so humble about his own abilities and accomplishments.

  • Kathy Hutchings
    April 22, 2012 - 20:40

    Hi Victor, I am your Dad's first cousin. We are following your music and success. Music is a constant in our families. Plus, your namesake was a musician back in his day. I am printing this article to share with my folks. All the best to you, Victor. Kathy