Young Singer Shows Old Soul The songs of Sylvie Lewis, a young British singer and songwriter, seem to come from an older soul on her new album, Translations, which has touches of tango and cabaret.
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Young Singer Shows Old Soul

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Young Singer Shows Old Soul

Young Singer Shows Old Soul

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Here is a caution for you: If you're on an airplane and you sit next to a young, British woman and she seems really interested in what you have to say that could be Sylvie Lewis. She's a singer and songwriter. And your story could end up in a monologue that she would perform in a music club. This happens in the live shows.

Her new CD, "Translations," is just the music. Her songs seem to come from an older soul, but touches of tango and cabaret.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. SYLVIE LEWIS (Singer; Songwriter): (Singing) My old love who calls early in the morning looking for another place to hide. Her new friends are already boring. She is sitting on a pavement outside. She only comes to see me when she's hurt to much to drink. Only said she loves me when she's too drunk to think.

ADAMS: Sylvie Lewis is only from England. She's lived in California, New York, and Spain, Italy and France.

Ms. Lewis, hello. Welcome. Did I leave any place out, where you've been?

Ms. LEWIS: I actually - I lived in South Africa for a year as well.

ADAMS: South Africa?

Ms. LEWIS: Yes, indeed.

ADAMS: Got to have musical influences there.

Ms. LEWIS: Well, I think it's good to try and live on as many continents as possible during your lifetime.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: Where is the best music in South Africa?

Ms. LEWIS: Oh, that's a tricky one. Well, I was in Johannesburg for most of the time and, you know, there is some obviously Johnny Cleg is a big, famous singer there and he's wonderful. And I really like the gumboot dancing that they do.

ADAMS: What is the gumboot dancing?

Ms. LEWIS: The gumboot dancing. Did you know, I don't actually know exactly the origins of it but gumboots are sort of Wellington boots that you wear to go through the mud.

ADAMS: Oh sure.

Ms. LEWIS: In England we call them Wellington boots.

ADAMS: Or mucking(ph) boots. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Ms. LEWIS: Exactly. So they put on these boots and they dance and they make an amazing sort of sound and they're very, very rhythmic and it's a really tribal beautiful thing.

ADAMS: So someday gumboot music is going to show up in one of your CDs?

Ms. LEWIS: It may well do. I never know that's going to hit me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: Hey, let me take you back a lot of years to your - and this is something I've read - your grandfather's record collection. When does these have been, 78s or 33 and a third actual record albums, as we have to say these days?

Ms. LEWIS: Actually, it was both. We had all sorts of things in the house everything from Oscar Peterson. That was sort of how I fell in love with jazz in the beginning. And I was obviously in love with Ella Fitzgerald and then I wanted to know who did she listen to so I went to Betty Smith and then who did Betty Smith learned from, oh, Gertrude Ma Rainey. So you kind of trace it back and I remember going to Rays Jazz shop in London. And I was seeking a Gertrude Ma Rainey record, which I actually found and was overjoyed and I think I bought it for like 10 pounds of something really pricey to me at age 14. And went running home to listen to it and, you know, for an English girl, growing up in London, that music sort of spoke volumes even though my culture is just drastically different than where, you know, all of those musicians were coming from.

(Soundbite of song, "Isobel")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing): Isobel, are you well? Do you miss me at all?

ADAMS: The song, of course, is "Isobel."

Ms. LEWIS: Yes.

ADAMS: Which is about infidelity. It would be difficult to put that into any decade really going all the way back, I guess, to the earliest recorded music.

Ms. LEWIS: Well, yeah. I think when I'm writing songs I don't - I'm not really thinking about what the influence is. And so with the song like "Isobel," she came along because I read this article about how men and women, as we age, women tend to be able to savor with the past sort of more lightly. And men, as they age, tend to get more nostalgic. And when they look back over their lives, they have something strongly pulling on their heartstrings. And I found that really interesting. So that was sort of the beginning of "Isobel."

(Soundbite of song, "Isabelle")

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) There have been three women in my life I have loved well, well, well. My mother, my wife and of course, Isobel.

My father went out in London and he met one of my ex-boyfriends who said to him, I just want you to know there's only been three women in my life. My mother, my wife and of course, Sylvie. And I thought, great. I'll make that into a song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: And that's why it has a male narrator.

Ms. LEWIS: Right. Well, it's actually. It starts out with the male narrator and then the music will change in the middle. Harold(ph) said it's actually a woman singing there. But I didn't want to do what you asked. I wanted to sing it all myself just to be not super clear about it, you know?

ADAMS: Sure. You're doing a lot of traveling and will be for the new CD and coming to the United States. But your purpose in passing the time of this flight, to help your work, is to talk to the people that you're with because you're going to create a monologue if you can. So do you tell them right away I'm a song writer or do you start talking to them?

Ms. LEWIS: No. You know, I find that when you're at 30,000 feet, people tend to talk to each other in a way that is probably uncommon in other situations. You know, I think, especially after, you know, 9/11, there's very much this fear around flying that's very real. So I find that people - we do talk about things. And if you're open and you listen to people, I've had some fascinating revelations by people on airplanes.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) He's got a love (unintelligible), green eyes, dirty blond. Whenever she traveled, he's there. Wherever she goes, he got a lover there.

ADAMS: Do you plan to use the monologues that you've put together to introduce particular songs. Can you give us an example - a very short example of the monologue?

Ms. LEWIS: When I got a lovely American man who's talking about the problems that he has with his Russian girlfriend, because her bottom is too big. And, you know, he goes through a sort of journey and explaining to everybody that he's not sure if he can, you know, she wants to get married. But he doesn't know if he can live with the bottom like that. And it's very sort of comical but also, you know, when you, I think, considering marrying somebody, you do have to consider everything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ADAMS: What does his voice sound like?

Ms. LEWIS: You know, he just talks like a normal American. How's my accent to you? Does that sound okay?

ADAMS: It's coming into tune, yes.

Ms. LEWIS: Okay. Great. Thank you. I imagine that after I've been in America for a few weeks, the accent will be much better then it is right now.

ADAMS: Thank you for talking with us, Ms. Lewis.

Ms. LEWIS: Thank you for having me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) She write a song about loveā€¦

ADAMS: The new CD from Sylvie Lewis is called "Translations." She joined us from the BBC Studios in London. Her U.S. tour begins this Wednesday in New York City.

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