The Outfield was an undeniable force. The band took the airwaves of the ’80s by storm with their infectious pop songs, including “Your Love,” “All The Love” and “Say It Isn’t So.” Their 1985 debut album, “Play Deep,” reached triple platinum sales status and Top 10 on the U.S. album charts. “Your Love” peaked at #6 and is still featured in a number of compilation albums and commercials, and has been covered or remixed more than 1,000 times by other artists. More than 30 years later, “Your Love” continues to make waves with an average of 1 million streams per week on Spotify and more than 5 million monthly views of the video on YouTube, while still in rotation at more than 300 major market radio stations across the country. Collectively, The Outfield has more than 170 million total views on YouTube videos and 125 million streams on Spotify.
Following the 2014 passing of his longtime friend and collaborator, Tony Lewis took a break from music. However, the London-based musician, songwriter and record producer couldn’t stay away for long. In 2018, Tony Lewis of The Outfield announced the release of “Out of The Darkness,” his first solo album. The new 12-track album, slated for release on June 29 via Madison Records, was written and recorded by Lewis over the past two years. It is his first for the Atlanta-based label. Fearless during the process, Lewis produced, recorded and played all the instruments on the new album. This new collection of songs isn’t a rehash of his musical past but an exciting new chapter in his career and paves the way for an exciting future of possibilities for him as an artist. In support of the album’s release, Lewis will hit the road this summer on the Retro Futura Tour, alongside Belinda Carlisle, ABC, Modern English, Kajagoogoo’s Limahl and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella. The July and August outing – including a July 28 show at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles – will mark his first tour in more than 13 years.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tony Lewis to discuss his life in music, the making of “Out of The Darkness” and what the future might hold for him as a solo artist.
How did music come into your life and what drove you to pursue it professionally?
Basically, it all got started when I picked up an old acoustic guitar out of a dustbin! [laughs] It was my sister’s friend’s brother who got an electric guitar and he was going to throw away his acoustic. I said, “Don’t throw it away. Can I have it?” I was about 14 or 15 years old at the time. He said, “Yeah, yeah, sure you can have it.” I took it home and I didn’t know how to tune a guitar, but I played along mono record play. I would play old ‘60s singles fast, so I could hear the bass lines. I would put it back to 45 RPM, so I could play along with the record. I just made up chords as I went along! I eventually got a cheap electric guitar. I’m primarily a bass player, as you know, but I like playing guitar as well. I was left handed back then and I saw a left-handed bass in a guitar shop. I saved up a lot of money and, when I went back to the shop, it had sold. Someone at my school said, “You’re going to have to learn on the other hand. It’s going to take you about six months.” It took me every night of those six months! [laughs] In the ‘70s, it was very rare that you could get a left-handed guitar, let alone bass! That’s why Jimi Hendrix played the Strat upside down because he couldn’t get a left-handed Strat! From there, I got into a school band with Alan Jackman and two other guys. We didn’t even know how to tune guitars back then, but we played in pub playing covers. Around that time, I met John [Spinks] and we were in a prog rock band years and years ago. There was another guy who sung with the band. I said to John, “He’s not a very good singer, is he?” He said, “No but he’s got a nice van!” [laughs] We did gigs in this very nice van with him before taking a break because the punk rock thing had happened. As I said, I was playing covers in clubs and John came down to a club I was playing. I was singing “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. I thought everyone could sing it! John said, “Wow! That voice! We’ve got to do some recording!” We went to a local studio, raised demos and toured all over England as The Baseball Boys. Eventually, we got signed to CBS. The rest is history!
You and John Spinks made amazing music together through the years. I’m sure he had some influence on your latest project as well. What did you bring out in each other creatively?
We feed off of each other with ideas. I would have guitar ideas and John would have bass ideas or I would play guitar on one track and he would play bass on one of the tracks. We never had any egos as far as who was playing what. We found out that we could play the drums on the computer, so we didn’t always need to go out and record in the studio. After working with various producers, we taught ourselves the tricks of the trade on how to produce. We both like the same sort of music from the Beatles to the Rolling Stones to The Cars to Thin Lizzy. I was also a big fan of T-Rex, Bowie and that sort of ‘70s stuff. John and I fed off of each other creatively and I loved recording music together.
There were periods when you took a break from music. What can you tell us about that and what brought you back to create a powerful new solo album?
I haven’t toured in about 13 or 14 years. We recorded “Replay” and brought Alan [Jackman] back to record because we wanted to get the original lineup back again to make a final album. It was an album to say to the fans, “Look, this is for you. This is what we do.” We did some recording over a year period and got Alan to do the drum tracks afterwards. We did it at a studio in the East End of London. We put it out to iTunes. After that, basically every week, John would send me mixes or a vocal for this or that. Thank God for the Internet because we were able to send each other sound files rather than going to each other’s houses all the time because we lived quite far apart. After John’s passing, I took a four-year hiatus. For two years, I didn’t even want to pick up a guitar, let alone think about playing music again. The title of the new album, “Out of The Darkness,” represents a journey back into the music industry after four years away from the industry and 14 years of not touring. After 33 years of being known as the singer of The Outfield, I wanted to reemerge as a solo artist and show them I have more than one string to my bow. I produced all of the music and played the majority of instruments. Through this album, you can hear my journey through love, loss and the beginning of a new chapter. Early on, I’d recorded a lot of backing tracks but I struggled with the lyrics. My wife, Carol, saw my frustration and offered to help me — basically to shut me up! [laughs] I worked very personally with my songs. Sometimes I would go through songs with the acoustic or a backing track and I would think, “I can do this song with this backing track.” It grew from there and it was quite an easy way of recording. It wasn’t stressful and almost effortless. It just grew and grew and grew into an album.
With the first three songs on the album, there is the spirit of The Outfield but after that it becomes more about how I write and how my approach to music is different than John’s. He was very major, and I was very minor. I could put a positive spin on a dark song. Through our ideas in the studio, and that dynamic, that’s how we made it a bit more interesting. For “Out of The Darkness,” I wanted these songs to just be about me rather than me trying to deliver an Outfield sounding album. This album shows a different side to me. Being in The Outfield for years, a lot of people think, “Oh, well, he’s just the bass player and singer.” I wanted to show people I can produce, record, play guitar, keyboard and drums. I also wanted to hear what it sounded like as an album. When I was halfway through the album, this guy named Randy Sadd [of Protocol Entertainment] contacted me. He is based in Atlanta and did promotions for The Outfield through 2010-2011 period and is a great friend of ours. He said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’ve put some songs together. Can I send them to you?” He said, “Yeah!” He knew Tanner Hendon from Madison Records and they had some meetings. He really liked what I did, and it just grew from there.
Did you encounter challenges during the making of the record?
I wouldn’t say there were any challenges. It wasn’t like the label had said, “Can you write a ballad” or “Can you write a love song?” There was no pressure! I was basically just left to make my own music and I didn’t have to run it past anyone or deal with any decision-making. That’s quite the refreshing part of being a solo artist; you don’t have to run it past a committee! You are just your own person! I tried to get some feedback from Tanner, Randy and my wife from time to time. Sometimes you can be a fish in a bowl and be able to stand back and see where it’s going wrong. I’ve got a pretty good idea about how a song is structured and how it works. I understand radio as well. You can’t have an introduction of just keyboards! You’ve got to grab people’s attention, so I understand that totally!
Although this solo album is new to us, you’ve lived with these songs for a while now. Where are you headed musically in the future?
I’m already over halfway through the second album! I’ve got recorded stuff ready to go! I did that while waiting and mixing this album. You know, mixing and mastering is a long process. Tanner, who owns the record company, is also the drummer. He drummed with Paul Rodgers and Bad Company. So, I said, “Would you like to drum on some of these tracks?” He drums on about five tracks on this album because I love the feel of a drummer. It’s got a great feel to it! That was the pure luxury at all! How I see myself beyond the likes of this album? I don’t know. I’m not even thinking beyond the Retro Futura Tour. I’m just going to see how it goes because this is going to be the first tour that I’ve done without John. I’ve known him for over 40 years and we had done so many tours together. He was my best mate and it’s going to be very weird to look over and not see him there. That’s why I didn’t want to continue on with the name The Outfield when he passed. The Outfield is no more. I’m Tony from The Outfield! For the Retro Futura Tour, there will be a band there and we will go through The Outfield stuff and some of my stuff and take it from there! I’m not even thinking further down the road.
Perfectly understandable. What are you most looking forward to about the Retro Futura Tour?
It’s going to be great to see the fans again and say thank you for all the support and always being there for me. Hopefully, I will gain some new fans as well! To be on stage playing — you can’t beat it! On this tour, to go out there and do four songs, I’m not even going to break a sweat! [laughs] It’ll be like, “Come on, Tony! Finish now!” I’m used to playing two hours! That will be a bit strange but I’m really looking forward to seeing the other bands ABC, Belinda Carlisle, Annabella from Bow Wow Wow. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and getting back in the swing of it again!
How have you most evolved as an artist over the years and when did you come into your own as a frontman?
I suppose we’ve learned a lot of tricks of the trade and producing. I tend to lean toward the guitar more than the bass, which is surprising because I am a bass player! I’ve never ever rehearsed on the bass because I think the guitar allows you to create more colors. I gained a lot of experience from the tours because you can be a great recording artist but if you can’t get up there and deliver, you shouldn’t be doing it! [laughs]
You just get up there and you do it. Obviously, this tour is a whole different experience because I don’t know the band. However, when you’re on stage and you’ve got your mates with you, you feel like a force. You feel like you’re powerful. Liam Gallagher was quoted, during his first solo venture, as saying that he actually missed his brother! He said, “This was strange. I wasn’t expecting this. I’m suddenly making all the decisions on my own and playing with the band.” I can relate to that with this new chapter, but it doesn’t happen overnight, obviously. I said to my wife, “Every time I see bands on TV, I feel like the iconic frontman, like Robert Plant or Mick Jagger, is missing.” If I see bands that don’t have that iconic frontman, I struggle with who it is I’m supposed to look at. Is it the singer, the drummer or the keyboard player? Every band has to have a focal point. I just wish I was a foot taller! [laughs] That’s all I wish!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
What I’ve learned is that no matter what you’re doing, just have faith in it, totally believe in it and sell it! Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t say, “I think I’ll just sit down and write a song because the bloke next door wants me to write a song about a lawnmower.” I’d be bored to death if I did that! It’s all about looking at life, yourself, where you’ve come from and what those experiences have given you. Never forget your roots! Being raised up in two rooms is something that never leaves you, that strong upbringing. I remember hearing the Beatles for the first time when I was 9 years old; I heard “Penny Lane” on the radio. I thought, “That song makes me feel safe.” If you pick up a guitar, piano or any other instrument, just keep practicing until you can put a song together or get in a band if you can’t do it on your own. With this album, I did it all on my own, just because I wanted to see if I could do it! Having that band thing is still good. Recording at home is great but there is something magical about getting a band together in a proper studio and everyone is pitching in ideas! That’s what makes a band a band! Whatever you do, believe in yourself and love what you’re doing! If you don’t love what you’re doing, go and get a day job! [laughs]
That’s true! Thanks for your time today today! It was a pleasure and I can’t wait for everyone to hear this new album!
Thank you, Jason! It was great chatting with you! Hope to see you soon!