Interview : Robert Cavuoto
Tony Lewis is probably best known as the voice and bassist for The Outfield. Along with guitarist, John Spinks, the two took the 80’s by storm with their infectious songs including “Your Love,” “All the Love,” and “Say it isn’t So.” Their 1985 debut album, Play Deep, reached triple platinum sales and was in the US Top 10 album charts.
After John’s untimely passing in 2014, Tony took a four-year hiatus from music but was eventually inspired to begin work on his first ever solo album. With a body of backing tracks in hand, he couldn’t seem to find lyrics that fit. His wife Carol who had a talent for writing lyrics and telling a story assisted him. His new solo album, Out of the Darkness, takes on the spirit of The Outfield, while letting Tony’s own style shine through. Tony plays all the instruments, as well as producing and recording everything on his own. Out of the Darkness will be released this summer on Madison Records. He will also embark on a 16-date tour alongside Belinda Carlisle, ABC, Modern English, Kajagoogoo’s Limahl and Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella called the Retro Futura Tour.
I caught up with Tony from London to discuss the making of his new solo CD and how the loss of a close friend inspired many of the songs.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m enjoying your new solo CD. You are such a talented artist why did you take you so long to put out a solo CD?
Tony Lewis: I took a four-year hiatus after I lost John Spinks and prior to that, John and I were busy recording together. We weren’t getting anywhere as his health was suffering. After his passing, I didn’t want to pick up a guitar for a year or two. My wife said, “Why don’t you go back to do what you did best, playing and singing?” I went into the studio, put some backing tracks down but was struggling with the lyrics. I was coming up with stupid stuff like “going out for a fight.” Then, my wife Carol said she had some stories and lyrics; it started from there.
Tony Lewis: We had a couple of songs lined up, and a couple that didn’t make it on Replay. They were okay, but his health suffered, and I didn’t want to finish off anything that he and I primarily created. I just closed the book on that chapter. This solo CD is to prove to people I have more strings in my bow then the voice and bassist from the Outfield. I have been recording guitars, keyboards, drums, and producing for years but never put myself forward. So “Out of the Darkness and Into the Light” seems like a poignant title for this solo CD.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the vision you had going into the making of the CD?
Tony Lewis: It took over two years, the writing and recording process was effortless. It wasn’t stressful like recording can sometimes be. It felt very natural. Out of the Darkness was a title that never really changed during the entire time as it really sums up that chapter of time. A good friend of ours Randy who had done promotion for The Outfield years back called me up and said he was coming to London. He asked if I wanted to meet up for a drink. It was great timing as I wanted him to hear what I had written. He liked it and recommended a contact a Madison Records in Atlanta. Tanner Hendon was the owner, and he also plays drums. It was great because I need help with the drums on some of the songs. I did most of the drums CD myself, but Tanner recorded drums on five songs. Everything fell into place from there.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you always handle production duties on The Outfield CDs?
Tony Lewis: When we switched from CBS to Sony under MCA, we created albums like Diamond Days and Rockeye; from then on we were allowed to produce the albums ourselves. I was into programming drums and wanted to have them sound as real as I could while developing the art of layer tracks. For anyone who is writing a pop or rock song it’s like building a house if you have a great drum or bass track, then everything after that is a bonus when you add the guitars on. I got very good at working with computer recording programs. So we thought why not produce the last three or four CDs ourselves? I’ve learned a few tricks to the trade of the last several years. Producing has become my favorite hobby!
Robert Cavuoto: Your voice is instantly recognizable from your work with The Outfield, was there a concern that it would sound like The Outfield?
Tony Lewis: How can I not sound like the singer from The Outfield [laughing]. It’s something that I never wanted to shy away from. I wanted it to have the same spirit of The Outfield. The guitarist from Dire Straits did a solo CD, and it sounded like Dire Straits. You can’t expect a band to split up or have a member pass away and suddenly go in a different direction. I have my spin on the songs. John was all about major chord progressions, and he liked big grooves. I come at songwriting from a different angle with different ideas. On Voices of Babylon, we coached each other through the guitar tracks, that album had the big guitars. The engineer at the time said, “Let’s get the basic guitar down first, and we can add the effects later.” I was like no, let’s put the effects on now and get the vibe going because that’s how we always recorded to get our magical sound.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think John would be proud of you with this CD?
Tony Lewis: He would have been proud of me. The first three songs are very Outfield-esque. He influenced me a hell of a lot with The Cars approach to writing rhythms. He used to play some of the bass tracks on our albums particularly the last one. We switched a lot of instrument playing.
Robert Cavuoto: Were you good friends outside of the band?
Tony Lewis: Yes, he was like my big brother! I remember when we were in a prog rock band called Syrius B and John was the singer. We drove round in a big white van to gigs. I can remember he said to me in the van “We are going to crack it!” with that “steely” look that he had of determination. I just knew that he meant business as he had that focus. He was the engine of every band we have ever been in. He was very motivated and hard working. He wanted to be successful, and I looked up to him.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite song is “Into the Light;” the lyrics are very poignant and heartfelt about John. Was it difficult to share those feeling about your friendship?
Tony Lewis: Not really, during that time period I didn’t want to listen to music let along pick up a guitar. It was quite a natural process to write that song. It was about diving into the light. A lot of people see me as the singer in The Outfield, so I just wanted to put my stamp on this CD.
Robert Cavuoto: The Outfields first album, Play Deep went triple platinum. Was the money rolling in after that or was it one of those horror stories where you got ripped off by management or the record company?
Tony Lewis: The first two or three tours we were skinned. We didn’t have any money what-so-ever. We didn’t start making good money until the start of the early-to-mid-nineties. The money was good then but you get caught up in contracts and need for accountants, so you lose track of it by the time you get home from a tour. It was madness. We didn’t have fresh cars or lived in mansions, but once our houses were paid off, we got a new car and some guitars which were enough for us.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you see a resurgence in the 80s and 90s music?
Tony Lewis: Yeah, you can go through decades and say “I want to sound like a 90s band” and be seen as chasing your own tail. Fleetwood Mac sound like Fleetwood Mac regardless of when they put out an album. We are lucky that we have the spirit of the 80s as it was quite a timeless sound. Some 80s music sounds dated as it has all the over-reverbed snare drum and forces electronic drum machine. A lot of 80s stuff still sounds good now. I think there has been a resurgence of the 80s sound that started in the late 90s. It was a very uplifting and positive decade. It was an optimistic time. The only bad side of the 80s was that there was far too much money spent on videos and making records. Nowadays you don’t need a huge budget to make videos or make a great album. You can do it in your home or local studio. It’s come full circle.
Robert Cavuoto: You will be doing a tour this summer in the States called the Retro Futura Tour. Can you tell me about it?
Tony Lewis: It starts July 11th, and it’s a 16-day tour. It will be a bit strange for me as it will be the first time I’ve toured in 14 years. Getting on stage and not having John with me will also be bittersweet. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the fans and making new fans on this tour.