Name: Reuben Lewis (AKA I Hold the Lion's Paw)
Current Release: Lost in Place on Earshift Music
Recommendations: Jon Hassell’s Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)/ In The End His Voice Will Be The Sound Of Paper by Kim Myhr, Jenny Hval & the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra.
If you enjoyed this interview with Reuben Lewis and want to find out more about his work as I Hold the Lion’s Paw, visit his website www.reubenlewis.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I think I’ve been writing and producing for as long as I’ve been playing music in some form or another. I was drawn to music because there was a space for that in the family home. Both my parents come from a visual art background, mum printmaking and dad sculpture, so I was always encouraged to be expressive and explore in all art forms.
My dad encouraged me to join the primary school brass band in yr 5 and that kind of sealed my fate as a musician. Playing the trumpet was a way to claim my own creative space in the family as well as in school, so I embraced it and just kept it up.
After my parents, my early influences were my teachers. I had great high school teachers that gave me ample space and opportunity to find my way, but I think the biggest influence came from my trumpet mentor, Miroslav Bukovsky. I started learning from him at 15 and never really stopped. I remember constantly bringing him little melodies and staring in wonder as he took them over to his piano and made little sonic masterpieces out of my scraps. I did that for years with him, and I think that simple act of curiosity and generosity on his behalf really instilled a passion in me for making music in all sorts of ways.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In terms of traditional learning phases, I’m a formally trained jazz musician with all the associated privileges and hang-ups that come with that particular territory!
That being said, I was incredibly lucky to be guided through the early phases of my development by mentors who understood the importance of encouraging personal expression whilst instilling a deep respect for artistic elders and the knowledge they hold. Consequently, I’ve always sought to find clarity in my voice through collaboration and learning from others.
That need to seek out others for inspiration and guidance has landed me in all sorts of unique scenarios that I would never have imagined, but I’m thankful for each and every moment of learning!
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
In the bluntest possible sense, my work gets better as I develop a more nuanced understanding of who I am and what I’m really interested in creating.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Apart from the persistent technical challenge of maintaining my instrument (trumpet is just one of those things…) I think the bigger creative challenge has always been keeping focus and making time for what is actually important to me.
It’s hard to make a living in this sector and it’s easy to acclimatise to the relentless pace needed to keep it up. I naturally tend to fill every waking moment with stuff to do and this has been my greatest asset and challenge when working as an independent artist.
I think what has changed over time has simply been that I’m getting better at understanding what my real priorities are and how to make space for that stuff above all else.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
It took me a long time to embrace electronics in any meaningful way with my music. Trumpet is hard enough, so I was preoccupied with keeping that in check for most of my university studies. I spent a great deal of time developing an improvising language centred around making electronic sounds acoustically with my trumpet, which was brought on by my love of sound artists like Axel Dörner and Eivind Lønning, before I really dived into any sort of electronic tools. This served me well in that I had a strong sense of my own voice that I could draw upon by the time I jumped down that particular rabbit hole…
Guitar pedals were my way in and still are my main form of electronic processing. I think we’re in a golden age for pedals as there are so many inspiring companies making cool stuff in this area right now. I love the tactile nature of pedals and their inherent limitations offered the right amount of creative expansion when I first started experimenting.
More recently, I’ve been spending lots of time in my home studio getting better acquainted with my synthesisers as well as going deep into the more nuanced aspects of recording, mixing and producing, which has been incredibly empowering in a time when it’s hard to get bodies in a room.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I would have to say guitar pedals! They opened a creative door for me that has been impossible to close ever since.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
Collaboration is at the core of everything I do, because improvising is more fun when it’s done with others. One thing that I have discovered about myself relatively recently is that I approach all forms of making from the mind-set of the improviser. For me, improvisation (followed closely by good food and conversation) is the key for meaningful collaboration that transcends stylistic or disciplinary boundaries.
Everything I do as an artist is about finding space, both for me in my own head, but also for others to feel safe enough to express themselves openly and experiment. How the approach looks in terms of devices and tools depends a lot on the creative context, and the continual creative challenges brought on by covid-19 has really broadened my approaches in this regard.
I like to record a lot too, so I’ve found file sharing and the ability to record myself and others a really important way to keep things moving.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I feel I’m not alone in saying any sense of routine or fixed schedule has gone out the window these days. That being said, having a well-equipped home studio has its perks when you’re locked inside it for the better part of a year!
I often work late, so I’m a slow riser. During lockdown, I try to hold off any work commitments until after 10am so I can spend the morning exercising, walking my dog, having a slow breakfast whilst listening to the 7am podcast or (if I’ve been a good boy) fitting in a quick trumpet warm up.
The paradox for creatives in lockdown is that there seems to always be more stuff to do. I usually spend the weekdays chipping away at the various tasks at hand. I teach partially to make a living as well as work with the Australian Art Orchestra as part of their core team, so a regular workday oscillates between teaching students, arts admin for my projects and helping AAO work toward whatever exciting thing is around the corner. There’s endless opportunity for creative expression within that time, and lockdown has opened up space for me to find new creative outlets through things like engineering and producing projects for other people as well as things like digital content design and editing.
Weekends and evenings have become my main music making spaces. I’ve always got multiple projects on the go, but recently I’ve tried to separate things out a bit more by locking away whole days in my calendar to work on particular projects. It seems to be working at whittling down the project list!
Cooking is my stress relief, so I’ll often spend hours making epic dinners with my laptop balanced precariously on the mortar and pestle with a mindless series streaming. My partner and I always have a meal together and debrief on our day or whatever exciting thing happened during the dog walk.