Name: Lewis Thompson
Nationality: British
Occupation: Production
Current Release: Lewis Thompson teams up with David Guetta and vocalist Kareen Lomax for “Take Me Back”, out now via Sony Music. “Take Me Back” is the fourth collaboration between Thompson and Guetta after their work on Joel Corry’s "Bed", “Crazy What Love Can Do” and Becky Hill’s “Remember”.
Gear Recommendations: U-he Repro; VPS Avenger

If you enjoyed this interview with Lewis Thompson and would like to find out more, visit him on Instagram, and Soundcloud.

Lewis Thompson · Take Me Back

What was your first studio like?

It was my bedroom whilst at uni in Leicester. I went out and bought massive PA speakers as I didn’t realise professional monitor studio speakers actually existed.

It was a huge red speaker I bought from a place that specialised in karaoke systems. It was so big, it also doubled up as a bedside table … handy

How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?

Obviously the gear collection grows over time and with more records you make, comes more gear.

To start, I was definitely very much ‘in the box’. But I bought my first analog synth about 5 years ago. Since then I’ve bought and sold a lot of analog gear, all depending if it works with me and my workflow. What works for you, might not work for someone else - so with all gear you’ve gotta do a lot of experimenting.

As I’m recording a lot of vocals I think making sure you get a clean vocal signal that needs less work once recorded is key. So vocal chain is super important, out of which I think I love my Tube Tech CL-1B the most. It’s pretty idiot proof, so even if you slam the compressor it still sounds nice and ‘transparent’.

Other than that, I love my Juno-60. I’ve also found a lot of use out of Ableton Push down the years, especially the keyboard on it - I find it’s a really nice way of switching up your writing process.

[Read our feature on the Roland Juno 106]

Some see instruments and equipment as far less important than actual creativity, others feel they go hand in hand. What's your take on that?

So this is an interesting one. I think sometimes too much choice kills the choice. I think it’s no coincidence that some of the poorest countries in the world make the best food. I really believe that limitations can be a beautiful thing.

I’ve been in world class studios before with an array of pre amps, compressors, synths etc and often found my decision paralysis kicks in. During the writing process in particular I think it’s important to avoid this at all costs!

A studio can be as minimal as a laptop with headphones and as expansive as a multi-room recording facility. Which studio situation do you personally prefer – and why?

I value a space where you and your collaborators comfortable more than anything. If I’m working in a space that I don’t feel like I can be myself, I won’t get the results I want.

From traditional keyboards to microtonal ones, from re-configured instruments (like drums or guitars) to customised devices, what are your preferred controllers and interfaces? What role does the tactile element play in your production process?

I grew up playing guitar so finding myself going back to more traditional instruments these days, mainly for the writing process. This is because you don’t get caught up in the millions of options of sounds you have in your computer.

Once a good song is written that’s when my production brain kicks in and all the sequencing and robotics come out. I usually find that a good song is easy to produce. Try producing a bad song, it’s really hard.

In the light of picking your tools, how would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I think it’s about combining both of these. I love combining traditional styles in music with a more modern approach.

I think the best pop songs work in this way too, where they hint at an era or time in music but ‘remix’ it into the modern day.

Most would regard recording tools like microphones and mixing desks as different in kind from instruments like keyboards, guitars, drums and samplers. Where do you stand on this?

Definitely think that mics, mixing desks, pre amps, etc all have their own sound. 100%.

Will using a different pre amp have as dramatic effect on a song as using a different guitar? Maybe not. But if that pre amp inspires you and makes you feel something different then it’s just as valuable.

How would you describe the relationship between technology and creativity for your work? Using a recent piece as an example, how do you work with your production tools to achieve specific artistic results?

I think technology and creativity can be a hindrance just as much as it can help. Creativity is about expressing yourself freely and sometimes technology can get in the way of that.

I think all elements of the music making process have elements of chaos and order to them. Starting an initial idea is very chaotic and this should be embraced, but then technology allows you to apply some order to the chaos.

Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.

So, my usual process is going into writing sessions with other writers and artists and starting a record together. I’ll often be in a session and someone  might say “let’s start something, moody / upbeat / mellow”. This is where you need to be quick as a producer and play something to inspire everyone.

This can be quite daunting and I used to find this process a real challenge, until I started building up my library of “songstarters” and having them in the back pocket. So for an hour or two, every week, I write really basic chords and melodies in one big ableton project. The rule is, don’t judge any of them and just keep going.

Sometimes on a Sunday evening I’ll have an Ableton project open with 10 different ideas in it, 8 of them will be awful, but there’ll be a couple of things I can use. Once the chaos is over, I’ll bounce out all the song starts into a folder so I'm equipped for the week ahead.

I’ve found that half the time I don’t even use this folder, but having ideas in the back pocket totally relieves any pressure you’d have around a session, just because I’m more relaxed. I write better ideas from scratch anyway - win win.

How do you retain an element of surprise for your own work – are there technologies which are particularly useful in this regard?

Happy accidents in music can definitely make some of the best ideas. I think Ableton push is really good for this. It’s very intuitive and can be quite random, sometimes just throwing some random hand shapes at it can give you some really interesting new chords and inversions.

Production tools can already suggest compositional ideas on their own. How much of your music is based on concepts and ideas you had before entering the studio, how much of it is triggered by equipment, software and apps?

Nowadays it’s 50/50.

Definitely always best to be prepared and have ideas you can lean off if you’re feeling uninspired that particular idea. I’ve found when I get lazy with not prepping ideas, the quality of my results from sessions definitely suffer.

Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?

Social media is the big one here.

With Tik Tok being the new thing which is definitely affecting the writing process. I’ve noticed myself and other writers think about how a song, melody or concept could translate onto Tik Tok now. It’s crazy but in a session we’ve definitely based on how tik tok-able an idea is before we start working on it further. Crazy times.

Personally, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it all, but you gotta move with what’s working.

To some, the advent of AI and 'intelligent' composing tools offers potential for machines to contribute to the creative process. Do you feel as though technology can develop a form of creativity itself? Is there possibly a sense of co-authorship between yourself and your tools?

I’ve seen a lot of music making tools that are like this, but I never get on with them. I’ve tried lots from chord generators to automated mastering tools and I never find you get as good results.

What tools/instruments do you feel could have a deeper impact on creativity but need to still be invented or developed?

I think distractions are a big problem these days for creativity, we have things bleeping all around us. Maybe more tools to eliminate distractions, even one step further from do not disturb mode.