Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blake Lewis Interviews - ADD Reviews

American Idol’s Beatboxer Blake Lewis Takes a Punch at Britney

He beatboxed his way to second place on last season’s American Idol, and now Seattle native Blake Lewis is hitting the mainstream music scene with his debut disc, Audio Day Dream, in stores today.

Lewis gave a call to chat about his new record, his producer-pal (and Britney Spears ex) J.R. Rotem and what he really thinks of Spears' new album. You worked with Clive Davis on your debut. In the past, people like Kelly Clarkson have found it difficult to find a creative happy medium when working with him. How was your working relationship?
Blake Lewis: Clive has an executive producer credit, but he didn’t actually produce a lot of stuff. He gave me a lot of freedom and I’m very thankful for it. I’ve had a concept for this album for four years - and he loved all my ideas. I’m inspired by 80’s music and a lot of my melodies come from it.

Us: Jordin Sparks just released her first album, but sales were poor. Do sales worry you?
BL: I honestly never think about that stuff. I did the same thing with American Idol - I never watched it before and I didn’t watch myself on it. I just make music. I create to create.

Us: Given the music landscape right now, how are you marketing your album?
BL: I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done. I’m always an advocate for networking and MySpace – I spend about an hour a night answering fans. And I’m going to release "She Loves the Way" as a video and audio [track] on iTunes, separate from the record.

Us: The song "Know My Name" is a homage to Natalie Portman. What is it about her that you love?
BL: Natalie’s rad. She’s smart, sexy, and she pokes fun at herself. She seems like she cares about humanity, which is good.

Us: What details can you share about the tattoo you're getting from Kim Saigh as part of your appearance on the TLC series L.A. Ink?
BL: Kim just came up with an amazing, beautiful tattoo. They contacted me, which was great. My design is Salvadore Dali’s "Persistence of Memory" meets Alice in Wonderland with a lot of symbolism. Mainly, music is timeless.

Us: J.R. Rotem assisted in the production of your record. Did he offer any good Britney gossip during your recording sessions?
BL: Oh, totally! [J.R. and Britney are] both loco! But the song I did with him, "What’cha Got 2 Lose?" was one of my favorites on the album for sure.

Us: Have you purchased the new Britney album?
BL: Hell no! I’ve heard a couple good songs, but it’s always ‘not that bad’ when you have, like, $5 million to make an album. [Laughs]


Blake Lewis' 'Audio Day Dream' is a wealth of styles

"American Idol" Blake Lewis and American composer Irving Berlin (who wrote "White Christmas," "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "God Bless America") usually aren't mentioned in the same sentence.

But Lewis' highly anticipated debut album, "Audio Day Dream," which Arista Records releases Tuesday on its 19 Recordings label, features the high-flying, guitar- and horn-driven "Gots To Get Her," a song inspired by the Irving Berlin classic "Puttin' on the Ritz."

Lewis, the 26-year-old Redmond native who was a finalist on the sixth season of "American Idol," got permission from Berlin's publishing company to write his own lyrics and add verses. Lewis, the talented beatboxer also known as Bshorty, describes the song as "a roller coaster ride through some Latin-style, old-school jazz."

"I'm the first person in history to change the lyrics to 'Puttin' on the Ritz' and make it my own song," Lewis said in a recent interview from Hollywood, where he was doing interviews and preparing for the release of "Audio Day Dream."

The album's debut single, "Break Anotha," was recorded at Seattle's London Bridge Studio. He's in good company: Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam also have recorded albums there. Other songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. In a novel marketing twist, a stream of "Break Anotha" was released directly to fans by phone via the new social networking service SayNow on the same day it was released to radio.

Lewis worked with nearly a dozen producers and co-writers, among them David Hodges, Mike Elizondo, S*A*M* and Sluggo, Sean Hurley, BT, J.R. Rotem, Sam Watters and OneRepublic's Ryan "Alias" Tedder. Guest artists include Lupe Fiasco (featured on "Know My Name") and fellow "Idol" finalist Chris Richardson. Presiding over the recording project was industry mogul Clive Davis, chairman and chief executive officer of BMG Label Group.

"Audio Day Dream" (ADD) offers a whirlwind of styles: hip-hop, rock, pop, funk, soul and R&B, with an abundance of special effects. Lewis compares the amalgam of retro styles to a 1980s mix tape. He came up with the album's dramatic cover design of his face and profile, as well as a mini-poster inside that shows him surfing through a surreal, mountainous landscape.

Attention deficit disorder is an intentional motif in the album. "People thought I had ADD growing up," Lewis remembers.

He grew up in Bothell and Kenmore. Long before he became a star on "American Idol," he was playing at such Fremont clubs as ToST and Nectar Lounge. The record label isn't paying for a Seattle release party, so Lewis will try to put together his own show in the next week or two at one of his favorite clubs.

In the meantime, Lewis will join the lineup for the KISS 106.1 FM Jingle Bell Bash Tuesday at the Tacoma Dome (he also co-hosts a pre-concert show with Marcus D airing at 2 p.m.). Jingle Bell Bash features the Jonas Brothers, Timbaland (with special guests Keri Hilson, OneRepublic and Sebastian), Sean Kingston, Colbie Caillat and Ehpikh.

Over the phone, the personable, well-mannered beatboxer who calls Seattle home was passionate about his music and career -- and about the local music scene that supported him before "American Idol."

P-I: "Audio Day Dream" seems to be loaded with potential hits, from ballads to hip-hop songs. Are your expectations high?

Lewis: "I got to make the album I've always wanted. That's huge. I set high goals for myself. I don't tell anyone what they are. I'll tell them once I've reached them. I've done that my whole entire life. I put myself out in the universe, I put myself out there in a positive way."

After "Break Anotha," how will you decide which songs to release as singles?

"I definitely want singles that best represent me. I'm not going to say which one, but there's a song that I didn't necessarily want on the record. But I know the label people love it, and you have to deal with the corporate stuff at a major label."

Fellow "American Idol" Kelly Clarkson ran into trouble last summer when she refused label head Davis' offer of $10 million to delete five tracks and replace them with songs he would handpick. Did Davis ask for any changes on your album?

"On one song, he said, 'You should change this bridge because it doesn't sound like you.' He was right on a lot of things. And we compromised on a couple of things, but that's about it. He really didn't touch the record. He was just so into it. Which is huge because my whole dream was to be signed by Clive Davis, so I wasn't going to mess that up."

You recorded at studios in Seattle, New York and L.A. How many altogether?

"Oh, gosh, I couldn't tell you. For this album alone, I probably recorded in 20 different studios."

Why so many?

"I didn't want to do this album with just one producer. I'm so influenced by different people. And I wanted to get the best people. I worked with BT (a revered "trance" composer who has worked with the likes of Britney Spears, Tori Amos and David Bowie) on two tracks. He's one of my main inspirations ever. And the fact he came to me, to work with me, without knowing that I was even on 'American Idol' is amazing. He knew me as Bshorty. He got my number from a mutual friend."

"Gots To Get Her," inspired by the Irving Berlin song, gives new life to a tune that fans in their teens and 20s may not be familiar with.

"It's a fun track. I was very honored that the Berlin family let me do it. People have recorded the song so many times, but no one has changed the words. We don't get the publishing rights, but we got to have this piece of music on this record, which was huge to us. We put our egos aside."

Have you noticed increased interest in beatboxing since "American Idol"?

"I think so, with my fans at least. I see 5-year-olds with their moms and dads coming up to show me what they can do. It's awesome because they know what it is now. I think in the next 10 years you're going to see an increase in younger people who are killer beatboxers. I just hope they take the time to research it and check out these amazing people who inspired me. There are these amazing guys and girls in Europe, where it's such a respected art form. There are like 18-year-olds who could school me in beatboxing."

What's your perspective on "American Idol" now that it's behind you?

" 'American Idol' was great. I was scared in the beginning because I had never seen it before, and I was afraid it would take my artistic integrity out of the mix. But it did the opposite. I was forced to do other people's music, but I didn't mind because I just made it my own, arranged it myself and I had a lot of fun with it. I didn't take it seriously because I'm not a competitive person. I'm down to create. It launched my career out into the universe. What I want to do now is create music that I'm passionate about."


BLAKE LEWIS -- AUDIO DAY DREAM (19 Recordings/ Arista Records)

Bshorty's got a bombshell.

In one of the most anticipated album debuts of the season, the 26-year-old Bothell beatboxer who became a finalist on the sixth season of "American Idol" has pulled together a who's who of co-writers and producers. Executive producer was BMG label chief Clive Davis, who apparently didn't mess with the explosive blend of styles and special effects.

Aside from the debut single, the electro-funk tune "Break Anotha" (recorded at Seattle's London Bridge Studio), the album features several romantic power ballads sure to please the Coldplay crowd, as well as a bundle of frenzied tunes blending R&B, hip-hop, funk, soul, pop and rock. Fiasco, Lewis' own idol, is featured on the engaging hip-hop song "Know My Name." "Talk box" provides vocal effects (a la Roger Troutman of Zapp Band fame) on a powerful collaboration with Richardson, "What'cha Got 2 Lose?" And "Gots To Get Her" is a fascinating take on Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz," with original lyrics and additional verses that add relevance for young listeners.

"Audio Day Dream" suffers from excessive use of special effects and electronic gimmicks, but the promising album is likely to produce several hits, taking Bshorty's career to new heights.


Blake Lewis' debut a hip transplant

Is it possible? Has "American Idol" finally spawned a singer whose debut CD you could almost call hip?

Blake Lewis, this year's first runner-up (also known as "that guy who does the annoying human beat-box trick"), has actually come up with an album, "Audio Day Dream," that works perfectly as pop, but which also has a sense of - gasp! - edge.

To pull this off, Lewis found an ideal ally. Much of the CD is produced and co-written by Ryan (Alias) Tedder, he of the hot band Onerepublic. In the last few months, Tedder's group has exploded with a single ("Apologize") that hit No. 1 on Billboard's Pop 100 Song Chart. The band's debut CD, "Dreaming Out Loud," came out last week, with the cachet of a release on Timbaland's imprint.

Together, Tedder and Lewis (with help from others) came up with a strikingly tight, clever and complex sound for this CD. It's dense with cunning little sound effects: synthetic whooshes, bleats and blips, buttressing Lewis' beat-box hiccups and burps. Tedder whipped them all into a rich kaleidoscope of sound, cramming the songs with hooks in every cranny.

Don't worry. There's plenty of melody to balance it out. Genre-wise, the guys drew on funk, synth-pop and hip-hop, with the most blatant role models being Maroon 5. Some songs - the single "Break Anotha" or "Hate 2 Love Her," specifically - could as easily be Maroon, only they're better than anything that woeful band ever released, and they're unblemished by the pinched whine of Maroon's Adam Levine.

There's also far more '80s synth-pop in this album's mix, with many of the electronic instruments seeming to date directly from the period. "Surrender" has the dark synths of old Depeche Mode, but with a modern teen-pop sheen.

"How Many Words" could have been an Erasure ballad, a reference enhanced by Lewis' vocal resemblance to that group's Andy Bell.

In this context, Lewis' hip-hop effects no longer sound like a gimmick, as they did on "Idol." They're well integrated into the jumpy, snapping mix. Lewis even pulls off a credible impersonation of Prince's falsetto in "She's Making Me Lose It."

The singer has made sure to retain the clean-scrubbed character demanded by "Idol." You could still take this voice home to mother.

At the same time, Lewis has hit on the most distinctive sound ever to come from an "Idol" star. As a result, not only has he bested the new CD by the singer who beat him out this year (Jordin Sparks), he also came up with the best album by any "Idol" alum yet.


“Audio Day Dream”
(Arista/19 Recordings)

The acronym came first. That’s a helpful bit of background when it comes to “Audio Day Dream,” the amiably scattershot debut by Blake Lewis, this year’s runner-up on “American Idol.” Apparently A.D.D. — attention deficit disorder, that is — provides a useful model for an artist as effervescent as Mr. Lewis. So if the album feels disjointed, even jumbled, that’s only natural; check the diagnosis.

In the first few tracks Mr. Lewis bops along from flagship pop to lightweight hip-hop to a retro brand of new wave, manipulating his limber voice as needed. Results range from the appealing (“Break Anotha,” a busy lead single) to the appalling (“Gots to Get Her”), but on balance this code of eclecticism serves him well. It’s as if the process that brought him to prominence — covering the Bee Gees one week, Bon Jovi the next — had stayed with him long after results were in.

Or maybe it’s that the artist formerly known as the beat-boxing upstart BShorty (in his hometown, Seattle, anyway), simply thrives on the stimulus. Even as he enlists an impressive array of producers — including Ryan Alias Tedder, Mike Elizondo, J. R. Rotem, Sam Watters and BT — Mr. Lewis advances a loose but unified style. As unabashedly enamored of 1980s synth-pop as 1990s skate punk, he isn’t afraid to sigh or croon. And judging by his songwriting credits on all but one of the album’s tracks, he has a capable ear for melody, or at least for hooks that don’t overreach.

The good news, then, is that Mr. Lewis has delivered a post-“Idol” statement likely to advance his personality, with all its jittery contradictions. There’s a guest rapper (Lupe Fiasco), there are some beat-boxing displays (mercifully not many), there are power ballads and dance jams, breakup songs and come-ons. A little something for everyone, in other words, though it probably won’t hold anyone’s focus all the way through.


Review: Blake Lewis' 'Audio Day Dream',0,7994304.column

Blake Lewis' debut is like the hair on his well-coiffed head - shiny, stylish and meticulously assembled.

"Audio Day Dream" (RCA), despite its name, is painstakingly planned, as thoroughly thought out as a skyscraper and, generally, just as sturdy. Its foundation is the blue-eyed soul that propelled Lewis to the runner-up position on the last "American Idol" - equal parts Maroon 5 pop and Robin Thickesque R&B, with some of Justin Timberlake's more boy-bandish moments thrown in.

At his best, like with the infectious "My Hello," Lewis is pure pop star, especially when his voice drops to his lower register. He also does well with the first single "Break Anotha" and the playful "Know My Name," which features Lupe Fiasco.

Unfortunately, those songs only point out how there's not enough playfulness on the rest of "Audio Day Dream." Lewis' free-form beatboxing appears on only a handful of songs and the skit featuring his alter ego B Shorty falls flat, as do a bunch of the more generic love songs, mainly co-written with One Republic's Ryan Tedder.

He sounds too tightly wound, like he's more driven by a fear of failure than a quest for musical greatness. It's an understandable problem considering the pressure of delivering the album on time, but a little more daring and a lot more dreaming could have made "Audio Day Dream" so much better.

AUDIO DAY DREAM. Blake Lewis gets a bit lost in the big pop machine. In stores Tuesday. Grade: B-.


Blake Lewis' debut album disappoints

Blake Lewis, 26-year-old "American Idol" runner-up and Bothell native, made his name by being unique.

"Remixing" songs midperformance on live TV, Lewis wove a cappella hip-hop sound effects (it's called beatboxing, grandpa/ma) into "Idol"-sanctioned jukebox pop.

An original vocal weapon, Lewis' beat-box also seemed the tip of a deep musical iceberg, a wealth of experience and expertise only revealed in glimpses.

Unfortunately, on his debut recording, "Audio Day Dream" ("ADD"), we're still not getting the rest of the iceberg. The album, which comes out Tuesday, is 16 tracks (55 minutes) of energetic, bubblegum pop.

Lewis' love of hip-hop, drum and bass and trance music appears on "ADD" like faint syrup in a giant Italian soda.

Take lead single "Break Anotha" for example. Two-thirds of the way in, the drummer (Seattle club mainstay Kevin Sawka) kicks into a skittish, booming beat, at once a half- and double-time breakdown. Lewis rides the momentum with stretched-out singing like a character in a "Matrix" fight scene.

But then it's back to the song, which is so slick with cliché dramatics it might have been directed by Michael Bay ("Pearl Harbor" and "Transformers").

The track — like most on "ADD" — is produced by Ryan Tedder, singer for recent MTV sensation OneRepublic. Everything Tedder touches on "ADD" turns to upbeat, no-brow disco, squarely in the center of a Venn diagram that includes Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake and latter-day Cher.

When Tedder falls back, things don't get radically different. Mike Elizondo produces "1000 Miles," a song that combines "Every Breath You Take" with "Time After Time," but the super-sincere ballad is impossible to take seriously. Lewis' voice isn't terribly strong, and when things veer into lyrical cheesiness (which they often do on "ADD"), the song collapses under its own weight.

"ADD's" most serious misstep is the Tedder-produced "Gots To Get Her," a synthetic carnival stomp to the tune of "Puttin' On The Ritz." As would-be camp, it's barely listenable, but "Gots To Get Her" comes across with baffling earnestness.

A notable guest performance comes from Kanye West protégé Lupe Fiasco on "Know My Name." Fiasco's phoned-in rap effortlessly rips Tedder's tame hip-hop beat to shreds, but he's gone as quickly as he came.

Elsewhere, former 'NSYNC member Chris Kirkpatrick (the one with braids) shows up as a background singer, and his presence alone speaks volumes about where Lewis stands artistically.

On "American Idol," Blake Lewis was different from everybody else. He sucker-punched cookie-cutters with a hybrid style. And no question his fondness for intriguing rhythm breakdowns and beatboxing makes for captivating live performances. But "Audio Day Dream" doesn't differentiate him from the herd of MTV mall-pop.


‘American Idol’ Star Blake Lewis Releases First Album

We might as well say that Blake Lewis conquered the audience in the sixth season of the popular show “American Idol” by other means than his singing talent. Beatboxing and originality were his strengths and his voice came on second or third place when it came to recognizing his skills.

The issue now is that his first album, “Audio Day Dream” focuses most on his voice. It would be unfair to say that it is lacking originality, as the blend of styles is certainly a one of a kind combination, mixing hip-hop, rock, pop and soul with electronic influences.

The debut single of the album that is to be released on Tuesday, “Break Anotha” had a special launch, as it had a special location for recording. The premiere song was released directly to fans by phone, through the social networking service SayNow. The recording venue, that sheltered the birth of albums of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam was Seattle's London Bridge Studio.

Another outstanding song on “Audio Day Dream” is “Gots To Get Her,” that benefited from direct inspiration from the Irving Berlin classic “Puttin' on the Ritz”. The 26-year old American Idol star, that finished the second in the show after Jordin Sparks, was permitted by Berlin’s publishing company to alter the song, writing new lyrics. “I'm the first person in history to change the lyrics to 'Puttin' on the Ritz' and make it my own song,” Lewis highlighted.

“ADD” also gathers outstanding guests, like Lupe Fiasco or Lewis’ American Idol colleague Chris Richardson, and its tracks are under the signature of famous producers like David Hodges, OneRepublic's Ryan "Alias" Tedder, S*A*M* and Sluggo, BT or J.R. Rotem. How will the public receive the work of the star that was recently named the most popular artist on AOL, we’ll see soon.


Music Review: Blake Lewis Does His Thing On Debut Album

Blake Lewis, ''Audio Day Dream'' (Arista Records) Much of bubbly Blake Lewis' screen time on ''American Idol'' was spent struggling to fit the roundedness of his motley mix-tape aesthetic into square songs from mature artists.

With the harsh reality of that reality TV competition behind him, this ''Idol'' second place finisher is now liberated to enchant with his own ''Audio Day Dream.'' And he does. Mostly.

The radio-friendly fantasy begins with some hip-hop stained songs that, at least musically, are as curiously pleasing as the blond boy wonder's streaky dye job. The album's lyrics, which seem like they're all directed at one woman (or several women, perhaps), are primitive yet passable for inoffensive pop.

Thanks to super-producers like Jonathan ''J.R.'' Rotem and Ryan ''Alias'' Tedder, everything on ''Audio Day Dream'' is completely original. That's right. You won't find Lewis' bizarre rendition of The Supremes' ''You Keep Me Hangin' On'' here, although he does successfully shoehorn baseline inspiration from Irving Berlin's ''Puttin' on the Ritz'' into the mega-charged ''Gots to Get Her.''

Lewis makes the best use of his skills - signature scatting on the break-up letter ''How Many Words,'' infectious falsetto on the synthy ''Surrender'' and a penchant for oscillating arrangements on ''What'cha Got 2 Lose,'' co-written by Rotem and Lewis' ''Idol'' B.F.F. Chris Richardson.

Surprisingly, the beatboxing that made Lewis stand out from the ''Idol'' crowd is simply splashed throughout the 14 songs and is only predominantly featured on one track, the unremarkable ''Bshorty Grabs Mic!'' Such a lack of spit might leave some Bshorty fans craving ma-ma-ma-ma-more.

Three snoozy ballads (''1000 Miles,'' ''End of the World'' and ''I Got U'') plague the second half of ''Audio Day Dream,'' a wake-up call that the vocally limited Lewis is no vocally gifted Justin Timberlake. Maybe the Blakester should've pulled a Britney, Madonna or Gwen and just conjured a full-fledged dance record instead? Weak down tempo songs aside, ''Audio Day Dream'' is the most exhilarating effort from an ''Idol'' runner-up yet.


Sounds from a 'music legend'

BLAKE IN THE POCKET: Here's a theory. If Blake Lewis could have concocted a beat-box rhythmed version of the cornball ballad "This Is My Now" that was his final test on "American Idol," his constituency would have never left him. And Lewis would have wound up the winner last season, instead of Jordin Sparks. You better believe the guy's not making the same mistake on his solo debut "Audio Daydream" (Arista, B). Snappy hip-hop beats and sampling thrills flavor every track - even on big ballads like "Without You" that could have done without. High points: the "Puttin'-On-the- Ritz"-inspired "Gots To Get Her," Billy Joel-ish vamp "Hate 2 Love Her" and his stuff struttin' "B Shorty Grabs Mic!"


Album Stream: Blake Lewis, Audio Day Dream

Ever since I was pleasantly surprised by the first two tracks off American Idol runner-up Blake Lewis' debut album, I've been curious to check out the full album to see if it lives up to the insane energy of "Break Anotha." The album, Audio Day Dream, hits stores today, but if you can't wait to buy it — or just want to take a listen before committing to a purchase — the full album is streaming right now on AOL.

So far, the album is definitely meeting — if not exceeding — my expectations, despite its atrocious cover art (seriously, Blake, what were you thinking?). Like the two tracks that leaked early, especially "Know My Name," the album is a bit of a mess, with tons of loops and beats and tempos and musical styles packed into each track. But being boring would have been a much greater sin; the album shows the eclectic side of Blake that managed to peek out around the edges of his Idol performances. The verses of "Gots to Get Her" remind me of a hip-hoppy "Puttin' on the Ritz," and "Surrender" owes a lot to '80s power ballads — and that's just the start of the myriad influences here. Some of it's a little cheesy for my taste, but I can also hear a ton of songs that could (and probably should) be big hits.

One of my typical problems with Idol first albums is that they're too safe. This is anything but, and that makes me excited for what Blake could do long-term. Check out the album, then let me know: Are you on board with Lewis' Day Dream?

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