Interview – Tony Lewis from The Outfield

Everyone has their cross to bare. We all face adversity in life, but it is how we come out on the other side of it all which truly defines who we are. For The Outfield’s Tony Lewis, it came as a sudden, dramatic life change when his friend, and career spanning musical partner, John Spinks, tragically passed away in 2014. A deeply somber time for Lewis, he opted to step away from music, but fortunately he has recollected 4 years later, preparing to release his first ever solo album, Out of the Darkness, on June 29th. 

A new chapter in Lewis’ life, he is not only coming with fresh, original music, he is returning to touring for the first time in quite a long time! Gearing up for a run on this summer’s Retro Futura tour, alongside others such as Belinda Carlisle and Modern English, Lewis is reinvigorated and ready to rock. Recently we caught up with the easily distinguished vocalist to talk the success of The Outfield, his time away from music, his return, plus more. – Involved in music professionally for over 3 decades, you have seen a great deal of success with The Outfield attaining multi-platinum selling albums. Looking back on everything, how would you describe your journey in music?

Tony Lewis – The journey has obviously been filled with hard work from the beginning. The very first time we went to America, we had “Say It Isn’t So” coming out. It did well for us and being signed to CBS we were quite naïve – little did we know that we were going to go onto gold, platinum, triple platinum.

It’s been a long journey, and it hasn’t happened over night; we really worked hard. It’s quite flattering to be invited back into the music business again. I have been out of this industry for 14 years, where I haven’t toured. It has come up to 4 years of John (Spinks) passing. I am looking forward to starting a new chapter.

Columbia – It sounds like it has been filled with highs and lows, like anything in life. It seems like it has been overall very exciting.

Tony Lewis – Very exciting. We got to see a lot of countries together as a band. We went to places we never dreamed of playing in, like Trinidad and Lima. It’s been a long journey of hard work, but we really did enjoy it. We enjoyed each other’s company. When times were getting tough, we were getting shows cancelled, there was the 9/11 situation; that was really quite a tough period of time to go through. I find it hard to believe we have been in this industry that long. It is just very surreal to be in a record deal and come back in the U.S. touring again. It’s exciting! – As you mentioned, it did not happen overnight, it took a lot of hard work. The Outfield really made a major impact with their 1985 debut full-length record, Play Deep. That album was particularly huge in the USA. A great record to this day, what do you think was the key to Play Deep’s success?

Tony Lewis – The first single, “Say It Isn’t So,” did pretty well nationally. We finished that tour, came home for Christmas. “Your Love” was released to radio in 1985: it was just to keep us on the radio and in people’s minds. That song had a life of its own; it kept ads and it didn’t take a week, it took quite a couple of months for it to build. The song stands up on its own, when you think about it, it took us 20 minutes to write it – John and I put it together so quickly. I think that song reinforced the album; it is definitely the flagship for the album. – Yes, and the record still stands up today. The Outfield continued to produce quality music releasing 8 more albums through 2011’s Replay. What would you describe the progression of the band like through the years?

Tony Lewis – After doing Play Deep, we did a sort of Rock album with Bangin’ (1987). It is like the sophomore jinx – a lot of bands like Def Leppard, they were always cautious of not doing the same thing again – because the impact of the second album would not be as good. Then the third album, Voices of Babylon (1989), was produced by David Kahne, and he brought a different slate on our music – it was very sleek and pop cultured. It had a very sophisticated sound, but it still had the core of The Outfield going for it. After we moved on to MCA, we did Diamond Days and Rockeye, and we basically pleased ourselves. We recorded up in England and had a great time doing them. We didn’t have the pressure of a producer breathing down our necks, we didn’t have a time-frame or anything.

I would say our music has changed over the years, but I think the main core of it has remained the same. We have always been known as that band that did “Your Love.” That is the song that has the evergreen sound. I don’t think we ever really changed our sound; we have had different productions of albums, but we know what the fans want.

MCA – Yes, and the signature of The Outfield has always been the vocals and guitar tone.

Tony Lewis – Yes, because of the high voice and jangling guitars, it made us sound quite unique. Our harmonies weren’t quite like harmonies other bands had done, maybe like The Beach Boys or The Beatles. We had a sound of our own; it was not like we worked on it, it just came naturally. We didn’t work stuff out on a piano or guitar, we just went in a vocal booth and sung; it came naturally. – It all worked wonderfully. You worked with John Spinks for a long time, and beyond the musical partnership, he was a friend. One can imagine it was very difficult when John tragically passed away in 2014. Was his passing a key factor in your stepping away from music for a bit?

Tony Lewis – Yes, I didn’t pick up a guitar for 2 years. This July will be the 4th year of his passing, and it took a long time for me to even think about picking up a guitar, recording something, or singing something, because my head wasn’t in a good place. After a couple of years, I started to creep back into my room, recorded things, and put some backing tracks together. I was really enjoying it, because it was taking me out of the place I was in my head; it was taking me somewhere else. Anyone who records music or plays music live, it’s something magical about it. It takes you out of yourself and takes you into another place where you can almost spiritually detach yourself from your troubles.

Platinum Entertainment
Protocol – Right, and now you are back with your first ever solo album, aptly-titled Out of the Darkness. The title is not by accident, it pretty much describes your emotions, yes?

Tony Lewis – I’m thinking everyone has worked it out. I was going to say, “Out of the Light and into the Darkness” is about an unprofessional electrician who could never fix his fuse box properly. (Laughs)

Yes, it is just about a venture back into the music industry after a 4-year hiatus. After being known as a singer, I want to show I have more than one string to my bow. I just want to show I am not just the singer and bass player in the band, I picked up production skills, play guitar, drums, keyboards, and provide backing vocals. I just love recording. This album came together, it was just totally enjoyable. My wife Carol helped me out with lyrics. It just basically grew from there. – The record is really good. Production-wise, it sounds wonderful. There is an uplifting vibe to it, but there is a mix of emotions. Tell us a little bit about the writing and recording process.

Tony Lewis – Overall, the album is about love, loss, betrayal, sorrow, grief, and other human emotions all of us have experienced. Carol has a great way of writing a story. What I’ve written about, I just was going down a road that I want to fight, I just wasn’t making sense with the lyrics. I just put a positive musical spin on some of the songs that were dark. Songs like “Dreams and Wishes” is all about having faith. “Here and Now” is all about acknowledging the past so you can look into the future. I think David Gilmour said that some of his best work was when his mind was completely in a dark place. People are able to connect to that instead of doing “I love you, you love me, let’s go to the beach with a six-pack in the back of the car.” I get a bit tired of that sort of lyrics, you can’t really connect with it. – Absolutely. Sometimes the best art comes from a darker place: when you are facing adversity in life, sometimes the best material comes out of you.

Tony Lewis – Yes, some of the songs are in a dark place, but the music gives it almost like a polish. There are 5 tracks on the album that Tanner Hendon played drums on – he owns the label Madison Records. That was quite a result getting someone who owns a label as the drummer. I love the feel of a real drummer. It was a period of 2-3 years of writing songs and putting them together. I picked up production techniques that I had learned from John. I just enjoyed doing it, it was not one little bit stressful. It was almost going into the studio with a blank canvas each day. That is how it all came together, it was very effortless. – It bleeds through that way. Songs such as “I’ll Still Be Here” really stand out as well.

Tony Lewis – Yes, it has a menacing guitar riff to it. It is quite basic, and I just wanted to make it different. To me that is the most interesting song on the album. My favorite one would be “Loving You,” it is basically about the arrival of our granddaughter and how we changed as people because of it. I really enjoyed doing these songs and I hope people like them. I kept the first single, and hopefully “Here and Now” might be another single, they have a very Outfield spirit, but my twist on it. I just want to get across to people this is my time now, this is what I do, and this is my music. That is why I didn’t want to carry on with the name The Outfield when John passed away: I call myself Tony Lewis from The Outfield. When I go on tour, I will have a band together, we will play The Outfield songs, my new stuff, and it’s going to be a whole new experience. It’s going to be strange not having John on stage, but it’s a whole new chapter and I am looking forward to it.

Madison Records – Speaking of being on tour, you will be on the Retro Futura tour in the USA come July. For those coming out, what can they expect from these performances?

Tony Lewis – They can expect a good show. When I go and see Sting, I like his albums, but fundamentally you go there because you want to hear The Police songs. No matter how great a solo album you have, people want to hear “Your Love” and “All the Love in the World.” I am going to deliver them songs like I never went away, I am really looking forward to it. It should be a great show. I am only doing 4 songs which is a bit strange. By the time I’ve warmed up, it will be time to get off. (Laughs) – Right, that is the one unfortunate thing. Could we possibly see you mix in some off-dates where you can play more of the new music?

Tony Lewis – That will all be coming. I obviously want to take this one day at a time. I don’t know really where my head will be when I do the first show. I have known John for over 40 years, we have done so many The Outfield tours together; so, this is going to be a whole new venture for me. I’m just taking it one step at a time. I just want to go out there and say to fans thank you for all your support and here I am to play some stuff for you, tell me what you think, and we will take it from there. I have no plans from Retro Futura onwards, I have offers, but I just want to take it one step at a time. – Like you said, it is a new chapter in your life and career. Hopefully it will develop into more.

Tony Lewis – Yes, hopefully. I haven’t even met the band yet. This is a whole new situation for me. You play in a band all those years, made all those albums together, and suddenly you are doing it on your own. It is quite scary, but at the same note it is quite exciting. I am looking forward to a new beginning! – It is certainly an exciting time and fans will be happy to see you return! Last question, CrypticRock covers music as well as Horror and Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites?

Tony Lewis – I think the last Horror film I went to see was The Blair Witch Project (1999). My wife got motion sickness through that, and I didn’t really get it. I liked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). I remember seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and I remember going to my room, after seeing the film, there was a knock on the window, and all night I couldn’t sleep, thinking, who is that? It was John knocking and he was talking on the bus saying I’m thinking about buying a chainsaw. I didn’t know he was joking, I said, “You’re not going to be buy a chainsaw, are you?” I thought he was going to chop my arms off or something. (Laughs)

I like Thrillers and I used to be a fan of Horror films, I used to watch Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931) as a kid. Horror films are now about effects. My daughter laughs at the Saw films. It is like what level of blood and gore can we go to now. I think it has gotten a bit more computerized and special effects. Whereas in the old days, the ’60s and ’70s, they were so badly done, but they played on your mind. Silence of the Lambs (1991) had more a Thriller vibe to it. No Country For Old Men (2007) I thought was a good film. I like Thrillers more than Horror films, because it makes you think. I think The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the first one that ever really affected me.

Bryanston Pictures
Cannon Releasing – The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a very real, grainy quality.

Tony Lewis – Yes, and I enjoyed that. I felt like I was in a story. With other films it is all about effects and who can spill the most blood. With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, you are taken through that story; that is probably my favorite sort of Horror film, it felt real. Tobe Hooper was a very clever director.

Tour Dates:
Wed 11-Jul Atlanta, GA State Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park
**Thu 12-Jul Hyannis, MA Cape Cod Melody Tent
Fri 13-Jul Westbury, NY NYCB Theatre at Westbury
~Sat 14-Jul Englewood, NJ Bergen PAC
Sun 15-Jul Lynn, MA Lynn Auditorium
Wed 18-Jul Branson, MO Welk Resort
Fri 20-Jul Salt Lake City, UT Red Butte Garden
Sat 21-Jul Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
Sun 22-Jul Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery
Thu 26-Jul Costa Mesa, CA Pacific Amphitheatre
^Sat 28-Jul Los Angeles, CA Wiltern Theatre
Sun 29-Jul Tucson, AZ Anselmo Valencia Tore Amphitheater
Wed 1-Aug Milwaukee, WI Pabst Theatre
Fri 3-Aug Northfield, OH Hard Rock Live
Sat 4-Aug St. Ignace, MI Kewadin Casino Resort
**ABC, Modern English and Tony Lewis only
~No Annabella
^No Belinda Carlisle
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