Out Of The Darkness Into The Spotlight
'80s hitmaker Tony Lewis revisits his past as he looks forward with new music

By Lee Valentine Smith

The Outfield were an inescapable hit machine in the heyday of the MTV era. The London-based band are probably best remembered for their single "Your Love," but their albums were packed with well-crafted pop songwriting. Play Deep and Bangin' remain their best-selling records with new fans still discovering the trio thanks to satellite radio and nostalgia tours such as Retro Futura.

Although bassist and singer Tony Lewis will be looking back on the band's catalog for his set during his Retro Futura shows, the affable Brit has an excellent solo album set for release this month. On Out Of The Darkness, Lewis emerges from not only the shadow of The Outfield but also from a self-imposed exile from the music business. Released on Atlanta-based Madison Records, the adult contemporary album finds Lewis looking forward to the sounds of today rather than rehashing his familiar work from the '80s.

INsite spoke with Lewis from his home in the UK.

You're on an indie label based in Atlanta, but the UK is still home.

[Laughs] Yeah, it rains maybe nine months of the year and then when we sun comes out, we take our shirts off and get burned to a crisp.

But like many British bands, The Outfield also had its share of American influences.

Yeah when we were first starting out, we were very influenced by The Cars and Journey. The big sound, the big American Dream with big guitars.

Which were, in turn, influenced by a number of British bands.

Yeah, it's funny. The Kinks, The Who, even The Beatles were influenced by the American sound. So now I think maybe it meets somewhere in the middle, out in the mid-Atlantic.

Those '60s-style harmonies were very apparent in The Outfield and they've reemerged in your solo material.

I grew up with it, listenin' to the Beatles on the radio. And the Rolling Stones. I saw the Stones just last week, actually. They've been at it so long but they still look and sound amazing. Jagger still talks to the crowd like he's playing a pub or something, 'Anyone 'ere from Dartford?' There's not many bands that stand that test of time and they're just like a travelling jukebox. They have the luxury of starting the show with any of their songs, where most bands have to start with the first song off their recent album. Their encore was a half an hour! Not many bands can do that.

The music of The Outfield seems pretty resilient, as well. Now you're finally back in business after a long time away from it.

After the death of [Outfield guitarist] John Spinks, I just went on a hiatus. I didn't even want to pick up a guitar for a year or two. I wasn't interested in music or recording it. But once you start playing again, the therapy alone will make you feel better. If you're a musician, it's what you do best. So with this, it's a way to prove to people that I'm not just the bassplayer from the Outfield. I just wanted to put my stamp on it.

Even armed with an album of good songs, it must be a little daunting to step out as a solo artist after being a member of an established band.

Yeah, but it's not uncommon. You know even Liam Gallagher says he misses his brother. But it does feel strange. And it will feel strange getting on that stage and not seeing John. I knew him for over 40 years and we did so many tours together. But I'm really happy that people are reacting so well to this record.

What was the recording process like for this album?

It was really natural but it was over two years in the making. I'd do one or two or a week and then I never went back and looked too hard to them. I was confident as I was doing it that it was right for me.

It must be a relief to do it as an independent project, having been in the jaws of the majors.

Yeah there's no pressure. The only pressure is from yourself. For some people it's a big undertaking to get back to recording. You know, booking the studios and all that. But for me, it was one of the easiest things ever. I just wanted to record all the instruments on my own and see how it sounded.

There's a definite thread back to the Outfield sound, but you aren't trying to replicate it.

You've never gonna get the band thing on your own, but I think it all fell into place. Some of the tracks were completely from scratch on the acoustic and some were built on the backing tracks I'd created. Then it just went from there.

Now here you are on the Retro Futura tour, looking back on the '80s with a brand new record you must be dying to play live.

Yeah, this tour is the first one for me in about 14 years. For this tour, I only get four or five songs. I won't even break a sweat! I'm used to playing for an hour and a half to two hours, so it's gonna be pretty hard to get me offstage!

Since you're on early in the show, will you have time to delve into the album at all? Or just stick with the hits?

For this I've gotta keep it '80s. Which is great because I love playing Outfield songs. There'll be plenty of time to play my stuff sometime. It would be nice to play "Into The Light" or "Here and Now" but I'm not gonna lose sleep if we don't have time for those on Retro Futura. This is just getting me out and playing again so I'm taking it one tour at a time to see how it goes.

On a tour like this, you already have a built-in audience looking forward to hearing you play. It's not like having to prove yourself in a club setting.

Yeah, reading all the great comments on social media has really given me a boost. It's a shot in the arm to know that people still want to hear me. It's very encouraging.

And the music of the '80s certainly endures.

It's been in revival since the late '90s, I think. Because the '90s was such a different decade for music. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and grunge took music to a whole new level that it really needed.

Yet the '80s endured.

The '80s was a sort of optimistic and very magical decade. Some bands stand the test of time, like we were talking about the Stones. But some bands don't. Some music dates, others doesn't. I'm lucky that our music is quite evergreen.

The Retro Futura Tour arrives in Atlanta on Wednesday July 11 at Chastain Park.



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