Andrew Eaton-Lewis: 'It's about the strange, complex way that songs can help us process painful experiences'

Andrew Eaton-Lewis: 'It's about the strange, complex way that songs can help us process painful experiences'

With the release of After All Of The Days We Will Disappear, Eaton-Lewis chats his shifting relationship with music and his interest in supporting other people's stories

The low-key emotional power of Andrew Eaton-Lewis' debut – and final – album under his own name is amplified by the life stories behind it. After All of the Days We Will Disappear was written amid the aftermath of his parents' deaths and his own departure with his young family from Edinburgh to the Hebrides, and it speaks not just of the sense of ending surrounding these events, but of his own shifting relationship with music as a result of age, experience and shifting certainty. As he sings on the delicate, piano-led opener 'Medicine': 'Music doesn't help any more / music is the only thing that helps.'

'The title comes from something my four-year-old son said about death,' says Eaton-Lewis. 'My parents both died in the first few years of his life, so he's had to process the loss of his grandparents quite early. He came up with the phrase 'after all of the days we will disappear' out of the blue and I thought it was very wise and profound. This album was a bit of a surprise in some ways; I hadn't managed to finish any new music since early 2014, shortly after my dad died, and was beginning to wonder whether I was a songwriter anymore.

'I was mostly doing other things – programming festivals, trying to make theatre – and then, in September 2017, 'Medicine' suddenly appeared in my head, fully formed, just a few days after I lost my mum,' he continues. 'Clearly these two things were connected. The song is about the strange, complex way that songs can help us process painful experiences while also opening more wounds, often at the same time. I later realised that as a teenager, compulsive songwriting had been my safe space, just as much as my childhood home was; in losing both of my parents I had lost one of those places of safety, so it made sense that I try to process this by returning to the other.'

Growing up in a village near Carlisle as a self-described 'chronically shy teenager' who loved Pet Shop Boys, A-ha and the Blue Nile, Eaton-Lewis moved to Scotland, where he started a band called Swimmer One with musician/producer Hamish Brown and musician/singer Laura Cameron-Lewis (whom he's now married to).

'We were one of those bands who got lots of very good reviews but never sold many records,' he says, 'which makes sense, since all of the bands I loved as a twenty-something – Kitchens of Distinction, AC Acoustics, American Music Club, Rollerskate Skinny – were also those kind of bands. But we did get a song in a film, supported John Foxx from Ultravox and made a fairly high profile theatre project, Whatever Gets You Through the Night (a kind of theatre and music cabaret, in conjunction with Glasgow's Arches), so there were lots of things I was proud of.'

Also employed variously, past and present, as the Scotsman's arts editor, the arts lead for the Scottish Mental Health Festival and the organiser of the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival through An Lanntair in Stornoway, Eaton-Lewis also released solo music as Seafieldroad following Swimmer One's dissolution. The new record, he says, contains new songs and re-recordings from this period. It's 'an odd combination of solo debut and "best of" collection, a beginning and an end, an opportunity to look back as well as forward,' he says. 'Thematically, though, it seems to fit together – a lot of them seem to be songs about saying goodbye to something, or moving from one place to another.

'There's a lot of autobiography on this album, more so than anything else I've written,' he says. 'I thought a lot about the running order. Thematically, the first half consists of me reflecting in various ways on my relationship with my two safe places – songwriting and my childhood home – and the second half is about emerging from those places to explore somewhere new; my life as a parent to my own children, a very different kind of home, and – in the album's closing song, 'Dead Orchestras' – what I will leave behind for my children when I disappear.'

Across eight songs (although 'The path, the beach, the sea' is thirteen-minutes-long and constructed from a trio of Seafieldroad songs) the record is a gorgeous and highly affecting piece of work, which lives up the emotional promise of a record with such explicitly existential themes. One particularly beautiful track – even more so, with the story behind it in place – is 'Everything/Alright', a joint cover of 'Some Enchanted Evening' by Rodgers and Hammerstein, from the musical South Pacific, and 'It's Alright With Me' by Cole Porter, both classics which meant a lot to his parents.

''Some Enchanted Evening' is how my dad remembered the first time he met my mum,' says Eaton-Lewis, 'and 'It's Alright With Me' is how my mum remembered the same meeting. He was falling in love for the first time, she was recovering from a traumatic loss; of an ex-boyfriend who had taken his own life shortly after breaking off their engagement. The loss of her first fiancé haunted my mum for the rest of her life, but it was Dad's love for her, in the end, that helped her get over it, and they were married for over fifty years. It's a farewell to them both, a juxtaposition of two very different love songs – one naïve and idealistic, one borne of heartbreak – and a conversation about love between someone's older and younger selves, which makes it a good fit on an album written over the course of more than a decade.'

Eaton-Lewis is not definitively sure this will be his final album, but he hasn't written anything since 'Medicine' and doesn't obsess over new music the way he used to; so he decided to 'behave as though' this is his final record, and has found the feeling liberating. 'I don't think I'm leaving music, I'm just giving up on songwriting as an expression of your life,' he says. 'The older I get and the longer I spend as a parent and as a producer of other people's work, the less I think that my own story is very interesting or important. I'm more interested in supporting other people to tell their own stories, which is largely what I've been doing for a living for the past few years.'

As well as his work with the Mental Health Foundation and An Lanntair, he has also produced a stage version of the classic Hebridean book Soil and Soul, adapted by Alan Bissett, and is co-producing AJ Taudevin and Kieran Hurley's new play Move~Gluasad, which premieres on Lewis and then transfers to Celtic Connections. His family also host artistic residencies on Lewis; most recently, one with the Scottish songwriter Momus, another childhood hero.

'It was lovely having him here, he was a formative influence on me as a teenage songwriter,' says Eaton-Lewis. 'But it was quite strange, too. We had some very interesting conversations, but I don't aspire to be like him anymore; he has a nice life, travelling around the world and performing and writing, and seems very content, but I can't imagine being completely focused on making my own art in the way that he is. It's not where I am any more and I don't think it would make me happy. I'm quite happy on my croft in the Hebrides.'

After All of the Days We Will Disappear by Andrew Eaton-Lewis is available now through Bandcamp. The next Hebridean Dark Skies Festival will run from Fri 7–Sat 22 Feb.

Hebridean Dark Skies Festival

An ambitious programme features stargazing events, workshops and talks led by leading scientists, as well as film, music and theatre, all located on the Isle of Lewis, which has some of the darkest skies in the UK and is one of the best places in the country to see the Aurora Borealis. The 2019 festival features Chris…

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