As Posted on NeonNettle.com
Neon Nettle Talks To New Kid On The Block Lewisburg
Reveals new music with The Duke Spirit’s Olly Betts
Lewisburg aka Ali Robertson is a refreshing change from the typical chart artists in the UK right now, with his vulnerable lyrics, unique vocals and sun-kissed singles. The name came from a combination of his hometown Lewisham and the trendy Williamsburg, New York, where he got his big break at an open mic night. The idea was to hold onto that special moment and if debut track ‘El Celebro’ is anything to go by, there will be plenty more special moments to come.
Neon Nettle caught up with the Lewisham native Lewisburg to talk alternative careers, kids, new music with Olly Betts and what makes him want to be wiped out by a meteorite.
NN: How would you describe yourself and your sound for people that haven’t heard your music yet?
LB: I’m a singer and a songwriter. I would describe my sound as folk/pop with an alt-country twist.
NN: Did you always want to pursue music as a career? What would you have done instead?
LB: Yes as far back as I can remember I wanted to be a musician, even before I could play anything. But I also went through a stage of wanting to be a journalist and a couple of years back I decided I might like to write fiction. So I attended some courses and worked on some short stories, but if anything, developing that craft taught me just as much about songwriting. I think you can afford to be more cryptic in writing lyrics, which in some ways is more liberating.
NN: After being discovered in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, do you feel as though there are more opportunities across the pond for artists like yourself who don’t fit the typical pop/dance sound that is popular over here?
LB: Perhaps, but there is a thriving folk scene here too at the moment. They do seem to do the singer/songwriter thing with more irony over there though- and without sounding like pirates, which is the real trick. Certainly, there are some really great independent artists in The States.
NN: What can fans expect to hear from your debut album? Are you nervous about the reception it will get?
LB: Hopefully you’ll hear some cool music! Yes I am a little nervous. Putting something you’ve created out there for critique is rather like riding the district line naked, there is always someone who’s not going to approve.
NN: Was that your daughter in the ‘El Celebro’ video? Does she inspire a lot of your music?
LB: Ha! No, it was the daughter of Joe ‘The Driver/ Magician’ in the video. The idea being that the cool, mysterious Lewisburg moves in on his family and tears them away from him. Not the kind of behavior I’d endorse in real life of course, unless he was a bastard, which he is not.
NN: Who were your main musical influences growing up? Being from Lewisham, were there any London acts in particular that inspired you?
LB: Growing up for me it was the Beach Boys, Beatles and the bands of Britpop. But in recent years I’ve been appreciative of a lot of the work of Ryan Adams, Phosphorescent and the big boys Arcade Fire and The Killers. There is a fantastic independent artist from the U.S called Israel Nash, who occasionally comes to London for small shows. But, like many others, he would be unlikely to go anywhere near Lewisham, unless I gagged him and bundled him into the back of a van.
NN: Tell us something that people find odd about you, but that you think makes you pretty cool.
LB: I honestly wouldn’t know where to start with this.
NN: Have you been to any of the festivals so far this summer? Any performances in particular that impressed you?
LB: No, but I’ve enjoyed some action from the sofa. Arcade Fire sounded mind-bendingly good at Glastonbury and I also caught a performance from an Australian artist called Courtney Barnett. She sings in this quirky, languid style with classic Aussie deadpan delivery. So Australian. So amazing. Bet she’s good at cricket too.
NN: Talk us through your warm-up ritual before you perform.
LB: I generally find a quiet spot, sit down on my own and ask myself – ‘What have I done?’ – ‘Why me?’ and secretly will myself to be wiped out by a meteorite. It nearly never happens, so I often end up just taking a few deep breaths and even listening to a piano concerto on my iPod to help promote some calm. After that, I’m good to go!
NN: What’s next for you as an artist?
LB: Next step is to head back into the studio. I’ve been working on some new tunes with Olly Betts (of The Duke Spirit) at his studio in Hackney. So over the next few weeks I’ll see where I’m at with these and take it from there. I would hope to release an EP towards the end of the year, and then the album.
Fans of acoustic artists can also check out my interviews with JP Cooper and Melanie Fiona: