By Chris M. Junior
When guitarist-songwriter John Spinks died in 2014, The Outfield came to an end, three years after the British trio’s original lineup reunited to release what turned out be the band’s final studio album, Replay.
Following the death of his longtime friend and Outfield bandmate, singer and multi-instrumentalist Tony Lewis understandably decided to hit the pause button on his music career. That decision extended beyond making new music and performing in public: by his own admission, Lewis didn’t even pick up a guitar for a few years.
Then came a point when Lewis’ wife, Carol, stepped in and put him back on course.
“She said to me, ‘You really need to get back into it. You need to be doing what you do best and what you most enjoy doing,’” he recalls.
So Lewis began putting rhythm tracks together featuring him playing bass (his instrument with The Outfield), guitars and drums. But when it was time to write lyrics for his songs in progress, Lewis found himself struggling like he had in the past.
Once again, his wife came to his aid. She approached him with material she’d written, and Lewis went to work adapting her lyrical ideas to his backing tracks.
“Even to this day, she says to me, ‘I don’t know how I wrote that; I don’t know how we created that’ – and I agree,” Lewis says. “She finds it quite easy to write, and she (tells) a good story.”
As for how they worked together, Lewis says there was no real structure. Sometimes she’d offer some lyrics and ask for his opinion, then he would see if they fit an existing backing track. Other times they’d be sitting side-by-side, with Lewis playing an acoustic guitar and recording their ideas on an iPad.
During the course of their collaborations, Lewis says they were successful at maintaining respectful boundaries between the songwriting team of Tony and Carol and the husband-and-wife team of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis.
“We wouldn’t stifle each other,” he explains. “We’d wait until we had some time during the day (to work on songs). But if I wasn’t in the mood or she wasn’t in the mood, we’d say no and wait until tomorrow. The daily running of the house, the family – there was loads of stuff to fill the day, so it wasn’t consumed with writing and recording.”
The results of their “quite effortless” songwriting collaborations, as Lewis puts it, can be found on his debut solo album, the appropriately titled Out of the Darkness, released in June on Madison Records.
“I didn’t want to try and compete with The Outfield,” Lewis says of the 12-song effort, which he produced. “What I wanted to do was make it with the same spirit as The Outfield. I wanted to re-emerge as a solo artist, and I wanted to show I have more strings to my bow.”
Competing with his past would have been a tall order. With Spinks and drummer Alan Jackman, the Lewis-fronted Outfield achieved success with the group’s debut, 1985’s Play Deep. The multi-platinum-certified album spawned three Billboard Hot 100 hits the following year: the Spinks-penned “Your Love” (No. 6), “All the Love in the World” (No. 19; sometimes listed as “All the Love”) and “Everytime You Cry” (No. 66). Through 1992, The Outfield placed five more songs on the pop-singles chart, among them “Since You’ve Been Gone” (No. 31, 1987), “Voices of Babylon” (No. 25, 1989) and “For You” (No. 21, 1991).
Nevertheless, Lewis does channel his former band at times on his solo debut. For “Into the Light” and “Here and Now,” the first two tracks of Out of the Darkness, Lewis admits he wanted both songs “to have that sort of Outfield intro and big chorus, but with my own verse style.”
Lewis also approached playing the drums with a style and mindset that differed from the way Spinks preferred during their days leading The Outfield.
“He was a perfectionist who agonized over tom-toms and cymbals and snares,” Lewis recalls. “I treat the drums like an instrument: I do a performance and put it to bed. I don’t (go back and think), ‘Is that in time? Is the high-hat too loud?’ ”
At the same time, Spinks did have a big influence on Out of the Darkness.
“I always felt like he was guiding me in a way,” Lewis says. “Every time I’d do a guitar track, I’d look at his picture and say, ‘What do you think of that one, mate? Pretty good, isn’t it?’ I approach recording, singing and playing guitar, keyboards and drums with his discipline… You have to be confident in what you’re creating. When you second guess yourself, maybe you haven’t got the song.”