Jayce Lewis is a massive star in Asia with his dark and powerful dance rock sound, and is forging ahead in the rest of the world too, recently joining Gary Numan on the Dead Son Rising tour. Jayce is an incredible multi-instrumentalist, and we’ve got some great videos of him in action. He is currently working with iconic producer Jagz Kooner on his second album. Jayce is also touring with Combichrist, and supporting Korn later in the Summer. We caught up with him at his Bridgend home to talk about touring, songwriting, his love of the recording process, and what it was like to be managed by Darth Vader.
Jayce is doing UK dates and also heading back out to Asia soon, where he plays to crowds of 50,000, gets mobbed in the streets, and battles Coldplay for chart domination. He’s as dramatic on screen as he is on stage, and has just released a video for Electric Medicine where he gets tied up and electrocuted.
That’s actually the last video-making single release for the first album so I wanted to shut the door on the debut album, I just want to go out with a bang with that one so yeah we threw everything at it and made this video with me being chained up, lots of electricity in my neck and stuff like that, it’s quite crazy and good fun to make as well. It was a bit weird filming on the Red One camera, frustrating at times because it takes about 45 minutes to change the lens, so in between each shoot there’s just standing in the cold. Drinking a bottle of neat Jack Daniels to try and keep myself warm and I realised that I was a bit drunk. Good fun, though. I enjoyed it and the crew were fantastic.
Jayce told us about his plans for this year, and some of his early touring experiences, including keeping a big secret!
He describes his sound as ‘a concoction of lots of things’ and has a wide range of influences that feed into it.
I like dance music, I like rock music, I like classical music and I think it’s just an amalgamation of all those things put together. I’m not really one person to categorize, music is music at the end of the day for me. And I could be heavy in one track and really light in the other. It’s just for me it’s an expression of emotion and mood and it’s a real sort of deep expression for me and I best relate to it within music. It’s the best way to get it out of me, you know? So if there’s a category it’s just stuff that comes out of my heart. And mind, which is a real mess.
Jayce agrees that he’s ‘quite a dark mofo’ and it spurs him on in his music.
If you ask any of my close friends, I’m quite a reclusive type of person, I keep myself to myself very much, and if I get to know you really well I’m like a waterfall of words then, I can’t stop but… I guess I’m just a miserable sod, I write about a lot of miserable things. More to do with everything I’ve done. But yeah, the music is dark, I don’t know why that is. Probably a lot to do with the influence of artists that I’ve been influenced by and I just like the energy of that style of music, you know? I really get into it a lot. Music for me is just a real comfortable surrounding. It’s interesting cos a lot of people say how the hell can you do that on a stage with all those people? I don’t even see they’re there cos I’m so surrounded in my music. It’s like a blanket, you know? And it’s real escapism for me so yeah, I enjoy the darkness of it all, you know. Power!
A passionate, energetic performer, Jayce loses himself completely in the music when onstage.
It just happens. I don’t even know I’m what I’m doing. It’s only when I watch myself back, I’m like, what the hell am I doing? It’s quite amazing actually how physical I was with it all. I didn’t realise it was that charismatic – if I am that charismatic. I just really throw myself at it, it just makes me move, you know, people dance to music and that’s what I do. It just makes me do that. I feel so comfortable with it, that’s the thing, you know, music for me is really, makes me feel comfortable.
Jayce’s story is fascinating - one key track catapulted him into stadiums in Asia. India is somewhere Jayce found amazing, both for its social extremes and a baptism of fire on tour. His first headlining shows took place at the Rock N’ India festival, and he’s going back soon. He told us about his current plans and his early stage experiences.
I headlined the VH1 tour and I didn’t even know if I could be a front man. I’d like to go back to that point now with a lot more shows under my belt and see how I took to it. Everybody thinks that I came across quite well on the first show but I was an absolute bag of nerves. I had a really bad anxiety attack just before I went on and there was so much expectation.
I’d never really played to a big crowd before, even as a drummer when I was in the band before, but now being the front man, it was absolutely terrifying. But it was a strategy of EMI’s out there, they wanted to introduce this amalgamation of rock and electronica which I don’t think they’d had too much of in that territory. So my sort of music was very new for them. They just got right behind me and all the press out there were really supportive. And because the music was so new, I couldn’t even remember some of the lyrics. I could see some of the crowd singing the lyrics back and I was having to lip-read what they were shouting to try and get me by.
Things did happen remarkably fast for Jayce, who had previously been considering giving up on music altogether.
I was a drummer in a band that split up and left a lot of bad taste in people’s mouths. So I resented music for a while and it was actually my father who said, why don’t you get back into music? So I picked up a bass guitar and I came up with this Icon riff. I didn’t have a guitar, I didn’t have anything, I wasn’t endorsed. I started doing this riff and thought, maybe this is good enough for a song, so I went in the studio, put the music together, the drums, the bass, the guitar, keyboards, and did the synths as well. And then I took the song away and everybody was like, well, you have to sing on it now, and I’d never sung in my life. So Ithought, I’ll try and write some lyrics to this, which I did, and went back in the studio and recorded these vocals and it didn’t sound too bad. But I remember in the mix I said to Ginge, the engineer, oh turn it down, turn my voice down, cos it freaked me out. So that’s the secret of why they’re very quiet.
But I gave that to EMI in Asia and they signed me off the one track. And then VH1 and MTV made me artist of the month, so they rotated the video a lot and then two weeks later I was having to do my own tour which was a real laugh as I only had two songs and they wanted me to perform for an hour. So I had to write like I’d never written before. So I was back in the music business again but really thrown in at the deep end.
There was barely time to write enough songs to fill a set, so one song had to be performed without any lyrics at all!
It’s been dropped now, but I didn’t have any lyrics at all so all I did was mumble words. The band didn’t know until after the tour. I told them that I was just going ner, ner, blah and that got me by. But I’ve sort of chilled out and settled down and I’m really glad of that.
Jayce talked himself into a tour with 80s synth pioneer Gary Numan.
I met Gary at a Depeche Mode concert, got friendly with him and I just asked him, are you touring? And he said, yeah and we kind of arranged for me to go on the tour with him and it was fantastic. His fans are like a real special lot of people, you know, they’re so loyal to Gary, the Numanoids. So loyal to him, and they kind of embraced me fairly all right as well, I was quite pleased with that. He’s an influence, you know. That era of music, the 80s, I’m influenced by the synth sounds and all that. So to be on a tour with one of, if not THE pioneer of that sound, is quite surreal
Jayce’s songwriting usually starts off with a riff on the guitar and then adding a beat to it, or at least it has done in the past. However, the second album is heading in a different direction.
I really enjoy the studio process. Now the second album, I’m using more synth sounds. I do all the programming for synths and things like that so it’s coming in more that side of it now than it is the traditional guitar writing, and it’s proving an interesting angle on it all. But sometimes it comes to me really quick and sometimes it doesn’t at all and I end up throwing it away as it sounds like a pile of rubbish. And the lyrics are always the very last thing to happen. I’ve got to hear the music first and then the melody comes and then I just write words that make absolutely no sense at all and I don’t even get it.
And then I read them back after a while and I think oh, actually, I know what I’m writing about there. The subject matter for me, it’s just so deep in my subconscious that it comes out in a weird way and I only get it later on. A few people have said that they relate to what I write about and I don’t even know what I’m writing about to be honest. I’m just writing this poetry that comes out, and now I get it, you know? Very dark stuff. I like writing, it’s an interesting process. And layering.
Jayce is famously a self-taught multi-instrumentalist, one of those lucky people to whom music and musicianship have just come naturally.
I just picked a guitar up and started playing. I didn’t even know what riffs I was playing. Chords, I don’t actually play a chord like a normal person, I just do this weird bar thing, I’ve got my two fingers, they’re always out and I just play with those two. It’s not natural movement but that’s how I’ve been playing. And the drums are all self-taught. You can either do it or you can’t. I just had this ability to be able to play the guitar, self-taught, and the same with keyboards and stuff like that. I wouldn’t consider myself a piano player but I can do notes and stuff, melodies and harmonies and stuff. It’s great. I think there’s an element, because I haven’t been taught, of a unique style, perhaps. That people have picked up on a little bit alien as something that hasn’t been taught, it’s a genuine vibe, you know, comes out of me.
Been difficult though. I have had a couple of people actually ask me. I remember Total Guitar magazine asking to do a tablature of Icon and I didn’t even know the notes. They had a guy to pick it up and write it all down as I didn’t know what I was playing. I just played it. Perhaps I should have learned.
Jayce isn’t much of a pedal user, but he’s trying one out at the moment, to freshen things up.
I’ve just started using a Digitech Whammy pedal, just for inspiration, just to get a different sort of sound and that’s about it really. I’ve tried my hardest to keep the guitars sounding like a guitar because the synths are just endless, they’ve got so many different sounds. I think you can kind of wash away yourself really with too much noise. I just want very clear division and very clear levels of, yep, that’s a guitar, that’s a drum and that’s a synth.
Playing all the instruments can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, as well.
It can be great and it can also be very frustrating, you know. If I’m on a roll it’s the greatest thing on the planet. I love it but sometimes it really has been very difficult to try and figure out. I come up with a great riff and then the drums are rubbish and I haven’t got another drummer. Or synths, that’s another one, I’m coming up with the synths and they sound rubbish and it ruins the whole song. It’s a make or break type scenario really.
But now I’m letting the other boys from the band come in and do their bits as well. The first album I had so many ideas, riffs and beats and synths and all of that, that I couldn’t wait to get it all on an album, and now of course, being on a label you got to do album number two. So it’s not a natural process, now I’ve got to commit to a time delivery so I’ve got to write everything again but I’m up against it, so I’m bringing the boys more into it now because we’ve been doing a lot of shows and they kind of get the vibe that I’m doing, and in some places they’re doing it better than me which is great. So I’m looking forward to writing the second album again and this time with other people.
Jayce has some other very practical talents too. He use to be an aeronautical engineer, and thinks nothing of whipping up some stage gear such a mike stand.
When it comes to vocals, Jayce is still experimenting.
My vocal style is something very new because I haven’t been doing vocals very long. It took a little while for me to find my voice. When I did Icon that was an accident, it was an absolute accident and I have been trying to get that sound back again. But live we use reverb and I think it’s a bit of phaser and a bit of chorus mixed together, we try and get the right balance just for it to come through. And it’s the same sort of process that’s on the album as well.
He programmes his synth sounds in the studio, but real keyboards are used live. FL Studio from Image-Line is his favourite synth programme.
They’ve just released FL Studio 10, I’m using that and the synths on that are just fantastic. There’s a lot of this dubstep stuff with Skrillex and all that, so I think FL studio have got a bit of catching up to do as Ableton and (Native Instruments) Massive just seem to be taking over the world right now with all their sounds, but for me FL Studio’s been paramount for my sounds. My keyboard player Dai Cross, he’s got a Korg, I don’t know what he’s got on there, there’s all sorts of madness going on that gets put in. But yeah, FL Studio, I get all the synths from.
Jayce’s inspirations include Mike Oldfield, Brian May from Queen and Igor Cavalera from Sepultura for drums.
And I mean band wise there’s all sorts. Fear Factory is definitely one. Prodigy… I’m like a sponge, I just absorb. As long as it’s music I’ve heard I don’t even know who’s done it but I seem to have absorbed it somehow. There’s a great band called the Little Death Orchestra, I saw them on the Classic Channel. They’ve got a song called Tiny Crescent Sun and it’s an absolutely amazing piece of music. I don’t think they’ve got signed or anything but it’s incredible stuff. Daft Punk, that’s another band I think are phenomenal, very clever musicians. So yeah, all sorts, really. And alcohol as well, that seems to be a bit of an influence when I’m on the road.
Another influence might be said to be his unusual choice of mentor at the beginning.
He’s not managing me now but quite a while ago I was kind of mentored, managed by David Prowse, who played Darth Vader in the first three Star Wars. Real odd pairing and especially the fact that he’s like Darth Vader, lord of the Sith. But I learned so much from Dave in the entertainment business in general, just how many sharks there are and stuff like that. And somewhat of a business element to it all as well, sort of keeping tabs on yourself and where things are going, specially being a solo artist. It proved actually a key factor in what I’m doing, having had him as a sort of figurehead with my existence in this business definitely has been a good choice. But it obviously ran out of steam towards the end. My career was starting to rise to a level that none of us really had any experience in, so… We stay in touch, and if there’s anybody messing me around he gets his light sabre out and cuts them up like he did with Obi Wan.
Jayce is branching out and remixing other people’s tracks using the FL Studio software he has worked with for his own album.
He has recently done a remix for one of his favourite bands, though he’s almost getting too into the software!
I’ve just remixed Fear Factory, I did a Fear Factory track for the new album on it right here in my kitchen. I’ve been able to construct a track from start to finish, the structure of a song is all done on this as well, which is something I never used to have. I used to just record it on my phone and just play along to what was on the phone so I’ve really stepped up a few levels with it, it’s great. I’m happy with using it. I’ve always been wanting to put loads of levels, loads of layers on different levels and really get things to just sort of complement each other and this software is just perfect for that. I bring in the guitars at some stage, I just sort of import them. It’s given me a new sort of direction now as well to my music so I’m really really pleased with working on it. And unfortunately it’s caused me to suffer insomnia I think because I’m on it day and night. But it’s great, it’s fantastic, I love using it and it sounds so real as well, with all the plug-ins. I’ve been playing drums for years and guitars, and bass and played the odd keyboard as well. But producing is now my new toy and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Jayce is a Gibson man through and through and has based much of his sound around the guitar. He’s tried out different models as an endorsed artist, and settled on the Les Paul Standard double cutaway.
I’ve been with Gibson for just over two years now. Amazing guitars, amazing people at the office, really friendly, really supportive, really helpful. There’s a distinctive sound with a Gibson that not many other guitars can really replicate. Ibanez aren’t far off it but for my sound in particular, I’ve got the Gibson double cutaway Les Paul Standard 24 fret, really light guitar and it just seems to deliver a real unique sort of growl, and just sounds immense. The action on it’s quite low and that’s purposely done so I can do a lot of hammer and pull off that I do a lot with my sounds. Like I can as an example pull on, hammer off rhythmic type of track which was written on the bass but on the guitar sounds great. and there’s a real throaty growl to it that really really works well for what I do.
Jayce uses Laney amps for his guitar and bass and has based his sound around them. He’s endorsed by them and uses different models for live and recording.
I use the Laney VH100 live and then I’ve got the GH50L for recording and the pairing between Gibson and Laney on that just comes out with another unique sound altogether. What I love with Laney is just the tracking with the amps, cos I do a lot of sort of precision picking kind of stuff, triple picking and stuff like that, very rhythmic sort of stuff, the Laney amps just seem to keep up with it all, it doesn’t fall away from you and it’s not woolly and large, it really stays precision, it’s quite a precise sound which I love. Soon as they played it to me I thought, oh right, I think this is the right sound for me. And I’ve been developing it along the way with Laney so they’ve been great.
Jayce also likes the pairing of Laney amps with his Ibanez bass, and uses a Nexus for his powerful sound.
I can imagine this amp being a bit intimidating to a lot of standard bass players. For me it’s more of a combination between bass player and producer. They’ve got this graphic EQ, I mean that’s one thing, to have some control over the bass, but then you’ve got to really go in depth with the graphic equaliser, you’ve got this low mid control… hi mid control, nobody’s done that you know.
You’ve got to know your art really, what sort of sound you want. I know when I’m up there, I know what I want to do. This thing’s got such a wide bass sound but again, you know, precision. The EQ-ing is allowing you to do a lot of precision playing, ideal for sort of slap bass, which I do.
Very very ear friendly, you know. Just great. And a great combination again between Laney and Ibanez. Phenomenal, phenomenal bit of gear. We’ve also got the Nexus, which is something else I also use live, lit up with a lot of red lights so you know the difference. It’s a different type of animal compared to this thing but it’s still got that distinctive Laney sound, it sounds immense. A lot of the tracks I’m doing are very bass heavy, very precision, notes punched out. So these guys have just got it made for that. This would be perfect for all I need.
Multi-instrumentalist Jayce is also an amazing bass player and can play in different styles such as slap bass. He uses an Ibanez bass and has a bass player play one for live duties. It’s another endorsement.
Well I got the Ibanez SDR range. Fantastic bass, really really active, slim body, again very light. Ibanez seem to have got it right, just the thickness of the neck which really helps with our playing. Martin the bass player plays really quick, he’s very fast with his fingers so with the Gibson that’s a really really good match in there. And again I’m not sure if Ibanez and Laney work together , but there’s just this perfect symphony between the pair.
Jayce started out being a drummer and still drums on his tracks in the studio and for part of his live shows. He has a phenomenal tribal style.
He plays Tama Starclassic drums, and is endorsed by the company.
Maple shells, bubinga on it as well, they just compress the two so it gives these rich, rich tones no matter how hard you hit it, it just seems to keep its tone, its depth. The attack on the kit is just immense. Proven by the 13” snare drum that they’ve given me. I usually used to use the 14” but this 13” is just giving a real sharp snap to it. I sort of rim-shot a lot of the time as well so it’s got this really big sort of cracking sound to it.
Tama’s tones are just phenomenal and again for this style of music, very dance, I want that really fat kick drum, really sharp snare, very warm and big sort of exploding-sounding toms and Tama have got that. My drumming style is quite tribal, was influenced by Igor Cavalera from Sepultura some years ago. Self-taught so I’ve got a lot of nasty habits. But I’m very tom-heavy, I use a lot of toms, a lot of double-pedal.
I go in between the two and come up with some pretty mad riffs and fills. And the double pedal just gives me the freedom to come up with some really mad rhythms. My style is usually 7/8, playing 7/8 so it’s quite eastern anyway. We got the Cobra Speed, Speed Cobra double pedals. Now that I’m doing all the solo sort of dance stuff I’m doing a lot more dancey sort of rhythm so it’s very off and on the hi hat, very sort of early Therapy?-sounding, actually. Fyfe Ewing from the band Therapy? Years ago they were masters of this sort of off-beat hi-hat dance sort of rhythm which I’ve really jumped on.
I’ve recorded a lot with this kit, did Icon with it, did Solitaire, Paradox on the first album, and it sounds incredible. You’ve got this huge kick drum, really deep and this sort of shotgun sort of sound. These big tones on the toms as well and the Paiste cymbals for separation, it’s just immense.
And I’m really happy with Tama, I’ve been with Tama about two years now. And they’re just fantastic kit and every time they bring something new out it’s just immense.
I think they’re also the first to come up with this suspension-sprung unit which, a lot of the time, as a lot of you drummers will know, a lot of kits support the toms, the shells, by sort of clamping a plate to it and then it runs off into the kick drum. Which I think, when you hit the tom, it robs the energy, robs the tone. And Tama has come up with this suspension unit that holds the tom so that it’s quite free. So actually it doesn’t rob any of the tone at all so it’s quite ingenious stuff.
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