With his flat cap and specs, Graham Lewis looks every bit the English chap abroad. These markers of his origins belie the three decades he has spent living in Sweden – a country that, by now, could claim him as a cultural icon of their own.
The Englishman among them started making music as the bassist for Wire. An art-school band that wasn’t formed at art school, Wire are one of the most influential acts to emerge from the 1970s. They were post-punk while punk was still a thing and have staunchly resisted categorisation for four decades. Either together with the band’s original guitarist, Bruce Gilbert, or on his own, Lewis has never been contained by the borders of the band: his experimental and leftfield output has freely branched as a counterpoint to Wire’s commercial success.
As we have previously noted:
Edvard Graham Lewis has appeared in a variety of guises since his first days with Wire. As one half of Dome, he erected a tent inside a recording studio. As one-third of Duet Emmo, he voiced the most achingly beautiful single ever written. As four-quarters of He Said, Lewis reimagined pop as an intellectual pursuit. The list of fractions and factions takes us through P’o, 27#11, Halo, Hox, Ocsid – a fluid combination of characters, both musical and typographic, dissolving and reforming. The unifying thread is a shifting tension between the lyrical and experimental; music that sometimes approaches commercial pop but draws away just in time. You can’t always dance to it, but you’ll have fun trying.
10. Wire – I Should Have Known Better
Although most vocals in Wire are handled by Colin Newman, it is hard to imagine the band without Lewis’ own contributions. The most iconic of Wire songs, “Pink Flag,” wouldn’t be the same without his deep tones insistently calling back to Newman, “How many?”
One of the most powerful Wire songs, “I Should Have Known Better,” finds Lewis taking the lead on the vocals to great effect. With intelligent lyrics, showing psychological insights beyond the wit of the usual post-punk band, the track hasn’t aged a day since Lewis crafted and executed it forty years ago.
9. Dome – To Speak
Starting in 1980, Lewis and Bruce Gilbert, Wire’s guitarist and surreal lyricist, went into Blackwing Studios to play the room as an instrument. For one album, they erected a red tent in the main sound room and explored what noises they could make inside and outside of it.
This project yielded several albums as Dome, including one recorded with the help of Vince Clarke, who was in residence at Blackwing with his Fairlight CMI. Clarke’s partner at the time, Deb Danahay, ended up being sampled on the Fairlight and included in this track.
8. Cupol – Kluba Copol
The B-side to the 12″ single, “It’s Been Like This for Ages,” “Kluba Kupol” is effectively one side of an LP. Clocking in at 20:28, the track is an ambient track based on a rhythmic groove.
It’s the kind of impossibly cool track that DJs will drop if they are really brave, but it is best enjoyed with headphones with the lights down. Lewis is working with Gilbert again here.
An experimental project undertaken by Lewis with Valentina Magaletti (Tomaga, Vanishing Twin), Thighpaulsandra (Coil) and Matt Simms (Bruce Gilbert’s take-out in Wire), UUUU have to date released two records on Editions Mego.
Their self-titled album combined rhythms with touches of jazz, musique concrete, Krautrock and improvised electronica.
6. Edvard Graham Lewis – We’ve Lost Your Mind
Lewis released two albums on Editions Mego in 2014. The highlight for us was this track. As we said at the time:
It’s unmistakably Lewis material, with an almost conventional start that ultimately dissolves into fractals of noise. Immense.
Lewis collaborated with Thomas Öberg (Bob Hund) and Marcus Turnkey on a single in 2006. Covering The Monks’ “Oh How to Do Now,” they leaned on Carl Michael von Hauswolff – another Lewis collaborator – for the artwork.
4. H-A-L-O – Two Too State
Recorded with Örjan Örnkloo, the H-A-L-O project saw Lewis in great form. The name was taken from the military tactic of dropping scuba divers from high altitude, which is as postmodern a concept as the music.
3. HOX – Icon of I Can
Andreas Karperyd joined Lewis for an album as HOX in 1999, and fifteen years later again. The duo made something closer to pop than Lewis’ normal experimental output, hinting at the commercial possibilities latent in the latter’s work.
2. Duet Emmo – Or So It Seems
A collaboration with Daniel Miller (The Normal, Silicon Teens, Sunroof!), Duet Emmo is an anagram of the words, Mute and Dome. For this project, Gilbert and Lewis were joined by North London’s best one-finger composer for an album of experimental material that somehow yielded a devastatingly beautiful single.
“Or So It Seems,” the title track, is devastatingly beautiful. It has lyrics to melt the heart of any woman, sung hauntingly by Lewis over sequences melded from waveforms far ahead of their time.
1. He Said – Pump
Lewis’ solo work as He Said inspired the sound of Nine Inch Nails. The story goes that Trent Reznor sought to record at Blackwing Studios in Southwark and engage engineer John Fryer after listening to the He Said recordings. Reznor got what he wanted but neglected to credit his inspiration.
The quality of the He Said songs is very high. Several singles from the two albums that Lewis released under this name have become permanent fixtures in alternative DJ sets: “Only One I” and “Pump.” The latter has a funkiness that only a bassist could have conceived, together with a leftfield feel that only a member of Wire would have added.
“Grass,” as Lewis intones, “doesn’t grow on busy streets.” It might be a statement of the obvious, but it takes a poet to point it out.