If you think Blake Lewis has been working on his debut album since finishing runner-up on "American Idol" last spring you are sorely mistaken.
It's been much longer in the making.
"I had books of lyrics and concepts, and demos from four years ago that say ADD on them," Lewis says, referring to the acronym for the 19 Recordings/Arista Records release, Audio Day Dream. "And I worked with people I was going to work with anyway, like [electronic music mastermind] BT, who is one of my main inspirations in music. I have my band on the album. It's exactly how I wanted it to come out."
A spectacular hodgepodge of styles as varied as synth-pop, alterna-funk and old school hip-hop, Audio Day Dream could only be the brainchild of a true visionary ... or at least a funk soul brotha with a studio addiction.
"I wanted to make a record where every song sounds like it could be on the radio, but my radio," explains Lewis, a 26-year-old Redmond, Washington native. "Each track is different and emotional. I've got drum-n-bass, James Brown-style break-beat. I've got a world beat track, a jazzy track, a Broadway musical track. The songs have huge choruses but also vocoders and talk boxes and robotic-sounding stuff mixed in with funky Jamiroquai-like music."
Certainly, there's an ADD quality to the album, but that's only half of the story behind the title. "I was an only child and I've been entertaining for as long as I can remember, annoying people, making noises, doing voices all the time," Lewis recalls. "Everyone has thought I had ADD my whole life, but I don't. I'm always focused."
While the acronym has been in place for years, Lewis finally spelled it out as he put the finishing touches on the album. (Audio Defying Diversity and Analog Digital Display were among the other contenders.) And how fitting to have the word "dream" on a project that was certainly one coming true.
When Blake wasn't recording in the Seattle studio where Pearl Jam helmed Ten, he was logging tracks on the same mixing console Pink Floyd used on Dark Side of the Moon. He worked with Dr. Dre's talk-box aficionado, was granted rare rights to Irving Berlin's classic "Puttin' on the Ritz" melody and even met his musical doppelganger along the way.
"My A&R guy hooked me up with [OneRepublic singer and Timbaland protege] Ryan Tedder," Lewis says. "Instantly, it was like 'How come you didn't tell us we were best friends?' We did eight songs together and [executive producer] Clive Davis loved every one of them."
Among their collaborations is first single "Break Anotha," which they co-wrote with former Color Me Badd singer-turned producer Sam Watters.
"When Clive first played it for me there was a girl singing and I didn't like the lyrics. There was no bridge. The chorus was strong and the melody was strong, but I didn't hear it until I took it home and listened to it a bunch more times and thought, 'This could be dope for me,'" Lewis recalls. "I had an idea, so I brought my drummer and my horn players in and Ryan fine-tuned it. The concept is the like on 'Heroes,' where the girl walks by a mirror and the reflection is the evil side of her. It's a sinister song, kind of dark and moody."
Along with Tedder and BT, who produced the dancefloor ditty "She's Makin' Me Lose It" (back-up vocals from Chris Kirkpatrick aren't the only thing it has in common with 'NSYNC's "Pop"), Audio Day Dream features production from Mike Elizondo (Maroon 5), S*A*M & Sluggo and J.R. Rotem, best known for Rihanna's "SOS."
The latter teamed with Lewis on "What'cha Got 2 Lose," co-written by fellow "Idol" finalist Chris Richardson. "We wrote it in 45 minutes on a tour bus," Lewis says. "I brought it to J.R. and he killed it. That one's my baby on the record. A true co-produced song. And it's fun, sexy and way different."
The tune opens with Lewis' signature beatboxing, which is sprinkled throughout the album and is showcased on "Bshorty Grabs the Mic!," named after Blake's pre-"Idol" hip-hop alias.
Other highlights include the epic club ballad "End of the World," the break-up anthem "How Many Words" and the Lupe Fiasco collaboration "Know My Name," which Blake admits is an homage to Natalie Portman. "Everybody has a celebrity crush and that was the concept," he smiles.
Audio Day Dream begins with an intro titled "Silence Is Golden ..." and ends with the outro "... I Choose Noise." Together, it's the mantra Lewis lives by.
"I've always been attracted to noise, even as a kid," he says. "I was obsessed with 'Mork and Mindy' because Robin Williams did so many sound effects when he was talking. I even love an annoying racket, especially if there's something rhythmic about it. You can beat-box to a car alarm."
Blake got both his love for music and rebel instincts from his mother, who ran away from home at 15 to pursue a singing career. He got into hip-hop as a kid through Rob Base and Fresh Prince cassettes and moved into grunge in junior high before discovering electronic music through "The Saint" soundtrack (with Moby and Orbital).
After learning piano and saxophone, he eventually began doing musicals and singing in choirs and a cappella groups, where he honed his skills beat-boxing. When he auditioned for "Idol" on a whim (he had never seen the show) the judges insisted he showcase his human turntable skills. He complied, beat-boxing through Seal's "Crazy." But then Blake made a request. He wanted to also sing Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning," which hadn't been cleared by the publisher, so he boldly said, "Turn off the cameras and let me sing it anyway." And thankfully they did.