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Lee DeWyze on songs, TV shows, and the 16th season of ‘Idol’


Television is nothing new for singer-songwriter Lee DeWyze, who won “American Idol” back in 2010. Now, eight years later, DeWyze’s career is catching a second wave, and again it’s thanks to TV. After landing the brooding “Blackbird Song” on “The Walking Dead,” which earned him over 6 million streams on Spotify, the Chicago-based singer-songwriter has lent tunes to a bunch of shows, from “Shameless” to “Elementary” to “Nashville.” Ahead of his new album, “Paranoia,” which comes out Friday, and his show at Somerville’s Once Ballroom Sunday, we chatted with DeWyze.

Q. Your last record, “Oil and Water,” was more rootsy and acoustic-driven, while your new single “The Breakdown” is more ambient and electronic. What inspired the shift in sound?

A. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve put out plenty of albums from when I was younger to now. You never want to get bored with what you’re doing, and you never want to get too comfortable either. It was just a matter of wanting to step outside of what I normally do in the studio, but also still keeping it “me,” and the vibe of the record started coming to life on its own. It wasn’t like, “Hey, let’s go in the studio and make some electronic, spacious album.” It was more like I was in the studio writing for the sake of writing and figuring it out in real time. It was really an amazing experience working on this album because it felt so organic.

Q. You’ve obviously had an intertwined relationship with TV, from “Idol” to your many song placements on shows. How important do you think visual media are for musicians working today in relation to the usual modes of distribution (i.e. radio, streaming, etc.)?

A. There’s so much visual media out there, and I feel like for someone like me, TV and movies serve the same purpose that radio serves for other artists. I feel that the music I write is very honest and allows people to connect, so I think it lends itself well to visual media. I think there’s a greater element of discovery with hearing a song in a show or a movie or even a commercial, and it really has been a great platform to get people to hear my music, from “American Idol” all the way to “The Walking Dead.” It’s helped broaden the spectrum of my fans, so that’s been a really exciting thing.

Q. Any movies/TV shows you’d love to see your music featured in?

A. If I had to pick from the shows I love right now, I’m a huge fan of “Westworld.” There’s some great shows out there, but that’s one that I’m really drawn to.

Q. What’s it been like to navigate your career post-“Idol”?

A. It’s an interesting thing, because I never look back and regret my time on “American Idol,” and I never would. Some of the best parts of it were obviously the fans that came from that show, and being able to just get out there like that, it’s unlike anything else. But I was never like, “Hey, I won ‘American Idol’ and I’m going to ride this wave until I’m 75 years old.” It was always important to me after the show to make sure that I write my own music. That’s who I am, I can’t give that side of me up, and I really wanted to show people what I can do. It’s so hard to wrap up in a statement, but I will say “American Idol” was an amazing opportunity for me. I’m forever grateful, but at this point in my career, it’s not something I think about as much. I’m more focused on just making my music and enjoying it. I do it for the fans, I do it for myself, and it’s what I love.

Q. Thoughts on “Idol” being revived for a 16th season on ABC?

A. Sixteen seasons . . . wow, that’s crazy. I hope that the show focuses more on the artistry of the contestants than they do on the judges, if that makes sense. The judges all have careers; they’re established. The show is really about these young individuals who want to do this for the rest of their lives, and the show is a platform for them to start a career. So if they maintain focus on that aspect, it will be a really good thing.