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‘Idol’ winner Lee DeWyze brings emotional new album to Bradley
Posted Feb 7, 2018 at 10:39 AM
PEORIA — Lee DeWyze, who is most known for having won the ninth season of “American Idol,” has some conflicted feelings about the erstwhile hit reality show.
On the one hand, it helped launch his career and he’s grateful for the self-education he received while on the show. And he doesn’t regret even a moment spent on the show.
But the idea of crafting music in order to be judged by three people doesn’t jibe with how DeWyze feels about music — it’s an art form, not a competition to be won.
“It’s like entering your abstract art into a competition,” DeWyze said. “There will be people talking about technique and whatever. But maybe I just painted it this way because that’s how I was feeling.
“For me, I had to reverse engineer my career a little.”
He began his life as a musician, before appearing on “Idol,” not caring all that much about how he was singing and relying on raw emotion while performing. The complete opposite was true during his winning run on the show, and he’s spent the intervening years tracking back to those days when he was tapping into his emotions while playing.
DeWyze’s music doesn’t reflect the sensibilities of an “American Idol” contestant anymore, though, as he’s pushed and refined his sound. It’s evident in his new album, “Paranoia,” which will be released Feb. 16, a day after he performs at Bradley University.
The new songs possess a wider range of sounds, both instrumentally and from DeWyze’s voice. Traditionally, he employs a darker and lower register, almost a muted growl at times. But he explored his falsetto and higher ranges more often and paired it with an electric guitar and ambient sounds to create an expansive, ethereal soundscape. DeWyze has taken to describing it as “a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist.”
If you go
What: “American Idol” winner Lee DeWyze performing in The Coffeehouse Series by the Activities Council of Bradley University.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15.
Where: The Student Center Ballroom at the Michel Student Center, 915 N. Elmwood Ave.
Cost: Free. The show is for Bradley students but the general public won’t be turned away.
It’s certainly a departure from the simmering acoustic-driven songs he’s mostly been known for, such as “Blackbird Song,” which was featured on an episode of “The Walking Dead.”
In DeWyze’s telling, none of that was on purpose. He wasn’t even setting out to write a cohesive album at the start of crafting some of these songs.
“I wasn’t trying to make a record,” DeWyze said. “Then I started recognizing that there was something happening here, there’s a thing going on. And that’s when I started tying everything together.”
When it comes to a project, DeWyze prefers to have his hands in several aspects of his music. He has directed a few of his own music videos to some minor acclaim and released a video of himself performing a hushed version of the song “Paranoia” by candlelight in Mansfield, Ohio, at the Ohio State Reformatory Prison Chapel where “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed.
That movie and “Jurassic Park” are two of his favorite films, and he believes both owe a huge debt to the original scores that set the mood in each of the films. DeWyze views his own work in the same way with both the auditory and visual mediums combining together.
“If I’m working on something, I want to be a part of it in every way,” DeWyze said. “So I have these visions of what I want things to be for the music videos. When music can lend itself to a visual medium, it can really bring out a different emotion in that scene.”
He wrote “Blackbird Song” explicitly for “The Walking Dead” to use in an episode and he recently signed a deal with the company Songs to provide music for different projects. If anything, the new album should propel him to more opportunities given its movie soundtrack motif.
But for now, DeWyze is focused on hitting the road and performing the songs off his new album for audiences. The fans have been the one through-line for his career, from the steady Chicago audiences in his early career to the bigger crowds after his “American Idol” win, and he wants them to experience the emotional vulnerability of the new songs.
“The whole record is really about emotions and dealing with them,” DeWyze said. “I’m really excited for fans to hear it.”