Categories Album Mission Creep Interviews Music Tour Dates

Damian Lewis Fits His Rock Career Around Being a Solo Parent

Hit Me Baby One More Time

by Alex Spencer | Cambridge Independent | March 8, 2024

Hollywood actor Damian Lewis has discovered a surprising extra benefit to his new sideline as a rock singer.

“Turns out the life of a rock star is getting home and cooking dinner for your family. Who knew? That’s not what it said on the tin,” he reveals.

Damian, who has stayed close to home to look after his teenage children since the tragic death of his wife Helen McCrory from cancer, now has to consider carefully which projects he can take on.

Helen, best known for her starring roles in Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter, died in April 2021, aged 52. They had been married nearly 14 years and had two children, Manon and Gulliver.

Damian, star of Billions and Homeland, said: “I’m quite quite selective about what actual work I take because I’m a solo parent with two teenage kids. I can’t go away for a long time. I can’t go and make a movie for four months in Australia, for example, and so I’m trying to take work that fits in with family life. And music, oddly, it actually fits better. That’s a happy happenstance. It’s not the reason I’m doing it.

“The reason I’m doing it is because I’m loving it and really enjoying it. But it does actually fit in, unless I was to get on a bus and go to American for four months; but doing a 15-date tour in the UK and being able to get home most nights is doable.”

Damian began writing the songs during lockdown, when Helen was ill. “They’re quite a personal collection of songs,” he says.

“Many people will know that I lost my wife about three years ago. This album was written in that time. So inevitably, there’s a reflection of that time in the songs. One or two of the songs are, undeniably, just directly about Helen.

“The rest of it is storytelling. I like storytelling through songs. Little short stories about events, either imagined or real.”

He explains: “The very first song I wrote was She Comes. That’s sort of the anthem of the album. That was the one that came out and just sort of flowed.”

He has never discussed which songs on the album are about Helen, but the words of She Comes seem to be speaking of his grief:

“She’s the breeze, she’s the sun

“She’s the reason it was fun

“The laughing rain

“She’s the wind and the storm

“What I sheltered from

“She’s my joy, she’s my pain

“And she rained on me.”

Damian says: “I’ve never sung my own songs before. My own songs were always drivel, I thought. I’ve torn up or burned most of the songs I wrote. But, I don’t know, maybe being a bit older, having lived a bit more so I had more to say, it felt quite natural when I sat down to write songs this time, and enjoyable. So something shifted. But I really enjoyed writing my own songs.

“I had to be encouraged a bit because we started out thinking let’s do a sort of covers / swing-jazz type (of album). But it very quickly became apparent that that’s not what I was about, and wanted to write my own stuff that was not swing jazz. And Mission Creep is the result of that.”

Although he had busked his way around Europe as a teenager and enjoyed singing and playing music at home, Damian had not made any serious moves to include music as an extra strand to his career until he was approached by music producer Steve Abbott.

“I was thinking of doing a musical in the West End and I went on Joe Stilgoe’s BBC jazz show a few years back, singing jazz standards on the show. Steve Abbott was in the audience, and Steve’s a manager and he came up to me and said, ‘You can do this a bit. Do you fancy recording some stuff?’ That’s really the genesis of the whole thing. It sort of came to me rather than me seeking it out, and we didn’t do anything for five years because I went off and made Billions in New York.

“Then, in lockdown, I was noodling around and we got back in touch. And he introduced me to a bunch of really wonderful young musicians here in London, and we started playing music together. Everything sort of happened incrementally by accident. I wasn’t planning on releasing a record, I wasn’t planning on getting a record label, etc, etc but everything just had a very natural flow to it. I was writing songs. We had a record. Then we had a tour. And here we are. Having a good time.”

Having first announced his plans to record and release his debut album back in 2022, Damian performed a series of sold-out shows across London and made festival appearances at Wilderness and Black Deer Festival to acclaim from the likes of The Times and The Telegraph, before heading into the recording studio to put the finishing touches to Mission Creep.

Once the songs were complete, Lewis presented them to his friend Giacomo Smith, one of today’s most exciting jazz musicians. Smith liked what he heard and gave Lewis all the encouragement he needed, offering to produce the album. Led by Lewis, the pair then set about putting a band together, with Smith introducing Lewis to an array of brilliant musicians, many of whom had played with Smith in the hugely loved and admired Kansas Smitty’s House Band.

Damian is coming to Cambridge Junction later this month with his band to play songs from his album, and to try out some new tunes he has written. His distinctive gravelly voice lends itself to rock, blues and jazz, and he plays guitar. His UK tour began last year and he has already had some amusing exploits.

“There was quite a rowdy crowd up at Band on the Wall in Manchester. We played a very good gig there. There were two or three ladies down the front who had hit the bar beforehand and spent most of the gig requesting Hit Me Baby One More Time by Britney Spears. So that was quite entertaining.”

“Hit Me Baby One More Time, Damian,” he says, in a convincing Leeds accent.

“That was quite a fun conversation with her for most of the gig. I thought maybe she’d come to the wrong gig if she wanted a Britney cover. But anyway, she had a good time. And yeah, the gigs have all been really fun in their own ways.”

He must have quite a lot of vocal fans who turn up to gigs to see him?

“I have a very loyal group of ladies who come from afar and follow me and they’re fantastic. And they show me a lot of support, and love. Yeah, they’re great. And I’m always very glad to see them,” he says.

Ask him who his influences are on the album and, clearly a huge music fan, Damian will reel off a long list. “It has a bit of Elvis on there. A bit of T Rex. There’s a bit of there’s some jazz there. Absolutely. And actually, the musicians that I play with in my band are all conservatoire-trained jazz musicians. So they play all music, they rock and roll too, but they’ve all got that jazz influence, so they can always bring that when we want. I’m a big fan of Steely Dan. And then there’s singer songwriters like John Martyn, Nick Drake, Donovan, those sorts of people. Those sorts of sounds are in there, as well.”

The experience of singing his own songs could be seen as more exposing than playing a part written for him by someone else, but Damian doesn’t agree.

He says: “People have asked if it’s more nerve-wracking having written and recorded something yourself than, for example, opening a play in the West End, but that is still the most nerve-wracking thing I do. The fact that you’re an interpreter as an actor in a play, interpreting with a director and production designers and your fellow actors, etc, doesn’t make it less nerve-wracking.”

And the more he plays live music, the more comfortable Damian feels about his right to take centre stage as a musician.

“I’ve always sung. I suppose I made a decision to be an actor and I still take acting seriously. I love it very much. And I think probably I separated a little bit from my musical self ,concentrating on being a serious actor I suppose. That might have been a bit of a shame actually. But every now and again, I’ve popped up and done some musical things.

“I have been in a West End musical, Into the Woods, back in the day. I sung recently at the Sondheim tribute in the West End, which I loved doing. But I suppose I didn’t keep it up enough to have the confidence to call myself a singer, rather than an actor who sings a bit. But as this project goes on, the confidence has grown a little bit.

“I mean, I’ve done it instinctively and enjoy doing it so much that I haven’t stopped to think, ‘should I be doing this?’ too much. There hasn’t been a lot of self-doubt. There’s always a little bit of impostor syndrome as you’re around people who have been doing it for 25 years. But I enjoy the singing. I think I can sing. I’m growing in confidence every time we go on tour, every time I make a record. It just feels a bit more like you belong and that is something that you should be doing.”

Damian Lewis will be at Cambridge Junction on March 28. Visit junction.co.uk/events/damian-lewis for tickets, priced £30.

Ticket information for Damian’s UK Spring tour can be found here.  Order his debut album Mission Creep from his official music store here.

Read the rest of the original article at Cambridge Independent