Stewart Lewis concert
With guest comedian Lizz Furtado
Thursday at 7 p.m.
Busboys and Poets (14th and V, N.W.)
Tickets: $10 at the door
Nobody moves to Washington hoping to take their singing career to new heights, so what led singer/songwriter Stewart Lewis here from New York?
You guessed it.
“It was for love basically,” he says. “My partner has a super super high powered job and they transferred him here from New York … He runs six radio stations as a market manager for CBS Radio.”
Lewis and his partner of five-plus years, Steve Swenson, moved to 14th Street N.W. about a month ago. Lewis, who’s released four albums and two EPs since 1995, grew up in a musical family in Boston — he calls his parents “kind of hippie/bluegrass” — and is used to relocating. Prior to his six years in New York, he spent four in Los Angeles and was in Colorado before that. He plays his first concert as a D.C. resident Thursday at Busboys and Poets.
Of D.C., he says the relocation was “like not really an option, but I’m really excited about it. We can live like kings here for what we paid in New York. It’s a nice change. A little less gritty than New York.”
Lewis agrees his music is mostly in the folk-pop vein and says his lyrics are mostly optimistic, a reflection of his personality.
“I guess you could say I’m kind of a romantic and hopeful person by nature,” he says. “Occasionally some yearning seeps in and I guess you could say there’s a little more of a darker side with some of that, but basically it’s jut about telling a story. It’s a tricky thing because you never want to be too literal because you want to have people relate to it, but you also want to be suggestive enough to interest them and have something that will resonate without hitting them over the head.”
A theater major in college, Lewis says now he’s “really not that great an actor.” After a short stint on “Guiding Light” in 1993, he decided to pursue music. He had early success opening in the ‘90s for acts like Sheryl Crow, Ani DiFranco, Shawn Colvin and Paula Cole. He also had early songs placed on shows like “Dawson’s Creek,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “Party of Five” and “Biggest Loser.” His 2008 album “In Formation” was a short-lived deal with here! Tunes, a Regent Media (The Advocate, Out magazines), he says was a bizarre experience.
“They’re a little creepy,” he says. “I think it did OK. Basically they spent a shit load of money making it and paid me a shit load of money but then they didn’t really get behind it. It just shows how messed up they are.”
Though he’s had reasonable success marketing himself as an openly gay singer, a parallel career as an author — he has three books to his credit — convinced him to branch out into the mainstream. After two books with gay publisher Alyson Books, he secured an agent and got his latest work, the young adult-aimed novel “You Have Seven Messages,” out through Random House.
“Basically I think the LGBT community is pretty responsive to out singers, but I did make a conscious decision not to have a writing career writing gay beach reads. The gay section is in the danky basement of the bookstore and there’s no money in it. I want to reach the masses, so in that regard I’ve definitely chosen to go this route with the books.”
Stewart thinks he’s close enough to New York that he’ll still be able to get there as often as his singing career demands. A bigger challenge will be spending regular time with his 5-year-old daughter, Rowan, who lives in Boston with her mother, a fan-turned-friend of Stewart’s who volunteered her services to help him realize his dream of being a parent (“We went the turkey baster route,” he says with a laugh).
Lewis has played D.C. a couple times before. He did a show at Iota and another somewhere he can’t remember (“some red-and-black dive bar”). He plans a 45-to-60-minute set in Busboys’ listening room with his friend Lizz Furtado opening for him with standup.
He says Busboys should be conducive to his introspective music.
“They do serve food and there are people buzzing around but this is kind of a separate room that’s geared around a stage so I think it will be good,” he says. “I’ve played those kind of places where you’re in some random bar in the corner and that’s kind of harrowing, but I think this will be a pretty rapt audience. That’s when I can pull them in and work my magic.”