Tyler Lewis: the scene-stealing R&B star with a timeless voice (2024)

Tyler Lewis is among those who feel most inspired at home. But if home isn’t an option, an equally cosy setting will suffice. The songwriter’s Ealing recording studio, where we’re chatting on a bright summer day, embodies this perfectly. Dimly lit and purple-hued, it’s filled with personal touches Lewis has added over the past year or so. “The lamp, the flowers, the candle… it’s all very much me,” she beams, gesturing around the space.

Much of the rising star’s forthcoming debut EP ‘Wait ‘Til She Gets Her Heart Broken’ was recorded in this “celebration”-scented sanctuary. The warmth and familiarity of the studio mirror the EP’s vibe; it’s a gorgeous blend of old and new, where the diaristic songwriting of Gen Z collides with a mature R&B and soul sensibility. There are subtle nods to Lewis’ musical faves, like Luther Vandross and Brian McKnight, and instrumentals inspired by the energy of Aaliyah or Janet Jackson.

On the surface, Lewis sounds wiser than her 23 years, her voice packed with raw power and her delivery brilliantly commanding. But listen a little closer and the EP unveils a distinctly youthful perspective, as she sings about romantic naivety, navigating the painful complexities of unrequited crushes, and preferring the solace of home to parties (“eating and watching Gilmore Girls” is her idea of a good, chilled time).

The project feels long-awaited for Lewis, who grew up not too far from this studio in Hayes, west London. Lewis first garnered attention with a series of covers shared to her socials during her school days. These videos caught the eye of a BBC talent scout, leading to her appearance on Little Mix: The Search – a 2020 singing contest devised by the UK girl group. Lewis’ audition performance of Mariah Carey’s ‘Circles’ brought Perrie Edwards to tears and enticed new fans into her orbit – including illustrious artist and producer MNEK, who’s championed her ever since (Lewis is the first artist to release on his MUZO BY UZO label).

In the days before our studio sit-down, she stepped out to support Little Mix’s Leigh-Anne at a sold-out gig at London’s Lafayette; Lewis has previously opened for the likes of Kiana Ledé and sung at R&B showcase event Mahalia Presents. Her first ‘proper’ live performance took place at the famed Ronnie Scott’s in 2022 – this, she recalls, was particularly nerve-wracking. She still gets jitters today, but truly revels in the exhilaration she feels on stage. Now that she has her own music to perform, this enthusiasm has amped up tenfold. Even in conversation, you can feel her excitement.

Here, Lewis reflects on the sounds and stories that shaped the new EP, and shares her hopes for the future.

NME: When did you discover your voice?

“I was always singing at home, but one day I came back from primary school and told my mum there was going to be a talent contest. I thought it sounded fun but I was more excited to see other people do their thing. It was my mum who said: “Why don’t you sing?”. We rehearsed together; I sang Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’. I won the contest which was a huge deal back then. That’s when I realised how fun it was. If you sing at school, you become known as ‘the singer’ and when I went into secondary school, I just carried that on. If there were auditions for the musical, I’d do it – even if I was in the back. I was just excited to perform.”

Speaking of contests, how did you feel on Little Mix: The Search? What was that experience like for you?

“I was working as a receptionist at a hotel [at the time] and I’d just finished volunteering on a farm. [Little Mix: The Search] felt like a one-in-a-lifetime thing to do. It was my first experience of anything to do with music and that’s when I realised how competitive it was. By the time I came out of that, I’d experienced so much.”

Tyler Lewis: the scene-stealing R&B star with a timeless voice (1)

There’s a song on your debut EP called ‘Never Been in Love’ that feels so honest. How was it writing –and now sharing –something like that?

“When it came to writing about love, I had zero experience. In school, everyone around [me] was in relationships and I just never did that stuff. So I was like, I could technically write about it and base it on a character in a film that I love or something, but then I’m going to sing it and have no story. There would be nothing I could relate it to. Writing ‘Never Been in Love’ was like writing in a diary. It felt quite easy, especially with the room of people I work with; I can be myself with them. I think that’s why the EP was written slightly later, with the right people, because I was comfortable enough to chat about anything.”

What’s been inspiring you sonically during the creation of this project?

“With [my song] ‘Eventually’, I remember saying: ‘I want something raw that I can really sing to’. When I listen to Jazmine Sullivan, I feel like, ‘Oh my god, she’s just singing’ and it feels so raw – I feel like that was an inspiration for that song. And when I listen to Brandy, I love how soft she sounds sometimes; I feel like that applies to ‘Downtime’. [Elsewhere], on a song like ‘So Amazing’ by Luther Vandross, when it gets to the bit where there’s a little bassline change, every time – no matter how many times I’ve listened to it – I’m waiting for it. That’s what I’ve been trying to put into all the songs. Those are the bits you latch onto.”

On ‘Downtime’ you sing about wanting to leave a party you never really planned to attend in the first place. What’s the worst party you’ve ever been to?

“It was when I was in college. It was at the stage where everyone just wanted to be crazy. Whereas I remember sitting in a chair in the corner of the room just watching everyone, thinking, ‘This could never be me’. I’m just like stroking the cat, and chilling in the corner eating…”

Tyler Lewis: the scene-stealing R&B star with a timeless voice (2)

What do you want people to remember your music for?

“I just want it to be timeless. So even in 10 years, people say: ‘Oh my god, that song you wrote 10 years ago is so great, I still listen to it’. It’s easy in this day and age to listen to 30 seconds of a song and be done with it, or get over it when the next song comes along. But I want [my songs] to be classics that people move from each playlist as they grow up.”

Could that be part of the reason you’ve honed in on this more classic –but still contemporary – R&B sound, that many may already associate with being timeless?

“100 percent. I feel like even with TikTok, it’s such a huge thing and everyone’s goal is to go viral. But then even firsthand when I was doing covers, I would see how quickly the support comes in but then it goes; the highs and the [lows]. As soon as you’re back to where you started, it’s like, ‘This is horrible’. With my music, I just want to be so constant.”

Tyler Lewis’ ‘Wait ‘Til She Gets Her Heart Broken’ EP will be released on 31 July via MUZO BY UZO

Tyler Lewis: the scene-stealing R&B star with a timeless voice (2024)
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