I just posted my weekly “Idol” wrap-up yesterday when I got an offer to talk to “American Idol” season 9 winner Lee DeWyze, appearing at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur Thursday, March 30 at 9:30 p.m. (Tickets here.)
While I admit I was a Crystal Bowersox fan at the time of the show, I have to give props to DeWyze seven years later. He has found his niche as a talented songwriter, placing his melancholy, atmospheric songs on TV shows such as AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” USA’s “Suits, CBS’s “Elementary” and Freeform’s “The Fosters.”
“I truly believe that the radio of our generation is television and movies and things like that,” DeWyze said this afternoon from his home in Los Angeles, where has has lived since he won “Idol” seven years ago.
“The Walking Dead,” shot in metro Atlanta, was a breakthrough moment for DeWyze’s writing career. He was already a fan of the show when he felt inspired to write “Blackbird’s Song.” He was thinking quite a bit about Daryl Dixon, the brooding, telegenic hero of the show, and Herschel, the skeptical veterinarian who became a father figure to everyone before dying a gruesome death.
DeWyze sent it to show producers on a whim, not expecting any real response. Surprise! They not only used his song but also made it a centerpiece of an episode season four featuring Bob Stookey.
“It was almost like a music video,” he said. “They were so connected to it, they edited the show around the song. It became Bob’s anthem. That’s really cool. It received six million plays on YouTube, two million on Spotify without any promotion or radio airplay. It opened doors for me.”
“I was able to prove I was a songwriter that happened to win ‘American Idol,’ not an ‘American Idol’ winner how became a songwriter,” he added. “I also began picking up a different audience and expanded people’s perceptions of me.”
Besides “The Walking Dead,” DeWyze’s other key connection to metro Atlanta is Eddie’s Attic. At age 17 in 2004, he traveled from his home in Chicago to compete in an open-mic competition there and much to his surprise, he came in second.
“It really means something to play there,” he said. “I was just 17. People went crazy. I remember that being such an awesome moment for me.”
He has performed there several times since his “Idol” win. “Whenever I go back, it’s like a time warp,” he said. “The place is truly made for music. It’s not a bar where they play music. It’s a music venue that serves drinks.” (His favorite drink, by the way is Jameson Irish Whiskey, which he might sip on stage Thursday night.)
DeWyze talked at length about why his songs tend to be so moody and emotional going back to when he was a young child listening to his dad’s Cat Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel CDs and first grasping the meanings of the songs. His dad owned an acoustic guitar and at age 13, DeWyze asked if he could learn how to play it.
Using some basic lesson books (but no actual lessons since they were not a wealthy family), he learned to play the guitar. The first song he finger picked: “Homeward Bound” by Simon & Garfunkel. (It’s no coincidence he performed “The Boxer” on “American Idol.”)
He said he tends to write best when he’s in his darkest spaces, which may be why his songs tend to go down that direction. Even the song titles are hardly the titles for happy party tunes: “Weight,” “Oil & Water,” “Paranoia,” “The Breakdown.”
“People can really connect to my music,” he said. “I try to write in a way that’s very ambiguous. Take my song ‘Stone.’ You could take it as someone who just lost a relationship or perhaps lost a friend or a family member. The core is that emotionality.”
He also loves harmonies, again, going back to Simon & Garfunkel, and later Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio. When recording his own tunes, he’ll create three-part harmonies by himself.
While live, he just loves bringing the emotion out. “You want to deliver a lyric and make the listener believe it too. It makes them feel a part of it,” DeWyze said.
Getting back to “The Walking Dead,” he said he’s been so busy he’s several episodes behind. But he is planning to binge watch the second half of the season in time to watch the finale after a show on Sunday night.