From Kanye to Bowie to Bob Dylan, the duo pulls inspiration from everything. We talked to them.
Lewis Del Mar shot by Daniel Topete
Danny Miller and Max Harwood won't tell me the name of their old band. "It's irrelevant," they say, explaining the blues-rock-garage trio they toured around the country with in a van, sleeping on floors and "gaining fans one by one." This isn't a diss—in fact, without the band, they admit that they never would've gotten to Lewis Del Mar, the percussive, clattering, salty-and-sweet collaboration that nabbed them dozens of record deal offers after releasing just one song on the internet. By saying the name of the band was irrelevant, they're not discounting their work; they're simply saying that even after playing 100 shows in a year, they never made a name for themselves to begin with.
"We were turning the wheels hard, but we weren't working very smart," Danny says. It's Lewis Del Mar's first interview ever, and they're both sitting across from me at a bar on the Lower East Side. Max drinks a Brooklyn Pilsner; Danny sips on red wine (they didn't have any Tecate, unfortunately). When they speak, it's almost as they're one person (cheesily enough), building off each other's thoughts, patiently allowing the other to speak, respective of each other's views. Two years ago, they moved from their native Washington, D.C., to Rockaway Beach to focus on music—the product being the beats-driven, sample-heavy, bold-voiced mix of electronic and acoustic sounds found on their EP (out on Friday on Columbia). The EP includes "Loud(y)," "Wave(s)," "Memories," and the track Noisey is premiering today, "Malt Liquor."
Lewis Del Mar took the Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque electric guitar solos out of their music and thrust an acoustic guitar in Danny's hands. "From having known Dan all my life, he's always started with acoustic guitar," Max said. "And if that's where you naturally gravitate towards, there's probably a reason for that. It makes sense. I was like, put down the electric guitar. If that's not you, let's not do it."
It had Max evolving his role as a drummer into someone who walked around New York City, hunting down sounds on his recorder so he could take them back to their Rockaway bungalow to chop it up and create a new beat. They take their inspiration from anything and everything—namely Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, David Bowie, J Dilla and Madlib. For two years, Danny and Max would create Lewis Del Mar while working as barbacks or waiters, using the grind of the city to influence the industrial feel on their EP. In turn, the Atlantic Ocean a block away from their house flooded into their music as well, washing away any harshness and persuading them to stick to their acoustic roots.
"It was one of those things where it was the best and worst time of our life," Danny said. "You know, Max and I were out in Rockaway keying into something that was deeply personal and expressing a lot of things in, what we thought was, the right way for the first time in our lives. And then you get off of this rush of doing that in the morning and you like literally work until you can't stand up anymore."
But it paid off. As soon as "Loud(y)" hit the Internet in 2015, they were overwhelmed with emails. Their debut show at Mercury Loung nearly sold out, as did the Rough Trade gig that followed. The track now has 300k plus streams on SoundCloud. It rose to #1 on Hype Machine and got a spin from Beats 1. "We didn't push for it to be there; people just wanted to play it," they said. They even got a shout-out from the New York Times, but still, until now, no one knew who these guys were.
Danny pours me some water, showing off his former food service skills but also nearly catching his sleeve on the candle flame. We do a goofy bit about how igniting himself would've been a great way to open this article. It would've been a real fire move. Then we launch into the story of how Danny and Max met when they were nine-years-old.
"I used to sneak into Max's classroom," Danny said. "He was my only friend. His fourth grade teacher was like this really gorgeous woman that everybody had their first crush on."
They started collaborating on music in sixth grade and played in bands throughout high school. After returning home from college, they linked up again to tour with their soul rock trio. That was, until they took a step back and realized that jam rock wasn't the type of music that suited them.
"The end goal was to make the music that only Max and I could make," Danny said. "We've been doing this together for so long our minds have become this strange extension of each other's."
The name Lewis Del Mar can be broken down in a few slices—Lewis is the name of both their fathers. They used the Western spelling and paired it with the Spanish "del mar"—"from the sea"—an homage to Danny's father's hometown on the Caribbean in Nicaragua and their current home base on Rockaway Beach. The duality of the moniker mirrors the two-sided industrial/natural, electronic/acoustic theme that runs through their work.
"Our fathers are from such different worlds, but they had these sons that came together in a different generation, and we're not only best friends, but we're making this piece of art that's one cohesive idea," Danny said.
The photos they used for their single artwork are pictures they took in Nicaragua and Panama, where Max's parents live. They painted a red stripe and a gold stripe over each photo—again, mixing their media with paint and photography. Their music blends genres do just the same—stirring together Latin flavors with hip-hop ones and sprinkling in a little alt-rock, producing compositions that have been compared to alt-J and Foals.
"We're trying to foster a global music community where everyone experiences innovation at the same time. The internet makes that easier than ever," Danny said. "We don't just want to be an American band."
They hope to have an album out in 2016—they already have enough material—and turn Lewis Del Mar into a career. In fact, it's no longer a choice. "Dan and I are making music no matter what happens," Max said.
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