Singer/songwriter Paige Lewis’s career path started with Christian pop music. But it won’t end there.
by Nancy Ford • Photo by Zach McNair, background photo by Nancy Ford
Over the years, three major traditions have emerged from within our community’s live music scene: the attractive gay man who croons show tunes, the sparkly straight woman who builds her fan base in the gay dance clubs, and the guitar-strapped lesbian singer/songwriter.
As the sun went down the Friday night before Houston’s 2011 June Pride parade and festival, four guitar-strapped lesbian singer/songwriters gathered on the rooftop lounge of EVO, the Bayou City’s newest downtown gathering spot for lesbians. A small but attentive audience listened to Angie McKutcheon, Sarah Golden, and Victoria Love as they took turns at the microphone performing cover tunes and original songs, the sound wafting past the bar, over the rail, beyond the seasonally appropriate rainbow flag waving from the balcony, and down Milam Street. Lesbian couples in their 20s and 30s cooed at the tall tables under the umbrellas, enjoying their longneck beers and shots; older women in their 40s and 50s lounged with their cocktails on the outdoor couches in singles and pairs. All were caught up in the acoustic, generations-old rite that continues with blockbuster women’s music events like the Michigan Women’s Music Festival and the National Women’s Festival in Wisconsin.
Also an that pre-Pride event at EVO was Paige Lewis. Though merely 26 years old, Lewis is a veteran of the scene, having won an ASCAP songwriting award in 2002 for penning the Christian pop tune, “I’m All Yours,” after moving as a teen to Nashville. A stint in Los Angeles resulted in the Katy native’s second independently produced album, The Best Thing, spawning two tracks that were included in the soundtrack for Nicholas Cage’s 2003 feature film, Matchstick Men.
Then she picked up a marketing degree from the Texas Creative program at University of Texas–Austin. Busy gal, this young lesbian-with-a-guitar.
Doing her best to break out of that stereotype, Lewis books as many dates in “straight” clubs as in the “gay” clubs. Also armed with an inventory of more than 100 original songs, Paige presents her “Acoustic Radio” cover-tunes show each Sunday evening on The Usual’s outdoor stage, providing a weekly lesbian mini-fest; during the week she performs at Sherlock’s, Baker Street Pubs, and other venues.
Shortly after the Mucky Duck release party of her fourth CD, One Good Day, Paige Lewis talked to OutSmart about her craft, her community, and the challenges of combining the two.
Nancy Ford: I didn’t realize that you’re also a pianist.
Paige Lewis: I am! In fact, that was my first instrument. My mom didn’t force me [laughs] but strongly encouraged me when I was about five.
Who would you say are your musical influences?
You know, it’s not a certain style I like. It’s all about songs—really well-written songs. Seal, whom I think is amazing, is an awesome writer. I’m a huge fan of Imogen Heap. Also Elliot Smith. I just really enjoy music, overall. If it’s a great song, it’s a great song.
What is your favorite cover to play?
For some reason, I enjoy the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps.”
[Both laugh] It is kind of unexpected!
It’s very unexpected! But you know, you’ve got to not take yourself so seriously sometimes.
Tell me the Matchstick Men story. That must have been exciting.
Well, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 18 to try to find a music deal that wasn’t in Christian music. I kind of wanted to branch out . . .
To Buddhism? To Mormonism?
[Both laugh] Yes, to Mormonism. It’s a much bigger community!
I was out in L.A., and I had some new songs that I was recording with a couple of producers out there. Basically, long story short, a music supervisor who was working on Matchstick Men got hold of my demo CD. He had been placing some of my songs in the movie, kind of as filler while he was working on it, but then they ended up choosing them. So it was kind of random.
I think living in a city like that where everybody’s in the industry and stuff, your odds of cool stuff happening increases.
Absolutely. Do you have a songwriting ritual?
When I write, I don’t sit down and write lyrics, then try to put music to it, or anything like that. It’s, kind of, this moment that happens all at once. Usually, if I’m feeling like I want to write, I just pick up my guitar and bring myself to a calm place, start playing, and just see what comes out. A lot of times I’ll start a song, but it will be a long time before I end up finishing it because I’m not quite ready. In fact, my song “It Goes On”—I started writing that like seven years ago. I just finished.
How appropriate, considering the title.
The first verse was written in a completely different place in my life. Then the second verse is what I couldn’t come up with for the longest time, and I just kind of abandoned it. When I started making this record, I was finally able to finish it.
What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever written a song?
I know the answer to that. It was when I was in high school. I was in Spanish class taking a test, and I wrote one of the songs on my album.
[Both laugh] While taking the test?
While taking the test.
What did you get on the test?
Probably a horrible grade! I do not remember.
Did you find a problem being a lesbian versus doing Christian music? Did that have any influence on your breaking away from Nashville and perhaps from Christian music, and moving to L.A.?
At the time, I couldn’t necessarily blame that specifically, because at that time I was sort of unaware of that about myself [being a lesbian]. There were definitely a lot of things I found to be really hypocritical in that industry overall, and that in itself drove me away. But I do think, subconsciously, that had something to do with it. In the following couple of years I discovered that [I am a lesbian], and definitely felt like if nothing else alienated me from that industry, that definitely would. So yes, I would say that it had something to do with it, but I wouldn’t blame it completely.
I’ve had great experiences in other places, and maybe I’ll move back again sometime, but my family is here [in Houston], I have a lot of friends here. I’ve discovered that any city is about what you make of it. It’s not about the city, it’s about the people and what you’re doing and if you’re loving what you’re doing there. This just feels like home.
OutSmart is an LGBT magazine, as you know, so our lesbian readers are going to want to know: how’s your love life?
[Hesitates, then laughs] Well, I am actually recently single.
That tells us there will be lots of new material coming, then!
[Laughs harder] I’m sure there will!
Speaking not only as a musician but also as someone who has a degree in marketing, why do you think that success in this business seems to be as much about the package as about the content, if not more so? Do you experience that?
Oh definitely, definitely. Part of my big reason for studying advertising was, if music doesn’t work out, I think I would enjoy it. But at the same time, I know I’m going to be able to use this for my music. And I have been able to. It’s really hard for me to look at myself as a product, but that’s really the deal. And it sucks. I don’t like that, because I’m very connected to the meaning of my music, and the integrity of the song and words.
It’s just so important to stay true to what you know fits you.
When you’re onstage, what do you want people to know about you?
I feel like [it’s important] to open yourself up to being in front of as many people that will allow you to play for them. It’s an interesting challenge. But I just feel . . . I don’t judge people. I don’t treat people in any way other than assuming the best of them. I feel like it’s really a positive thing to kind of get out here for everybody and not limit the potential for things.
Then you don’t feel limited by the lesbian-with-a-guitar thing?
Exactly, because I’m much more than that. Everyone is much more than a label. I feel like I know what I want and I believe in my music, and there’s no reason why I need to limit that in any way.
Okay then, when you’re onstage, what don’t you want people to know about you?
[Laughs] Why would I tell you that?
Paige Lewis’s CDs and concert dates are available at www.thepaige.com.