Radio UTD’s Amanda Maceda catches up with Cameron Lew from Ginger Root, as they discuss touring, music inspiration, and 80s robots.
(Interview has been edited for Clarity)
Amanda Maceda: Hey y’all, this is Amanda and you’re listening to RadioUTD, either on our YouTube or if we’re streaming this later, post-recording. Right now we’re in the studio with—
Ginger Root: —Cameron [Lew] from Ginger Root.
GR: How are you?
AM: Pretty good. Sorry that it took a little bit of a kerfuffle to get you to the station.
GR: It’s all good. We’re here, we’re safe and sound, ready to go.
AM: Awesome. For our listeners who aren’t familiar with your work, how would you describe your sound?
GR: There’s a self-proclaimed genre of aggressive elevator soul. It’s “aggressive” at times because of dynamics, “elevator” at times also because of dynamics being a little laid-back, and “soul” because of the groove-oriented music that Ginger Root is inspired by.
AM: Do you have any specific groove-oriented artists that really inspired you? That, or a specific album or just your push overall to explore this genre.
GR: In the early days of Ginger Root, it was definitely inspired by a lot of stuff I grew up listening to, like stuff from Motown or Philly soul, Stax, and stuff like that. And also, around high school, I was listening to a lot of Japanese city-pop stuff and things from the late ‘70s, from that era. Yeah, kind of a fusion of things I listened to growing up, including more melodic stuff like Electric Light Orchestra or XTC and power-pop stuff.
AM: Nice. A hundred percent. I love the way you describe your music because I bop, I do little fistbumps. I can imagine myself in an elevator, just jamming.
GR: Yeah, just vibing out in an elevator. That’s the scene.
AM: It can be a little chaotic.
AM: So, this isn’t your first tour, right? Or is it?
GR: No, before the pandemic we were on the road for about two years straight, almost two years straight. We would be home for less time than we would be out playing shows and stuff. But this is our first run of shows back from, basically almost, a two-year hiatus, and so we’re really excited to just be in front of people. It’s been so long, like ninety percent of the set we’re playing now is all-new material, like stuff that came out in the past year and a half. So it’s kind of new in the sense of we’re kind of getting back into it, and also everything is new in terms of the material. But then also we feel back at home because we’re finally on stage again.
AM: That’s wonderful. I believe you played in Austin last night?
GR: We did. We played at Mohawk.
AM: How was that?
GR: You know, it was a lot of fun. We always had weird shows in Austin because it’s always been just for South by Southwest, so it’s just kind of a gamble. But this time was our first just show show and there were a lot of people there – more people there to see us than we were expecting, which was just super cool and we were super grateful for it and the crowd was really into it and it was overall just super fun.
AM: Awesome. Yeah, it’s probably been such a long time since you’ve had this road tour experience.
GR: Yeah, just being in front of people has been amazing to be able to do again, and it feels new but familiar. So just tons of fun, and super grateful.
AM: And with that, usually DJs like to talk about – our DJs like to talk about having this almost concert euphoria when you’re at a concert, but through the lens of an artist performing. Since you haven’t gotten to feel that in a while, could you maybe describe …?
GR: Yeah, absolutely. A good example is we did one or two live streams on our YouTube channel during the pandemic when we couldn’t play shows, and that was such a sterile environment, to be playing alone. Yeah, people were kind of watching, but not, because it was all through the internet. It was a very interesting experience, and to come in, especially last night and last weekend when we started the tour. Seeing all those people and getting real-time feedback from people watching and people listening has definitely been missed and it’s super exciting to be a part of that again and be able to do that again. Playing live music, there definitely is no comparison. There’s no substitution for it. So like I said, just super grateful to be back.
AM: And with that, I know it’s not the same as the live music scenes, by far not, but it is a good accommodation.
AM: Especially for people that haven’t been able to go to concerts at all, maybe?
AM: But, when it also comes to – outside of doing that, how else did you cope in terms of making sure you’re being able to fulfill yourself musically?
GR: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think a big part of it was because we were on the road so much I didn’t have time to write any new material or work on other parts of the band that weren’t that, so for a little while something that helped keep things going was having time to write freely and not really have a schedule in terms of – no expectations or no deadlines to meet in terms of when the next set of songs are going to come out or what they have to be. Just being able to write new music in that environment was a very interesting time and just interesting circumstances to be in. And now it’s been interesting to take those – because at the time of writing all that new material there weren’t any promises of live shows happening, so everything was written more as a studio setting in mind. So now trying to translate that is – there’s just three of us when we play, so only having six hands kind of makes it an interesting creative box to take those really studio-heavy songs and bring them live. How to translate that has been a fun, interesting challenge now. But through that time of a break period, what kept me going was being able to write and record and try out new instrumentations and all that stuff.
AM: By new instrumentations, were you the equivalent of people learning how to bake bread? Did you try to learn any new instruments?
GR: I bought a euphonium for a hot second. For myself, for Christmas. My embouchure’s really bad, apparently. But I haven’t really played since. I want to get back into it, but I guess my musical equivalent of baking bread was thinking I could play the euphonium, for some reason.
AM: Is it fully retired now?
GR: No, it’ll make a comeback. I think now since we’re back on the road I’ve had less time to think about it, but it would be really cool to maybe take a proper class this summer or something like that. But it’s not fully retired. It’s on the shelf right now, though.
AM: Okay. Keep that in mind, in case …
GR: Yeah, I might break that out live if I can get the confidence to play a note.
AM: That would be a fun encore.
GR: One of the songs, solo, euphonium-style. That would be crazy.
AM: Earlier you were talking about getting all these songs out and writing. So I would assume a lot of these ended up becoming City Slicker?
GR: Yeah, most of the record for Rikki, which was the album before City Slicker, was written before the pandemic. So that stuff actually existed, was supposed to come out, and then we just kept pushing it back because at that time we didn’t know if the world needed more music. I don’t know, we were kind of like ‘who cares?’ at that point. But for City Slicker, a lot of the songs during that time period that I mentioned before ended up being City Slicker, the stuff on there.
AM: And City Slicker released early, late August?
GR: Yeah, it’s about, I think, two months now. So pretty fresh, still.
AM: And can you tell us a little bit about the process of making that album? It seemed like there was a theme based on the Bandcamp description.
GR: I finally wanted to write something that wasn’t personally introspective. I wanted to create a character, and so I kind of went all out and I thought it would be really funny to write songs from the perspective of the main character from this fictional film called City Slicker and what he experiences through his life. Through those six songs, it’s the journey of his eyes from the people he knows, his friends, his love life, his interaction with his coworkers and colleagues and him, and just “who is the city slicker?” And the six songs portray a twenty-two-minute journey, or whatever, of who this dude is.
AM: So, I know you’ve come out with a few music videos. I kind of blast “Loretta” at a pretty good rate. Would you ever consider making a longer-length music video?
AM: Or a movie version.
GR: Yeah, I kind of tried to do that for this one, and I managed to do a music video for all six songs, which is definitely something I wanted to do, and build out this whole world. But definitely, I would love to make more long-form film narrative content in the future. Whether that’s attached to Ginger Root or not, that’s something that I’ve always wanted to try to tackle and when the time is right I definitely will try to do that.
AM: And with that, you’re just mentioning your other interests. How do you think your outside projects have influenced your music as it is today?
GR: My day job is, I’m a freelance video editor. I went to film school at Chapman, specifically as an editor. I always find it really interesting how there’s a rhythmic element to editing and there’s a rhythmic element, obviously, to music. And so, both of those influencing – the way I edit influences how I think about music and songwriting, and how I make music definitely influences how I edit too, so they are definitely tied in and attached to one another. So two creative endeavors definitely complement each other.
AM: That’s wonderful. And in terms of thinking long-term, in the future, tonight you’ll be playing in Fort Worth?
GR: Yes, correct.
AM: And then I think you have a few other concerts lined up.
GR: Yes, yeah.
AM: Until the end of the month, correct me if I’m wrong.
GR: Actually just the end of the week.
AM: End of the week! Wow, days going by.
GR: Going really fast.
AM: Have any Halloween plans?
GR: We actually might do a Livestream on Halloween. We did that for Rikki and we’re like, why not do it again? Because we couldn’t make it out to every city that we wanted to for this one because we’re just opening, and we’re attached to whatever the headliner’s doing. We’re like, let’s just do an unofficial City Slicker celebration. We wanted to do a real in-person show and a real tour, but just because of the circumstances it wasn’t possible, so at the very least we’re going to try to do something like that and do that fun. My middle-school dream of my YouTube channel passing a hundred thousand subscribers is probably going to happen this weekend, so that will also be a celebration event.
AM: You’re at ninety-nine point one, right? This morning.
GR: Yeah, this morning. So it’s closing in and I’m very excited.
AM: Hopefully by the time this interview comes out, maybe you’ll reach it. Or if not, maybe you’re only three away and your listeners can make some history, YouTube history.
GR: Yes, yes. Be a part of the action. Be a part of the silver plaque that’s awarded.
AM: And with that, in terms of both your YouTube channel and your music, what do our listeners and your fans, if they aren’t local and don’t listen to RadioUTD, what can they look forward to in the future?
GR: I think that’s the next thing to work on, is the new batch of songs. I mean, City Slicker just came out, and hopefully, everyone will enjoy it for the time being, as I try to figure out what to do next, and definitely. It’s not stopping anytime soon. We’re going out on tour in the spring again, we’ll be at South by Southwest, so we’ll be back in Texas and everything in March, and as of right now that’s what we have, but who knows what the future holds because City Slicker was just released, so you never know what opportunity’s going to come walking through the door.
AM: A hundred percent. I feel like it’s just going to keep going up. I can’t see how you wouldn’t make a YouTube hit. You create really wonderful videos and music.
GR: Thank you.
AM: It’s a whole vibe. It’s an experience. If there’s ever a City Slicker movie, I will be front row to watch that and maybe cosplay if there are cool-looking ‘80s robots.
GR: Amazing. We shall keep that in mind.
GR: There you go.
AM: Thank you so much for stopping by before your concert tonight.
GR: Thank you for having me.
(Interview conducted in October, 2021)
Listen to our Ginger Root interview on the Radio UTD Youtube Channel below!