Featured Interview – Veronica Lewis

Cover photo © 2023 Joseph A. Rosen

image“Because I started in the Blues I’m always going to keep that. But, I really consider myself a Roots player. I think bringing that joy and spontaneity between musicians will always be at the core of any of my music.”

Veronica Lewis is a 19 year old Boogie Woogie piano savant. She is also an emotive and reflective singer and songwriter. Hailing from Haverhill, Massachusetts  with roots in New Hampshire she is the most recent recipient of a fine New England tradition of encouraging young talented Blues musicians to pursue their dreams.

Veronica has a unique style. Her debut record, 2021’s You Ain’t Lucky, melds the early Rock n’ Roll fire of Jerry Lee Lewis with the roiling shuffle of great Blues pianists like Memphis Slim, Sunnyland Slim or their contemporaries. Veronica then puts her own modern singer/songwriter aesthetic into this rich piano Blues pastiche creating something unique and fresh. Veronica seems to have been born with this individuality and drive to create her own identity.

“I’ve been playing piano, specifically this style of piano, since I can remember. Blues and Roots music found me when I was really young. It all started with improvising and writing over the I-IV-V Blues progression. I was listening to all the greats. Jerry Lee Lewis was really the first that got me really excited about piano. But you know then it spanned to Katie Webster who’s a big influence on me as well. Of course Otis Span and Dr. John, but, it did all start with the Blues and being confident in that I-IV-V progression. I think it was very conducive creatively for me as (chuckling) Little Veronica. It gave me some basic parameters and then I was able to improvise and start writing riffs and licks over it.”

An old piano which became a part of the family fascinated “Little Veronica” to teach herself how to play the music. Her piano was her playmate, her companion.

“It did all start with me alone at home with my 100 year old upright piano just trying to write riffs and songs over that 12 bar,” Veronica reminisces.

“So I started self taught. When I was 4 or 5 we moved to Haverhill. We found, I can’t remember, it was either from like a neighbor or on Craig’s List, this old piano that was in a barn. They were just gonna throw it out or like burn it or something (chuckles). And we were like ‘Oh, no, no we’ll take it.’ So we brought it on over to our house.”

“The name ‘Margaret’ is inscribed in gold, like fake gold glitter, on the front. It’s just the coolest old piano. We don’t know who Margaret is, but that’s just Margaret. When I was little I would say to myself: oh, Margaret’s gonna go get lonely. I better go play with her. I was so excited about it. It’s the only piano, actually, I’ve ever had. But, it’s almost like I don’t even want another piano, I just want Margaret.”

Veronica’s early talent led her to the warm embrace of the Granite State Blues Society. A vibrant and community minded chapter, Granite State helped elevate Veronica to the national scene.

image“A big piece of my early story was the Granite State Blues Society. I spent half of the year in New Hampshire. I was born there and we have a little cabin in the woods. When I was 11 I won the Granite State Blues Society Youth Challenge. They’re just so great at the Blues Society, Audrey Frazier (president of the society), I love everybody involved. I got the chance to play at Tupelo Music Hall (venerable Southern NH music venue) which was really my first big show. I think I was 12 by the time I actually played the show. Then I got the chance to go down to Memphis.”

Of course Veronica’s trip to Memphis was her first of many entries into the International Blues Challenge. During one of these trips, Veronica and family took time to visit the Crossroads of the Blues: Clarksdale, MS. This pilgrimage was very transformational and inspirational to the budding songwriter.

“I went to Clarksdale, Mississippi and I got the chance to play at Ground Zero Blues club and meet all the locals who play at the club and work at the club. I got to meet a man named Abraham who’s working the pit barbecue out front. It was just a meaningful experience to come to the birthplace of the Blues. Seeing as my idols musically and on the piano came from this area and early Blues. It was just really powerful. It just struck me and I started writing songs on the way back home.”

Middle school Veronica was driven and full of music. Local New England promoters began booking Veronica as a solo act opening for national and then international Blues artists. More national recognition and momentum followed. Veronica was realizing her dreams to play the Blues.

But, high school and the demands of adolescence came as they do for everyone. Thankfully, Veronica is a level headed and enthusiastic learner. She brought the same determination to her studies as she did her ascending career.

“It was definitely a lot. It was definitely crazy. I’d get up at 6am and work till like (chuckling) midnight when I was in High School. Just trying to fit in music was a little tricky. In 10th grade I started doing online school. Then it was the pandemic Senior year so I basically just stayed on line. With online school you can kind of craft your class schedule everyday. So it was getting better, but definitely 9th and 10th grade was a little crazy. 2021 I graduated, I was actually valedictorian. I love school though, I love learning.”

Veronica says she “decided last year to not go to college and focus on my music.” Taking a deserved break from the double life of school and career she beams:

“Music is my entire life right now. I couldn’t be more grateful to just focus on it. Maybe I’ll go full time to a college eventually. But, right now I’m doing this and it’s my #1 priority, it’s everything.”

Veronica’s style is unique and refreshing. She doesn’t employ a bass player, instead handling all the low end with her left hand on the keys. This paired with a sympathetic driving drummer, wailing saxophone and rhythmically synced guitar made You Ain’t Lucky one of the stand out debuts of recent years. This line up came to Veronica pretty holistically over time based on the musicians she met. First was drums.

image“When you’re in the moment you don’t realize how things form. But, it did really organically. I started doing shows solo from 12 to 16. Then very naturally, almost serendipitously, I found Mike Walsh my drummer. Of my God is he incredible. He’s been with me the longest. He and I have a special bond. He kind of reads my mind almost and he creates the backbone of the sound.”

It was this duo that won the Boston Blues Challenge in 2020 for solo/duo and went to the IBC that year. Then deepening her sound, Veronica added saxophone, a classic Blues and early Rock n Roll foil.

“We started with Don Davis on sax in 2019.” Veronica reflects, “for my music it fit better to have horns first. (Saxophonist) Joel Edinburg is on the album. I started working with him back when I was, gosh maybe 15, one of my first recording sessions he was working at Q Division (well established Boston recording studio). He played sax and we just came back together last year and he’s been joining me on the road.”

“Brad Dubay, my guitar player, we met like last Summer. He’s just awesome. He’s such a great player, very rhythmic. Brad does a great job with some great rhythm parts. It really takes a finesse player to hold down a rhythm, a very strong player. It’s like yeah you just got to hold it right down with the left hand of the piano. He does a great job of doing that and then he lets it rip on the solos too.”

The culmination of Veronica’s work came together for You Ain’t Lucky. This is a showcase for, incredibly for someone so young, almost 10 years of work, creativity and experience. Not only Veronica the fiery pianist, but, Veronica the singer, the songwriter jumped onto a bigger stage with the debut.

“Some of those songs I wrote when I was 13 and 14. This debut album was really marking a stakeholder for who I was as a musician, as a songwriter. Where I came from and what those early influences were in my career. My process for those songs, I would have a really cool experience, a really meaningful experience.”

“A lot of the process it starts with a visual image in my head of a song idea. Or it starts with a main idea of something I want to say. ‘You Ain’t Unlucky’, the title track, I came up with the main idea for the song. I started working the lyrics first and then the music came. I think a lot of the time the process is I have something I need to say and I want to share with people and then the music comes to compliment that”

When I complimented Veronica on her powerful and unique voice she demurred:

“Half the time I still don’t know if I can sing. I just naturally wanted to say something. I had things I wanted to express, you know, even when I was 11. I did a little bit on my own and then I had a couple vocal coaches and mentors. Pamela Stevens from Keene, New Hampshire worked with me over the past few years helping to find my own voice. You know I think when I first started out I wasn’t sure what my unique approach would be and I think I’m finding it.”

imageVeronica is on fire right now. She is co-headlined a tour with Quinn Sullivan and she is playing non-stop. This Summer she will play at the Levitate Festival south of Boston. She was specifically asked to play on Brandi Carlile’s day, a really big endorsement from a consistently authentic artist.

Veronica is also writing and recording a new record. Not willing to rest on her past accomplishments, Veronica is pushing her songwriting and delving deeply again for her new work. She is also conscious of the people her music has resonated with and she keeps her fans, her community, at the center.

“It’s all about that connection of musicians. About real instruments, about the real message of the songs. Very raw authentic vocals as well. I think the highlight of this next album is the song writing. How can I convey this message. The emotions of the song are important. How can I convey this song in a way that people can feel what I’m trying to say.”

“I think it will always be roots music but I’ve been trying to not force myself into any category as I’m writing the songs. I’m kind of releasing and saying: what do I want to say now? I’m growing up, I’m maturing as a songwriter and as a player, so that’s going to show in the music. There’s more serious and more personal things that I need to say. And I am saying it with my new album. Always at the core of my heart and of my being there’s gonna be the greatest love and appreciation for Blues music and for Rock n’ Roll and Roots. But, I’m allowing myself some freedom. I’m really excited for everyone to hear it.”

Veronica Lewis has been playing for a long time and has hit success early. But, she is also still at the beginning of her life’s journey. She is thoughtful about her art and about her life. She is clearly living in the moment. Not in some reckless wasted youth cliche, but in wringing every drop of experience out of everything she does; working as hard as she can to make the most of every moment. This is a deeply emotive artist who is humbly diving into the great things ahead of her.

“I’ve been having a lot of fun and a lot of inspiration. A lot of it’s been due to all the support. The real incredible community that has supported me for over the past 5 years, for goodness sake. None of the motivation or inspiration could happen without knowing that there’s all these incredible fans and supporters and musicians and mentors and friends and family behind me who believe in me. Yeah just a big thank you. ”

You can check out Veronica’s tour schedule and news at: https://www.veronicalewis.com/

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