For her debut album Arwen, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Arwen Lewis chose to offer up her own impassioned interpretation of music that’s quite literally in her DNA. The daughter of Moby Grape founding member Peter Lewis (and granddaughter of Oscar- and Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Young), Arwen took on a selection of the legendary San Francisco band’s songs and revamped their psychedelia-tinged brand of rock music for a whole new era.
Built on her raw but graceful guitar work and gorgeously soulful vocals, the result is a blend of melody-laced folk, gritty blues, and powerfully charged rock & roll that feels both timeless and undeniably of-the-moment.
To create the album, Arwen worked in close collaboration with her father and Academy Award-winning, Grammy Award-nominated producer/longtime Moby Grape fan John DeNicola. Featuring the soul-stirring “Omaha” (a rollicking anthem authored by the late Skip Spence, its title a play on the mantra-induced revelation “Om…aha!”) along with the gloriously epic and harmony-driven “Indifference” (another Spence number) and the sweetly melancholy ballad “Sitting by the Window” (penned by Peter Lewis), Arwen puts a new spin on Moby Grape’s multi-vocalist approach by placing Arwen as lead singer on each track. Thanks to her uncommonly honest vocals, Arwen infuses every song with a warm intimacy and gives new vitality to Moby Grape’s lush and edgy lyricism.
“Arwen’s a child of the San Francisco sound, and she’s got an ease of delivery that lets that sound flow through her in a way that just feels completely fresh,” DeNicola points out.
Arwen first began honing her natural musicianship several years ago, mainly by learning guitar and songwriting under her father’s guidance (as well as resuming her childhood studies in piano). After taking time to develop her craft and find her voice as a musical artist, Arwen joined her father in self-recording a batch of Moby Grape songs at her family’s California home. The bicoastal collaboration between artist and producer began when Arwen and Peter scratched out the structure of the songs, a process that DeNicola continued by building up the tracks with a host of musicians in his New York City studio. Culminating with Arwen and her father joining DeNicola in New York to contribute their final vocals and guitar parts, Arwen holds true to Moby Grape’s musical vision by re-creating the band’s signature three-guitar orchestration. And in the case of “If You Can’t Learn from My Mistakes” (written by Peter Lewis), that kaleidoscopic guitar sound is rounded out with a guest performance from the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian.
Arwen was born partly from an urge to unearth what its creator considers a musical hidden gem.
“I remember listening to Moby Grape when I was younger and realizing how they’ve influenced a lot of authentic rock & roll, and even had some similarities to the punk music I loved,” says Arwen. “It’s like they were unknowingly setting something up for the artists that would come along years after them.”
With her other key inspirations ranging from Billie Holiday to Miles Davis to folk poet Tim Hardin, Arwen aims to channel that authenticity and forward-looking but classically minded sensibility into her future musical endeavors. And as the album approaches its release, Arwen says she’s excited to experience the songs along with live audiences. “To me music has always been about breaking barriers between people,” Arwen notes. “Playing and singing have become my connection to the world, and I want these songs to be for everybody.”