Lewis Mokler is a singer-songwriter and heart-throb-in-training from Newmarket. Inspired by the success of fellow Suffolk troubadour Ed Sheeran, Lewis started busking around East Anglia towards the end of 2010. Picked up by Joe Weavers Toonteen Management, an incredibly busy 2011 which took in over 100 gigs, 3 EP releases, creative merchandising and an increasingly large and devoted fanbase saw Lewis crowned winner of the BurySOUND Band Competition and seriously touted as a rising star. Features Editor Seymour Quigley caught up with Lewis on the cusp of 2012, which, according to ancient Mayan Prophecy, will be Year Of The Mokler.
Ive never seen anyone rise in popularity in this area in such a short space of time. Whats your secret? What are you doing that others have failed to do?
LEWIS MOKLER: Well, Ive got this cream Nah, its flattering that lots of people want to give their support. Its just a lot of hard work, maybe? Or perhaps its Nutella. I go around force-feeding people Nutella until they help me.
The story goes that you werent a singer-songwriter at all until about 18 months ago, when you saw Ed Sheeran and decided there and then that you were going to be a songwriter. Is that a bit of an exaggeration or is that actually how it went?
LEWIS: No, its a big exaggeration. What happened waaaas, I used to not do a lot of music I was quite good at singing but I was embarrassed. So when I was in the sixth form I decided Id go for this play called South Pacific and they gave me a comedy part because they thought I was this Jack the Lad, they thought, hes just in this for the funny. So I thought, Ill give singing a go, shall I? And when I sang all the teachers stopped and listened, and I thought, I must be on to something here. So I started busking with a guy called Dan Barney two-and-a-half years ago; I couldnt play the guitar, but I saw Ed Sheeran on YouTube with this song called The A-Team. At that time he only had a few thousand followers on Facebook, so I e-mailed him and said, I like your song The A-Team, I think its a really good song, and he e-mailed back saying, Thankyou. And then he saw me busking it on YouTube a couple of months later, and that got the ball rolling. He was doing it himself in London and hes a bit of an idol of mine, so from that I started writing songs and thats how it all started really. Someone from a radio station saw me busking and put me on the radio, from that I got a couple of gigs, then things sort of went mental last year and I did about a hundred gigs, I met my manager, and together were trying to make this Army of Moklers.
The Hot Moklettes?
LEWIS: The Hot Moklates! Due to my love of Hot Chocolate.
I saw Ed Sheeran at the Steamboat in Ipswich about a year before he really took off. Hes unbelievably good at what he does and a very sharp lyricist. Prior to Ed, it seemed like everyone wanted to be in an emo band, and then overnight everyone wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Do you think that, even if you hadnt seen Ed, you would have ended up doing what you do anyway?
LEWIS: Before I was listening to Ed I was listening to Snow Patrol and Paolo Nutini a lot, and Id be going to festivals thinking, I like singing, Id like to be in a band. But I had no chance of being in a band, so I took it by the scruff of the neck and ended up doing everything myself. If I hadnt seen Ed Sheeran, my view of writing would have changed hes a very inspirational guy in the way hes, like you say, very sharp. He did it all himself, hes from Suffolk, Im from Suffolk, so it was like, If he can do it, why cant I do it?
Is there much going on in Newmarket?
LEWIS: There is one awesome pub called the Waggon & Horses, theyre the only pub where you can go and watch live music and the only pub where theyll put on the best acts they can find, and they dont care what it costs, theyll do whatever it takes to make it an entertainment pub. And I think thats very honourable; the landlord there is right because its so much better to see, at the end of a song, people clapping than it is to hit any Like button on Facebook or to hit any Retweet button on Twitter. Youve gotta be there.
There used to be a feeling in Bury St Edmunds, which is where I grew up, of people thinking, I hate this town, nothing ever happens here. But increasingly there seem to be people who, rather than sitting around waiting for things to happen, have a bit of civic pride and do things for themselves. Do you feel that way about Newmarket? Is it somewhere you want to leave or are you proud of it?
LEWIS: Im proud of Newmarket, Ive lived here all my life and Im happy to have met everyone Ive ever met. I dont think its a big enough town to get a big following; I think Bury St Edmunds is the place where you want to station yourself as a Suffolk musician, I think Bury St Edmunds will be (a bigger music town) than Ipswich or Norwich by the end of the year, because theres so much coming out of Bury St Edmunds. I read about a gig in the Karma Café in Norwich the other day, myself and Cathedrals & Cars were going over there to support someone and they were saying, What are they putting in the water in Bury St Edmunds? I was quick to tell them I was from Newmarket!
Norwich has a very healthy scene and Ive always looked on quite enviously at Norwich as a Bury St Edmunds person. Its quite remote there, so perhaps being cut off and knowing your town isnt cool helps lead to a healthy scene. You see it as well in Bury St Edmunds and in South East London, where I lived for quite a long time because no-ones really paying attention, thats where all the best music happens. So maybe thats what Bury has going for it its not cool!
LEWIS: Probably! Even musicians themselves will admit, you become not cool to be cool. I was saying earlier about the Jack the Lad thing and always doing exactly what I wanted; as soon as I started doing music and working really hard on it, the last 6 months Ive become more isolated than ever before and I guess thats kind of a sacrifice you make its not that youre not still friends with the same people, or you dont love the same people; you still have the same group of friends, its just that youre working very hard and its difficult to understand that if youre not a musician or someone whos doing something that you need to work hard at. I think Bury is working very hard at becoming (a big music town), and (as a result) it feels very isolated.
If you compare Bury St Edmunds or Norwich to Cambridge, in Cambridge there does seem to be a sense of complacency. Because Cambridge has always had venues and bands have always gone there, there is for the most part something a little bit complacent about the scene, whereas Bury and Norwich dont have that going for them, so it makes you step up and stops people from being smug. You were talking just now about working very hard; I dont think people realise how hard you work. You have a full-time job, but I cant remember the last time a day went by without you posting about a new gig on Facebook.
LEWIS: Its pretty mental! And this is where I got a lot of inspiration from Ed (Sheeran) in those early years, when he was doing as many gigs as he could do. I think thats how you become more and more successful, if you go out there and you do as many gigs as you can. For the last year, Ive taken it personally to go to every single venue that I can get to I cant go to Newcastle or Scotland, because I work in the daytime but Norfolk, Suffolk, London, anywhere we can even pubs in villages. I wanna be gigging four or five times a week because I wanna share the music and playing live is the only way to do it properly. I mean, you can post millions of YouTube videos but its not the same as seeing it live and being able to connect. Its as much as buzz for me as it is for the people watching.
You do have a charm quite unlike anyone Ive ever seen if they could bottle Essence Of Mokler, no-one would ever be celibate again. I think youre right though because of the internet, a lot of bands have forgotten quite how important it is to get yourself out there. Ed Sheeran is a great example how many gigs did he do in a year, was it 200?
LEWIS: I think it was about 200 the lad didnt stop, he was out there, smashing out. His advantage was, he wasnt working he was just doing music. From when he moved out of Suffolk to London, he got picked up very quickly and gigged a lot. But the hard work he put in was unbelievable.
A lot of the bands whove changed peoples lives the most and had the biggest impact were really hard-working, touring bands. Look at Nirvana: before Nevermind came out theyd already won over lots of fans and everyone was talking about them, just because theyd gigged everywhere, their gigs were insane and word got around. Black Flag, in the early 80s, toured all the time and when (singer) Henry Rollins wrote a book about their tour experiences he called it Get In The Van, because that was where they lived and that was all they did. And it does make a difference if youre willing to go out there and do it you immediately have an advantage over bands who take it for granted that they can just post things online and people will come to them. It makes sense as well, particularly for you, where its all about how you are onstage you do have a charm that a lot of people lack in music, and people can see that, and people talk about you. Do you have any plans to go on tour?
LEWIS: 2012, weve got some amazing things coming up were gonna make the album, starting in January, thats gonna happen. It should be March/April time that itll be out and about. After April, any label or sponsor who wants to say, Pack your bags, get in the van, were going on tour and youre gonna go all around the UK and youll be back in Suffolk at the end of it because I love Suffolk thats the dream. I dont care about money or being famous; all I want to do is go on a UK tour. And all my manager wants is for me to share my music with everyone. Were not really people who care about fashion or following a trend, we just wanna get music out there.
So what are you doing next?
LEWIS: The album, and then trying to get on as many festivals and do as many gigs as we can. Were trying to get on at Latitude. I mean, its a bit of a cliché, but just trying to live the dream. Cause it is very much happening, very quickly.
Lewis, its been a pleasure talking to you. Before we finish, is there anything else youd like to say for yourself, anything youd like to plug, any wisdom you need to impart?
LEWIS: Live for today and always, always, always wear a smile.
Thats beautiful and has actually brought tears to my eyes. Thankyou very much, Lewis Mokler.
Here are some of the artists Lewis recommends:
LEWIS: Ben Howards album (Every Kingdom) is very very very good and a bit inspirational. I really like Simon Lucas-Hughess album (All The Time, Sometimes click here for the B-Side review) and Jon Harts album Ive got them both in my car. I supported Simon at the Apex on his album launch hes someone you must see live, hes very clever and witty, reminds me of a young Lewis Mokler! I really like Expectations; its the song he won the Bury Songwriting Competition with, and when he played it at the album launch I was singing along to it, like a proper fanboy. (At this point conversation veers off into an exploration of the possibility that Jon Hart and Simon Lucas-Hughes are, in fact, the same super-guitarist entity, occupying different bodies, controlled remotely by aliens.)
Paolo Nutini Sunny Side Up (Atlantic, 2009)
LEWIS: Id pick Candy, Growing Up Beside You, Pencil Full Of Lead and Coming Up Easy. Those are my four favourites off the album. Hes just a genuine kind of guy an old-school festival performer, you know hes gonna be a little bit drunk, he leans on the stand, back hunched-over, and you think, This guys gonna get everyone going. I genuinely love Paolo Nutini if I got to meet anyone I havent met already, itd be him.
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