Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Cassandra Lewis played her first real show in a retirement home. As a child, she grew up loving music and “dissecting” the voices of other singers she listened to. By five years old, she hosted little concerts in her basement, singing to a little karaoke machine her grandparents had bought her. She sang to instrumental tapes of Patsy Cline’s music, 1950’s crooners, and ‘90s pop-country. Then came her first break: the retirement center where her great-grandmother had lived in Lincoln Court in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“It brought me so much joy to spend time with the elders and hear their stories,” Lewis tells American Songwriter. “From then on I spent all of my times focused on my music and getting away from the vortex of poverty and pain we had been enduring.”
With music, Lewis wanted to bring her mother and siblings out from what felt like a “hopeless struggle to survive day to day.” First, music began as a way to heal her own mind, then it became an escape route. Now, Lewis says, it’s her primary love language.
“When people ask,” says Lewis, “I just tell them [I create] Cosmic Americana. Dolly Parton on acid. Janis Joplin on Jesus. I think people are starting to get what that means. I’ve gone through a lot of phases musically, but I’ve always been deeply rooted in classic country western, the blues, soul, and psychedelic rock.”
For Lewis, who says she has no real hometown (“I haven’t found one yet but I’ll let you know if I do,” she notes), storytelling is the key. She draws from her own life, her own personal experiences, using them like keyholes for listeners to see entirely new rooms.
“I feel like I’m both an elder at the campfire telling tales of love and adventure,” she says, “and I’m also the little kid starry-eyed and curious.”
For her enrapturing song, “Darlin’”, Lewis says it’s about the “throwaway pages in your diary.” It’s about the love letters you just can’t send but keep trying to write. It’s also about Lewis’ “complicated relationship” to addictions: sex, love, alcohol, praise, attachment styles, and control. She lists all of these as vices. As such, her track might seem like a love song from one vantage point or a cry for change at another.
“I started writing ‘Darlin’’ when I was living out in Mendocino Valley in 2018,” Lewis says. “I was a partner in a cannabis farm and spent most of the season alone with my dog, Bobandi, a voracious stray cat who chose to follow me one day in Ukiah, and a scrawny chicken that wandered up through the woods looking for Jerusalem crickets. We would sit on the porch overlooking the valley and I would just pick around on the guitar and cry my fucking eyes out almost on the daily.”
At the time, Lewis was coping with myriad relationships that just wouldn’t proverbially hold still. Eventually, she felt totally spun out. And the song, amidst all that, came in waves of “desperation and sadness” as she watched the seasons change literally and metaphorically in her life.
“I feel like this song is really just part one to the greater journey that was born out of my experience on the mountain,” Lewis says. “I had sacrificed my own happiness in order to be the person they wanted to love; someone I never would be.” She adds, “Don’t. Just don’t ever do that to yourself.”