Through the swirls of life, perhaps some things don’t much change. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, bonds like friendship subsist through the years and all that’s within them. If so, it must be because of some magic, or something intangible; a truly special quality. For artists Hollis (aka Hollis Wong-Wear) and Ryan Lewis, that connection is solidified through hard work and collaboration. It’s funny; sometimes the best aspects of friendships aren’t about the friendship, itself. It’s about what you do together, what you make with your hands and minds.
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For Hollis and Lewis, that includes Grammy Award-winning work on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis album, The Heist, on which Hollis is featured (see: “White Walls”) and in elaborate music videos (see: “Wings”). Hollis’ latest solo single, “Let Me Not,” was co-written with Lewis. That creative occasion, for Hollis, was the sole effort of late that she conducted masked-face-to-masked-face. Hey, anything for a friend, right?
“When [Ryan was] like, ‘Let’s meet up for lunch,’” Hollis tells American Songwriter, “that was the first time I was in a restaurant in Los Angeles for months. I had been at the house. But for Ryan, I’d sit on the patio and sit in the studio with an N95 mask on and catch up for three hours.”
Despite the understandable COVID-19 paranoia, the two got down to business and made a sticky new hit for Hollis’ musical catalog. To help write and complete the song, the duo enlisted a third artist, Keeley Bumford, who goes by “Dresage,” who also contributed vocal production and background singing to the track. Like Hollis and Lewis, Bumford spent significant time in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to L.A. And as the trio began to write the new single, Hollis mined her diary.
“I’m very literal, pen-to-paper in my songwriting,” says Hollis. “So, I read them a couple of free-writing sessions I had done.” She adds, “And you’ll be shocked, it was all about surviving a pandemic.”
As a team, Lewis and Hollis have a dual-pronged approach. There is a lot of free writing and space to work, but when the process begins to hone in, Lewis can be a bit of a rigorous co-writer. Editing, refining, performing new takes, adding more instruments—these are often his calling cards. Yet, the new single is also restrained in a way. It’s a fine balance. And it’s one Lewis looked forward to when the chance arose. For the producer, who won all kinds of awards for The Heist and who recently moved to L.A. from the Northwest, it’s a new chapter. But it feels good to begin it with a friend.
“It happened super organically,” Lewis says. “Hollis is obviously super-multi-talented and gifted in so many different areas.” He adds, “This was the first beat that I made down in L.A. [after he’d moved] and I really liked it because of its continuous, repetitive monotony of emotion. It really matched the tone of how things just kind of felt at that period in time. It was an exciting place to write from.”
When the two get to reminiscing, they remember fondly their first big project, working on the music video for the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song “Wings.” In the mid-aughts, a great deal was going on in the Seattle scene, from the up-and-coming rap group to golden-voiced singers like Fleet Foxes and The Head and the Heart. At the time, the Macklemore crew had found a house to shoot the video in a South Seattle neighborhood and they’d all posted up there for days on end. Lewis, who had gained notoriety as a photographer, had then-recently transitioned to making music and Hollis was there to work and help, from video shoots to talent.
“That was such a crucible of collaboration,” Hollis says. “The visuals and the music—we were building the plane as we were flying it at both ends.”
For Hollis, who remembers first finding music around five years old in the choir, and Lewis, who got his first electric guitar at 12 and who later created the dance mixes for his high school dance and cheer-leading squads, the art form is as necessary as any. It’s more than entertainment; it’s medicine. But it’s also something around which people can gather. It’s a reason—to be creative, to get better, and to stay connected to longtime friends.
Today, Lewis says, he’s working on new songs with some big names and venturing into theme music for some other projects. He’s stretching his wings. Hollis is, too. While she’ll continue to make music with her electronic trio, The Flavr Blue, she is set to release a new solo album in early 2022, called, Subliminal, which will feature this latest single along with a number of other bops.
“Music,” says Lewis, “is most often the greatest place I can find some inspiration.” He adds, “Music is also fucking complicated. And I feel like it’s cool to be able to do something with my life that I feel like I keep trying to understand.” He concludes, “Music has [also] been my dominant means of community and collaboration and finding other creatives and getting to work with them and relate to them and bond with other people in such a special way.”
“Music is everything,” Hollis says. “I truly believe in the healing process of music and cathartic properties of music. It actually has intrinsic value, separate from any streaming number or stage. There’s an intrinsic value in the creative process and that’s how I better understand myself, and better understand the world.”