First there’s nothing, and then there’s something. That’s typically the way it goes when Lee DeWyze is working on music. There’s the uncontrollable lull, then a wave of words, and a returning calm after the “storm” of songs. Ghost Stories, DeWyze’s latest album, arrived just this way, in different intonation and storyline, one as much his own as a shared medium of mixed emotions scanning more sentimental narratives.
Ghost Stories is a more folk-driven dialect for DeWyze. Mostly written mid-pandemic in 2020, Ghost Stories is a book of short stories and “photographs” that DeWyze was compelled to compile, following the 2018 release of Paranoia, exposing snapshots of life, and more omnipresent records of time.
For DeWyze, music is a collection of snapshots of his lifetime, and Ghost Stories pieces them all together. “It’s organic sounding, and there’s a little bit more Americana singer-songwriter vibe,” says DeWyze. “When I’m writing songs, whatever I’m going through, seeing or experiencing in that period of time, they’re like little photo albums.”
Once DeWyze wrote the Ghost Stories track “Castles,” also the title of his 2020 EP, he had a clearer indication of where the album was headed, opening the door to more songwriting, and all of his Ghost Stories. Taking turns we find seeking while we hide chasing memories / Still I know the somber song of the meadowlark written for me / Oh the things we find When scars are left behind, “Castles” echoes the recurring nostalgic elements bridging the 10 tales of Ghost Stories, from the title track through the more tender sentiments of “Night and Day” and the starker “Parade,” an introspective, self-aware character trying to get through the day. Set in its attentiveness and stillness, and the softer twists of affecting, “Quicksand” and the whispery “Everybody,” Ghost Stories rushes around the Americana tumble of “Weeds,” and “Victims of the Night.”
“This album is very emotionally vulnerable,” says DeWyze. “It’s very direct. We always want to move somebody, and reach them in some way, and it almost feels like the songs are written for them. This whole album is very story-driven, a narrative to this larger picture, and I love that people can pick and choose which part of the story is theirs.”
He adds, “The album works very much like the stages of grief. There’s these moments of sadness and anger and acceptance, and it comes to this final stage. The album makes for a good mix of emotion. There’s a little bit of something for everyone.”
When writing, DeWyze never wants to fall into a pattern of repeat, and Ghost Stories is the artist’s most bare piece. “I didn’t want Ghost Stories to sound like Paranoia or Paranoia to be like Oil & Water. I really do want them to stand out on their own. You can see this in the different stages in the songwriting, even the way my voice sounds. The stories and the songs affect the way I sing each song. It’s very specific and intentional.”
If writing for an outside project—a commercial, movie trailer, or a TV show—DeWyze says he can dive right in, but an album is another mindset. “When it’s for a record, that’s a piece of you linked forever,” says DeWyze. “When I’m writing an album, I’m just out there when that wave comes, and I can ride it all the way. First, it’s nothing, nothing, nothing, and all of a sudden, it’s two, three, four songs and then it calms down and it gives me time… All the wordplay and all those fun things happen naturally, once you realize what the song is about.”
Now, nearly 15 years since releasing his debut So I’m Told, and more than a decade after being crowned winner of the ninth season of American Idol in 2010, songwriting is more internal for DeWyze.
“I think I’ve become much more comfortable with the songwriting and storytelling,” he says. “I think it’s a challenge for every songwriter. trying to say something in a way that you’ve never done it before.”