He was feeling so terribly lonely.
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Long before the mandated lockdown, Simon Lunche already spent much of his time alone, writing and recording for his debut album. “By the time I was a sophomore or junior in high school, I was really done with it. I didn’t really relate to a lot of the people, and I didn’t feel like I needed to be there,” he tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call.
“That aloneness was something I thought I was ready for, because I already felt so alone, in terms of my values and goals,” he continues. “Then, you really jump into it, and you realize for a long period of time, besides my two closest friends, I had very little interaction with anyone of my age.”
Never Knew the Night, a moniker capturing the fleeting perception of time, as well as the solitude that became his new normal, ensnares the simplicity and timeless beauty of classic pop. It’s evident his muses include the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton, and the music is never once over-complicated with trying to prove himself. The music exists.
Songs like “Cherry Wine,” “Marigolds,” and “Red Delicious” sprout around the senses, giving off a lush and succulent aroma. Each is drenched with an impressive musical scope, whether that’s evidenced through his masterful guitar work or the majestic quality that emerges out of his melodies. “I hear songs in my head that way so much of the time. I heard someone say once, ‘You’re just a collection of everyone who has this you.’ I genuinely believe that’s true,” he says of his vast influences.
Out of the Bay Area, Lunche always speaks modestly about his work, a welcome characteristic in a pretty jaded industry. It hasn’t always been that way; in fact, he’s quick to point out he was quite the over-confident teenager, perhaps leading to a deluded view of himself and the work. One could argue he had a right to be ─ to speak so forthright, gushing with charm and a pointed attitude.
His music clearly speaks for itself, but in tempering his ego, he somehow unlocks even greater creative depths. Having grown up adoring Eric Clapton, and first learning “Layla” on a shiny black ‘56 Stratocaster, Lunche was instantly adept in his understanding of melody, structure, and lyrical yarns. He also flipped through the pages for a big book of Beatles songs, scouring for the next classic to learn, and soaking up everything he possibly could.
“Over 50 percent of what I was playing was stuff I was trying to write,” he says. Even in those very early days, “getting the guitar and writing songs was a unified thing for me.” He went on to record 100s of demos and other song bites on his old iMac, and as a first-generation GarageBand’er, he was not possibly destined for anything else. “As I get older, I’ve realized I make my best work when I’m not thinking about any of that technical stuff ─ of how to write a song or how a song should turn out, or even music theory.”
His songwriting comes from his gut. He’s instinctual, and the songs pop into his head like magic. “I also realized that the more of a process I have, the worse my songs are,” he remarks with a laugh, “and I just have to return the space of sitting in my bedroom when I actually had no idea what I was doing when I was younger.”
That emotional drive is quite evident across all 12 songs. With a tight-knight network of collaborators ─ mixing engineer Dave Reitzas (Stevie Wonder, The Weeknd), bass player Sean Hurley (John Mayer, Idina Menzel), and drummer Aaron Sterling on drums (Harry Styles, Maren Morris) ─ Lunche punctures the proverbial bullseye so expertely, you question where he’s been hiding all this time.
“I’m pretty clear with what I want in my songs. I was lucky to meet a few people I felt comfortable with and knew they had my best interests in mind,” observes Lunche of the collaborative environment. Make no mistake, he’s firmly in the driver’s seat: he wrote every song himself, as well as engineered all vocal parts and most of the guitar. He just needed fresh eyes to give the songs the boost they needed.
Initially, Reitzas wasn’t sure he could even come aboard. Lunche sent him an early track, a primer to showcase his musical ability, and several hours later, Reitzas gave him a call. “He said he loved it and wanted to work together,” says Lunche. “He doesn’t have a formula. Every song is different and a new experience.”
The spark had been ignited, and a mutual trust became the guiding hand in the recording studio. “I’ve heard the songs more than anyone else has. To some degree, I’m trying not to lose perspective. When he has a fresh look on it, that’s really valuable.”
Among his most spellbinding, “Heart” harkens back to his younger days and retools his love of orchestral music with a more mature lens (and electric guitar, of course). “In my mind, it’s a little bit of a younger Simon song. Out of nowhere, I’m sitting at the piano ─ and I’m not a good piano player ─ and I heard the intro in my head. I played that out and formed chords around it,” he recalls. “The next morning, I woke up with pretty much the whole vocal melody and started writing the lyrics. That took a few days. At first, I had violins on it and all this other stuff, and a lot of it ended up being too grandiose. I kept the harp and the drums, which is always such a thing for me. Once I started recording, I wasn’t really thinking about how long it was.”
Once in the studio, Reitzas remarked that many fans come to his shows for his guitar playing, citing the song was missing that last puzzle piece. “He suggested playing around with guitar licks to find something,” Lunche says. So, he did. A considerable shift occurs with the second verse, featuring a blues-style guitar lick that even escalates his emotional arc.
“That was the final touch that made it feel part of this record. Younger Simon would not have played the guitar that way. He might have done a song like this or in this style. This song just has a special place in my heart.”
“All I Know” slots into a similar musical category, and even though he’s not so keen on the piano part, Lunche works it to his advantage. It’s a 1-2 sucker punch you won’t see coming. “I’m forever going to wish I recorded a different piano. That piano is not my finest piano recording,” he says, still speaking humbly.
The piano in question is the one sitting in his house. At the time, it was the only one he had at his disposal. “It’s clunky, and it needs to be tuned. You can hear the pedals creak when you play. But the reason I didn’t replace it immediately is it has a charm to it. Sometimes, that first play through has something special,” he says of the song, cobbled together from various bits of poetry, like some Dylan relic.
“I was at the height of feeling very solitary in the album process. This song was almost like a dream, rather than something that was actually happening,” he adds. “It was all of the things I was hoping and longing for.”
It is, perhaps, Lunche at his most mature. “All I know is that I don’t know anything no more,” he confides. His voice overflows with a palpable ache, and against such a rich tapestry of strings and piano, he lets his youthful abandon fade in his rearview. The song’s core perfectly underscores his continuing journey into young adulthood, as well. Now 22, he admits he had to learn some pretty tough lessons and still has many miles left to go.
“When I was younger, I had potentially too much confidence in my character. You’re thrown into a ton of different situations, and you realize you still have a lot more growing to do. I was realizing I had had it pretty easy,” he says. “There were some basic things I had that I didn’t realize I had.”
Simon Lunche plants his flag clearly and confidentally on Never Knew the Night. It’s a body of work brimming with musical excellence and magnetic devotions. He certainly has his work cut out for him going forward.