“American Idol” is where America first heard Lee DeWyze, but that wasn’t the real indicator of his artistry.
“I’m a songwriter first,” the Chicago native, now 31, said by phone from his home in Los Angeles.
Since winning Season 9 in 2010, the indie rock/alt folk musician has recorded three albums and had many of his original tunes end up on television shows, most notably, his “Blackbird Song” on “The Walking Dead” and “Suits.” Others have popped up on “Elementary,” “Reign,” “Heart of Dixie,” “Bull,” “Nashville” and “The Fosters.”
“(‘American Idol’) was a great experience, the fans were awesome, but it definitely didn’t define who I am as an artist, by any means,” he said, since the star-making competition didn’t showcase singer/songwriters.
“It would take listening to the music for someone to understand what kind of artist I am. Judging someone off of doing cover songs on a television show, I don’t know if you really get a good grasp of what kind of an artist somebody is. It takes an extra effort to really dive into an artist’s catalog and see what kind of music they’re writing and they’re doing,” he said.
“For me, that’s why things like having my music discovered in different places is so essential and really defining to an audience who I am as an artist and what it is I do.”
He calls the show “a good first steppingstone for a lot of people.”
“It’s not a show that prides itself on songwriting — it’s not even really part of the format at all, but that’s what you sign up for,” he said.
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“Transitioning from being on a show to the songwriter that I was before the show, and I still am, can prove to be a little difficult at times, when a majority of the musical audience out there that is into singer/songwriters doesn’t really equate that to ‘American Idol,’ and vice versa.
“Connecting those dots was really important for me, and I think that I’ve been able to do that over the past few years.”
His earliest musical influences continue to inform his writing. Listening to his father’s record collection in his childhood drew him into the musical realm.
“Cat Stevens’ ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ is very influential for my career,” he said. “That whole record was just beautiful and it taught me how to play. Simon and Garfunkel taught me harmony. Paul Simon taught me guitar playing. Cat Stevens taught me telling a story and singing with emotion. I learned a lot from those artists. I like to believe they really influenced who I am as a musician.”
DeWyze writes from his imagination, so with his recently released single, “The Breakdown,” fans needn’t worry that his five-year marriage is in trouble.
“My marriage is OK,” he said. “I don’t have a bad day and go home and write a song that calls out my friends.”
Instead, the song is about “coming to realizations about different things, when maybe you can tell that a relationship — whatever kind of relationship that may be — is coming to an end. How you mentally prepare for it, and how it’s a lot easier to see things in hindsight. Sometimes when you’re in it, you’re a lot more oblivious and forgiving of things than when you come to the full realization of what’s been going on or why it’s been going on. That’s really all the song’s about. It can be from anybody’s perspective.”
The depth of his songwriting will be in the spotlight when he comes to the CSPS stage on Wednesday night (8/16).
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“It’s gonna be primarily new music and some of the ones that I love to play live, that people are familiar with,” he said. “Whenever I play a live show, it’s all about the intimacy between me and the audience, and singing for them, not at them. There’s a big difference between the two in a setting like that.
“It’s kind of like a therapy session in a way, where you want your audience to be good listeners, but you also have to be attentive to the vibe that they’re putting out. It’s really a relationship you form with audience, and I think in an intimate setting like that, it’s what makes it so special and so awesome,” he said.
“I’m really looking forward to playing there. I’ve heard great things about the venue, and I’m excited to play new music while I’m out there. I’m excited for people to hear it.”
WHAT: Lee DeWyze
WHERE: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday (8/16)
TICKETS: $16 advance, $19 door; (319) 364-1580 or Legionarts.org
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Leedewyzeofficial.com