B Foundation guitarist gets into the groove of his musical dream
Fast-rising band's energy propels Tyler Lewis into spotlight
It was 12 years ago when a popular 15-year-old Tyler Lewis walked into a Jesuit High School science class, briefcase in hand.
'Who needs some music?' asked Lewis, opening the briefcase to reveal a new demo CD the musician recorded. 'Five dollars, five songs,' he said, finishing his sales pitch.
Classmates were already lined up. When it came to music, the gifted guitarist commanded attention. He was really good, not just 'good' by high school standards. He made every classmate feel cool that they knew 'someone in the band.'
That was a half-dozen bands ago. Today he doesn't just carry CDs in a suitcase; he lives out of one.
The 27-year-old, who grew up on the border of Lake Oswego and West Linn and taught music and science at Park Academy on the Marylhurst University campus, left all stability in his life. Here he had a steady job, a degree in pre-med and a desire to become a doctor like his father, a longtime girlfriend, supportive family and friends.
But Lewis moved to Los Angeles to be in a rock band. Now he plays for his Portland pals only when his band stops in town.
Lewis said the move was 'spontaneous,' but those who grew up with him said trading in a lab coat and grading papers for the tune of worn T-shirts, long hair and months on the road was the song he was meant to play. Meeting three musicians from the band The B Foundation, who were as passionate about music as he was, completed one of the hardest working touring bands out there.
'We never won the lottery and never acquired major venture capital, but by our own blood, sweat and tears, we've created a name for ourselves and gathered an army of followers,' Lewis said.
As the lead guitarist in The B Foundation since 2008, one of California's hottest, fast-rising surf/rock/reggae bands, Lewis recently played on the Vans Warped Tour - with a stop in Hillsboro. He's still getting used to life on the road and the band's growing success: music on the 'world famous' KROQ FM in L.A., Fuel TV soundtracks and becoming No. 2 on the iTunes reggae charts. 'Second to Bob Marley's 'Legend',' Lewis said.
The traveling band - including singer/guitarist Patrick Stevenson, bassist Jason Moorehead and drummer Ian McGrath - has built international fan base through sweat equity. The band has sold thousands of albums and average about 200 live shows each year.
'One night we'd perform for over 1,500 at the McMenamins Crystal Ballroom (in Portland), sold out with Slightly Stoopid. The next, we'd be in a dive bar in Eureka,' Lewis said.
Considering its hectic schedules, the band's surf-vibe music is quite the opposite, with messages of taking time for those you love and realizing that, no matter what happens, 'everything will be all right' set to reggae rhythms. The band's message is of togetherness - something Lewis has always been about.
Singer/songwriter Tyler Stenson, 29, from Nashville, attended the University of Oregon with Lewis and asked Lewis to sit in for a show.
'We were able to play one gig together on the fly, and it was something special,' Stenson said. 'He had an energy about him … a total lack of ego coupled with no lack of tenacity and talent.'
Lewis said that in his genre of music 'there is nothing but love,' saying that they've worked with Sublime, Mike Pinto, Dirty Heads and Ballyhoo. 'It really is a movement, and we're right here on the frontier.'
Lewis's sister, Julianne Lewis, 24, from Hermosa Beach, Calif., said she enjoys the band's 'lightheartedness.'
'They have catchy tunes that are easy to dance to, and now they have an added performance by Tyler that makes them extra good live,' she said.
Just as important as building a reputation as a live act, the band is building a brand. 'There is a lot more to my job than just being a kick-ass guitarist,' Lewis said. 'I truly am a musical activist - the free, the young, the brave and broke.'
An opportune moment
After leaving its record label, Lewis said the band is determined to cut out the middleman to market its latest release, 'Souvenirs Novelties and Party Tricks.'
The B Foundation connects with fans online through Facebook and Myspace, posts videos on YouTube and always high-fives and hugs attendees. Sometimes, members even sleep on their couchs.
'Home to us is our 15-passenger Ford F350 Super Duty,' Lewis said. 'If it wasn't for the friends and fans we've made along the way, we could not afford it. They let us crash on their floors … in just about every city we go to.
'We're fun guys; people enjoy our company and entertainment,' he continued, 'so I guess that helps.'
Private weddings in Canada and 12 sold-out shows in Japan also have the troop jet-setting occasionally. Endorsement deals from companies such as Bolt Amplification and SRH Clothing keep the band outfitted for the road, Lewis said.
Growing up in Lake Oswego's Skylands neighborhood in a home with views of several mountains and a basement converted into a music studio - 'Thanks, Dad,' he said - Lewis was always collaborating with musicians.
Actually, it was the summer program through the Berklee College of Music in L.A. while Lewis was in high school that introduced him to musicians who knew The B Foundation.
'It was a dream come true for me to join at the opportune moment of the breaking scene,' Lewis said.
His sister added, 'with every show, he gets better and becomes more entertaining to watch.'
Lewis said he's not 'in this' to reach fortune and fame.
'We lead the hard lives on the road to learn, inspire and create art. There is no greater sense of freedom than living light and traveling the world, reaching the people who open their arms and hearts to you,' Lewis said. 'We might not last an eternity, but we've definitely made our impression.'
High school classmate Rose Connolly, 27, of Lexington, Ky., said Lewis performances stick with her. 'Of all the people I know, he is one of the few who has really followed his dream, literally around the country,' she said. 'It's nice to see him get the recognition he deserves.'
Lewis said that his journey to this point has taught him how music affects people.
'The more energy I give you (on stage), you give back,' he said. 'We share and exist together in these uniquely magic moments.'
With his guitar raised to the sky, Lewis' growing audience validates the life change he made, making it all worthwhile as they gear up for shows in Europe.
'My goal is to make the magic live, to give people the shivers when they hear you hit the high notes or see the sweat dripping off your instrument standing on a 10-foot speaker box while playing a guitar solo behind your back,' Lewis said. 'These are the magic moments of rock 'n' roll.'
Perhaps Lewis's dad, Wes Lewis, put it best when he said his son, 'is music, and he is moving to its rhythm.'
To listen to music by The B Foundation, visit http://thebfoundation.net.