Acclaimed Welsh singer-songwriter Donna Lewis broke through internationally with her electro pop 1996 hit “I Love You Always Forever.” The track was a hit with VH1 and hit the Billboard Charts at number two for nine consecutive weeks. In 2021, Lewis was preparing to celebrate the smash hit’s 25-year anniversary, when she received a life-altering phone call–a breast cancer diagnosis. Amid a global pandemic, hospital rooms, and chemotherapy, Lewis began the creative process for “The Messenger,” the lead single off her upcoming album “Rooms With A View.”
Lewis’ influence remains ever present in the world of pop music, with her uniquely nostalgic electric style often earning her a spot amid acclaimed contemporaries Kate Bush and Cyndi Lauper. Post “I Love You Always Forever,” Lewis went on to write “At The Beginning” for Fox Animation’s 1997 film “Anastasia.” The singer connected with producer Holmes Ives in the decades that followed, and in 2021 to work on “Rooms With A View.” Though the pair have still never met in person, Lewis feels it was a match made in music heaven.
“In the middle of treatment, he just got in touch out with the blue and said, ‘Look, I’ve got all these instrumental tracks, have a listen and if any of these inspire you to collaborate on, let me know.’ I didn’t tell him what was going on with me at the time. And ‘The Messenger’ was the first one. A couple of them just jumped out at me and I started having all these ideas,” said Lewis.
“The cool thing about it is because I’m so knowledgeable about my own vocals, I could record on my own in my studio, and then I would just send him the stems and then he would put it together. We feel it is like a joint production, a joint writing process,” Lewis elaborated.
Remote production aside, Lewis was faced with the biggest songwriter’s challenge of her life–writing about her journey through cancer. What may seem daunting actually eased the singer through her time at a Memorial Sloan Kettering center in New York. “The Messenger” is a haunting electronic backed balled detailing cancer coming to Lewis like a bad dream, elusive and challenging to banish. “Corridors” tells a different story.
The Nurse Who Inspired “Corridors”
On “Corridors”, Lewis takes listeners through the rooms she inhabited during treatment, and introduces them to the nurses who carried her through a series of chemotherapy, and one of Lewis’ biggest fears, needles, layered over lo-fi beats.
“You go down these corridors to go and have treatment in different rooms. I had a lot of blood taken, took lots of needles. I used to request this one nurse all the time to take my blood because I hate needles, and her name was Eileen,” said Lewis.
“As I was thinking about the lyrics for this track, she just popped into my head and she was always my girl that I would ask for, they were all so great, but this woman was particularly so sweet and gentle. It’s almost like a shout-out to all the nurses, but this one is particularly about Eileen.”
Compared to the haunting electro-pop of “The Messenger”, Lewis is happy to offer a light spot to women going through similar times. Having a support system with family and within the hospital helped Lewis through these trying times. “I love this track because some of the tracks are quite dark on the record because cancer is not a pretty thing to go through. But this one was a little bit more upbeat and more fun,” said Lewis.
The Views That Went Into “Rooms With A View”
Lewis approached the upcoming album in a unique manner. Instead of calling out cancer by name, the record focuses on support, introspection, and survival, in a way that lyrically leaves much of the music up to interpretation.
“I never planned to write a record about my cancer journey, but as Holmes was sending through these cool instrumental tracks, these lyrics just kept flooding out. I like to write songs in the sense that allows people to interpret them in any way they want, but some people might not even realize it is about my cancer journey,” said Lewis.
“It really helped me in a way because I think sometimes when you’re going through cancer treatment, it just overwhelms you and it takes over your life. And I felt doing music and writing and this whole electronic vibe, which I loved, just took me out of that. I felt like I was Donna again. It was just really therapeutic to feel like ‘okay, I’m back doing what I love, doing music writing, recording.'”
Since her 2021 diagnosis, Lewis has since become an Ambassador for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. She hopes to connect with other women who share her struggles, both through her work with the organization and upcoming album.
“I always love to keep making music, and having that diagnosis and being told that you’re going to have to take a year off doing any performances was hard. For me to be able to continue to do my music was great,” said Lewis.
“I think this album is really for anybody. It’s not just about breast cancer, but it’s for anybody going through that darkness or a difficult time in their lives. That’s everything for me, because I think music does bring people together, and I’m just one of millions of women who have had breast cancer. I’m nobody special in this because so many women go through this, but if I can share a little inspiration or light along the way, then that’s everything.”
“Rooms With a View” drops in 2024, and Lewis can only hope that listeners will resonate with it always and forever.