Ginger Root’s Aggressive Elevator Soul beautifully at play in the new “Mahjong Room”
He laughs when I ask him about the term “Aggressive elevator soul,” and then Cameron Lew explains. “We had played a show and afterwards a guy came up and told me, ‘I love the grooves you play, it’s so smooth and soulful but then you scream sometimes so it’s aggressive — it’s all so chill I feel like I’m dancing in an elevator.’ And that got me thinking, and the term just felt like a fit for what I do. It’s a fun, strange term that just works.”
By day, the 22-year-old Ginger Root bandleader Cameron Lew puts his film school education to use, creating social media videos for a large TV network that you’ve probably heard of. But in the evenings and the weekends, he retreats to his basement studio to craft atmospheric pop songs influenced by Toro y Moi and Vulfpeck. Mahjong Room, which drops June 29th, is the follow up to Ginger Root’s 2016 acclaimed debut LP Spotlight People. On the new collection, Lew performs most of the instruments and vocals as well as doing the majority of the engineering, mixing, mastering, and design — not to mention directing and editing each impressive music video.
Ranging from funky jams (“Shmoopie,” “Call It Home”) to introspective ballads (“Jeanie,” “Undertaker”) to wordless, sample-heavy meditations (“Hazel Street”), the ten songs on Mahjong Room are transportative. Tape-hiss Wurlitzer, echoing guitars and perfectly compressed drums open the door to a brand new world, where soaring vocals coexist with vintage synths and echoing rhythms.
“The album itself is a collection of songs that deal with not forgetting who you are, while you’re trying to figure out your future,” says Lew of the record. “A lot of the songs were written when I was seriously contemplating dropping out of college. I found out that I’m not a school person at all.” Listeners are lucky that Lew sought comfort in composition during this tricky time, resulting in an earnest collection of true earworms.
As he explains, fans of modern maestros like Tom Misch, Bruno Major, and Mocky will find everything to love in Mahjong Room, as will lovers of instrumentally lush indie rock like Feist and Jay Som and aficionados of bedroom-pop newcomers like Boy Pablo and Rex Orange County. Lew may cast an unassuming figure as a frontman, but the musical architecture that he’s constructed forms a world as fully-formed as any yacht-rock classic.
Lew also shared with me that he grew up enjoying classic soul and R&B, which no doubt accounts for the sweet, seductive hooks that would be right at home on any Spinners, Blue Magic or Delfonics classic. But he’s not rooted in the past; far from it, in fact. His flair for DIY, sonic ear candy is impressive, as is the depth and maturity of the songwriting. As John Oates of Hall & Oates shared with me after listening to last year’s “Thx,” “Wow, this kid is wise beyond his years. He has a real feel for the groove.”
Right now, Lew just wants people to hear the music. “I’ll be touring some more this summer and I’m very proud of the new music. I’ll be doing everything I can to get people to hear it.”
Do yourself a favor and check out Ginger Root. Lew’s grasp of soulful old-school vibe married with a millennial’s sensibility is beautifully disarming and infectiously winning.
And check out the new video: