Lou Rogai is a songwriter, instrumentalist, composer, and producer. His voice and vision resonate through Lewis & Clarke's signature sound of lush, long-form art-pop / avant-folk compositions. The name references the fellowship and correspondence between C. S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke, not the 19th-century explorers. For over a decade, Lewis & Clarke has steadily and quietly built a devout following by initially touring multiple continents and releasing several acclaimed recordings on his own imprint. Rogai's slow-burning process is as much a mission statement as it is an authentic path in a corporate age. After three proper full-lengths, several EPs, and an array of singles, he continues to make Lewis & Clarke music as an antidotal, unaffected experience. He was the subject of a 2014 episode of Weathervane Music's Shaking Through documentary series which detailed his mission and process. He lives and works in Pennsylvania, USA, near a river between two mountains.
- Donnybrook Writing Academy
photo: Rob Yaskovic
The True Triumvirate
It may seem counterintuitive for a person who makes his living through music to purposely distance himself from his city of birth and nearby creative hub of Brooklyn, but for Lou Rogai, the breadth and dexterity of his work under the moniker Lewis & Clarke would have been impossible to achieve by urban means alone. Starting in 2003 with the self-released Bright Light EP, it is obvious that his surroundings have played as intrinsic a role in the project as any instrument. His geographical influences are entwined in lyrical imagery and metaphor, inspiring cascading, light-speckled atmospheres with intricate, wind-swept rhythms.
The debut Lewis & Clarke full-length Bare Bones and Branches and its follow-ups, Blasts of Holy Birth and the Light Time EP (both released on La Société Expéditionnaire, the label founded by Rogai in 2006), are immersed in seasonal themes, existential prose, and the cycles of life's changes. Rogai’s combination of musical craftsmanship, talent, sincerity, and lack of pretense have brought him critical acclaim from outlets like Magnet, Pitchfork, and The Onion’s A/V Club and a global following of fans, although he’d still be making music even if no one had ever listened. To Rogai, his music is a facet of connectivity that is larger than himself.
The name Lewis & Clarke refers to a friendship between writers C.S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke. It’s the perfect starting point to dig into Rogai’s music; a place where exploration and conversation meet, and where the realities and physicalities of the universe are as revered as its mysteries. However, as Rogai can attest, some of the boldest journeys man can ever take are those of self-discovery and the quest to find meaning in relationships and in the world around us. He doesn’t so much wear his heart on his sleeve as give his listeners an access portal into his life. “It feels vulnerable and free and powerful at the same time,” Rogai says. “It’s too easy to do something guarded, that's simply fear disguised as cool." The result is jarringly personal without being overbearing and is an effective reminder that genuine openness, even in its most subtle forms, feels raw and unnerving in a time where self-exploitation (often disguised as self-expression) is the norm.
Rogai’s predisposition for honesty and authenticity are as inextricable from his work as nature, owed in part to his roots in traditional punk ethos (he was a founding member of various seminal early 90's punk and hardcore bands in PA), although the graceful melodies and diverse instrumentations of Lewis & Clarke are outside the sounds typically associated with punk. Likewise, at La Société Expéditionnaire, ethic supersedes genre. The label’s carefully-curated roster often shares more in approach and artistic integrity than artistic expression. It may be at odds with standard music industry practices, but its the only way Rogai can imagine doing business. “If it’s from the gut, and its real, and you’re living it, you’re not being an actor or making something because you think it will fill a slot in the marketplace.” Fans and critics alike have come to know "La Soc" as a go-to label for high-quality, unaffected records made by some of the most inventive thinkers in modern music (Strand of Oaks, Daniel Knox, and Martin Bisi to name a few).
After the release of the Light Time EP in 2009, Rogai took a step back from his business and touring to focus on building a new life with his young son. The path to their new beginning was turbulent, and true to form, he turned to music as means to persevere through the darkest moments and cherish the silver linings. The upcoming Lewis & Clarke record, Triumvirate, is an expansive collection of 12 tracks written over three years and serves as a document of that time. The album takes its title from the political term for the classic power struggle between three entities as well as a cliff face of the same name in Delaware Water Gap. "If you equate the act of climbing a mountain as solving a puzzle, the album name is also a metaphor for solving a moving puzzle and moving forward". Listening to demos of the record, though, one gets the sense that the true triumvirate Rogai is exploring is one within himself; the outward-facing philosopher, the introspective songwriter, and the old soul whose oneness with the natural world can’t help but permeate his work.
As always, Rogai’s life appears in his music, and the ever-prolific aural diarist is already at work on new compositions. For now, he’s ready to once again open up to his listeners after his time away from the limelight, and share a healthy dose of new Lewis & Clarke material that both he and his faithful followers have been eager to explore.
Praise for Triumvirate (2014):
"Gorgeous, slow building...the way a gifted author tells stories, revealing details slowly, guiding the narrative along confidently"
"Informed and elegant...luxuriously textured...it is gorgeous, and it is heartbreaking, and it reminds one that grace exists in this life if we have the dogged strength to finally find it.
"Gorgeously crafted and composed, full of wonder...seventy-five minutes of sheer beauty and trauma"
-The Line Of Best Fit (UK)
"The kind of album that can transfix you, and if it's epic in its delivery, grand in its scope, it is still—like the other Lewis & Clarke records—first and foremost intimate and inviting, a bittersweet space to get lost in along with the players."
"Lewis & Clarke returns with a huge masterpiece; a double LP of extreme beauty, emotion, musicality, and storytelling"
"A clear and honest vision of elevated longform songwriting that's mesmerizing in its grandeur, immersive in its majestic sweep, and yet so neatly contained within its wide expansive."
-All Around Sound
"Melancholic creations are woven through with existential prose, subdued intimate beauty"
-Folk Radio UK
"Exquisitely crafted, orchestrated and performed. The album is lush, warm, melancholic, world-weary, yet often uplifting. Call it chamber folk, baroque pop, or sweater weather music, the double album is a beauty."
-WXPN The Key
"It's certainly expansive, but it's the individual songs that make Triumvirate feel grand...these songs sound full, and brimming with life."
"We are somehow being guided in a way that opens us to the mystery and wonder of this world, led to see what might be the familiar, as strange. Even perhaps what's finite as infinite, as the poet Novalis might have suggested"
- Erika Funke WVIA
"Intensely enchanting avant-folk music. At times both serene and ominous, this album is as beautiful as music gets."
-The Swollen Fox
"A modern masterpiece"
-Pittsburgh In Tune
"Lewis & Clarke is a poet, a philosopher, a musician: these forms of expression give depth to his songwriting"
-Son of Marketing (Italy)
"Highly dynamic...mature and aware...a work of great depth"
"A long, luxurious and atmospheric trip"
"A feature-length exploration of atmosphere and nuance…Slow and measured, delicate but finely wrought, Triumvirate is a welcome return."
-R2 Magazine (UK)
"Sumptuous and profound....Lewis & Clarke’s material, more now than ever, does not pay particular attention to demands or trends. It exists on its own terms and arrives at its own pace."
-Highway 81 Revisited
"A journey into contemplation and musical reflection...pouring over prose like a great storyteller"
"The best folk-tinged indie music over the past decade...an expansive and sonically indulgent collection"
- The Record Dept.
Praise for Light Time (2009):
"Lewis & Clarke blew up their pastoral folk sound into long, torn-open and moody soundscapes on 2007's Blasts of Holy Birth, and they have taken that brooding tangled beauty down even darker roads....Light Time shows once again that Lewis & Clarke's quiet sound is an affecting one."
"Lewis & Clarke doesn't play songs as much as unfurl them, slowly letting ribbons of sound billow and cascade. The power, though, is palpable, made even stronger through delicateness, a paradox that is at play not only in the music on Light Time but also in its metaphors for life, loss and renewal.
Hypnotic mountain folk, setting reedy vocals against spare and elegant guitars, gradually swooning into a near seven-minute piece full of strings and woodsy imagery...songs for getting lost into"
"A reminder that the heart, above all else, is a muscle."
-Donnybrook Writing Academy
"With lyrics that pluck at the heartstrings, and guitar that can be most simply put as solemnly subtle, there's a sense of heaviness that seems to be barely escaping itself...These are songs that embrace their own hopeful anguish, and satisfy our need to feel."
"These songs do more than tell stories: they create moods and inspire thought...what sets Lewis & Clarke apart is their ability to flawlessley execute changes in dynamics, adding a new dimension to the narratives of their songs."
"(Light Time) doesn't just have three noir naturalistic Rogai-penned tracks to worship and adore — he and his crew cover the Leonard Cohen masterpiece "Chelsea Hotel # 2."
-Philadelphia City Paper
"Haunting, hushed vocals and introspective songs elegantly couched in understated arrangements"
-The Morning Call
Praise for Blasts of Holy Birth (2007):
"Its obvious that this album is a keeper...perfectly crafted, well executed, and earnest in its intent...In aiming to create music that is emotionally pure, Lewis & Clarke has released one of the best of the year."
"Eight tracks of delicate beauty."
"The melodies are exquisite, as delivered by an impressive array of strings, percussion, and Rogai's own direct, unforced vocals...This is a band that more than deserves its growing acclaim."
"Rogai has a gift for speaking plainly while tonguing poetry, and his meditations on life cycles and pastoral philosophy blossom and collapse with organic grace...Contributions from Man Man, Rachel's and Hella might draw people in to Holy Birth, but Rogai's cloudless crystalline vision will keep them."
-The A/V Club
"A profound work of earthy, orchestrated new-folk, Blasts Of Holy Birth raises the bar for both listeners and players...An expose of grace, beauty, peril, triumph, and the interconnectivity of all things. Meshing gorgeously hushed melodies and plucked guitars with baroque string arrangements and ethereal pulses and surges, Lewis & Clarke has crafted a transcendent work of epic proportions."
"The eight tracks here are protracted and whisper-quiet yet engaging, with a constant tug of sorrow that satisfies..Rogai exhales poignant lyrics and juggles elegant instrumentation with a revolving cast that includes members of Man Man and Rachel's..Fans of Iron & Wine and ilk would be wise to prick up their ears."
"Blasts of Holy Birth is a much quieter affair whose beauty lies in its intricacies...a mystifying and ultimately solid and thrilling album."
"This is psychedelic in a halcyon sense, as moments expand and bring warmth to the listening experience. Rogai and company play with space here, a feat that yields results that range from warm undertones to grandiose exultation."
-Cleveland Free Times
"Full of gentle drones of bowed cello(courtesy of Rachel's member Eve Miller), ripples of plucked harp strings (by Russell Higbee of Man Man), slow-motion cascades of horns and synths, and existential rhythms of tabla and trap-kit snare, all tied together in patient, sophisticated arrangements that highlight Rogai's spiritually inquisitive lyrics and quietly demonstrative vocals."
"Don't expect to approach Blasts of Holy Birth as a one-hit, catch-and-release affair, as Rogai and his collaborators have culled a set of melodies that achieve a haunting beauty...it is more than a collection of songs...each listen unearths a new layer...restrained aggression often apparent in classical symphonies but rarely accomplished in a pop music setting."
-Lost At Sea
"Intriguing neo-folk classics that are bundled into meditative rhythms that boast an out-of-body experience...The title track will haunt your soul for an eternity; this is an album you simply must own."
"An absolutely stunning album."
"A deeply personal record, crafted with a subtle hand that lends to multiple new awakenings with each new listen...Rogai's centerpiece, 'Before it Breaks You,' takes to task combining the many strengths and mysterious hidden mazes of Holy Birth, into a ten-minute epic capable of producing both tears of remembrance and a third-eye vision, should the listener indulge enough in it's multiple folds. "
"The mystical side of (Lewis & Clarke) is heightening...thoughtful, lightly philosophical, exploratory folk with a rustic, natural-world mood."
- Erasing Clouds
"Blasts of Holy Birth is gorgeous. It's superbly articulated and ideally presented with an appropriate production whose highlights are warmth, delicacy, and prettiness...it's not only the mixture of instrumentation and the aplomb with which each instrument's part is in total harmony with the rest; it's the way all these players are presented to the audience, with each sonic character being an element of delicate beauty."
"Kaleidoscopic layering over sophisticated lines, the rosy folk songs within are tasteful, only bordering on sentimental, and graciously free of pretense...reverent, almost hymnal in quality."
- The Aquarian Weekly
"A record of struggle, doubt, and eventual resolution..pretty folk melody heads off into more unusual territory... rhythmic folk guitar patterns pacing a flickering flow of images"
"This is quite clearly a thinking man's album by a thinking man's band, but a thinking man who figures as much with his spirit as he does with his head."
-Donnybrook Writing Academy
"The music and lyrics are gorgeously rustic, spacious, somnolently elegant and entrenched in the woodsy surroundings that inspired them."
-Philadelphia City Paper