Before headlining a concert in his hometown of Birmingham at Iron City, and before sharing a stage with Morgan Wallen and Jake Owen, Trey Lewis slept on a mattress on the floor of a Nashville apartment, with a Rubbermaid container containing her clothes.
Lewis was trying to break into country music where everyone is going to break into country music. At 30, he feared he was too old, as many of his friends were several years younger than him.
Still, Lewis wrote songs, worked hard, and played every gig he could find. He developed a small following and continued to pursue his dream.
For Lewis, the grind and struggle to break through was still far from where it started.
“I took off like a rocket”
Lewis grew up in Vestavia Hills and reportedly graduated from high school in 2006, but dropped out due to a growing addiction to drugs and alcohol.
At age 13, Lewis began drinking alcohol and soon after began smoking marijuana. Soon after, these addictions led him to use harder drugs, and what he called a “progressive illness” led him to wake up at age 19 with the jerks.
“I took off like a rocket,” Lewis said of his drug use.
It was not unusual to wake up in jail or in a hospital as a teenager, Lewis said.
On June 11, 2007, Lewis called his mother, asked for help, and told her he was tired of being a drug addict. Fourteen years later, Lewis has been sober for 14 years.
After undergoing treatment, Lewis got a job at Tropical Smoothie in Hoover. One day, after saving some money, Lewis bought a guitar and learned to play. While learning to play, he also sought to help others, including sponsoring a friend he met while working at Tropical Smoothie. This friend eventually took Lewis to Nashville and introduced him to one of his bandmates, who owned a studio in the city.
“Play me something, man,” the producer told him.
Lewis said he played one of his “terrible songs” he wrote and the producer was impressed with his voice. “Before I knew it, we became friends and I was going to Nashville and recording songs,” he said.
Offered a chance to record an album for free if he stayed in Nashville, Lewis headed north. Although he gained experience, he did not land a recording contract, but he met his wife. However, when they returned to Birmingham, his wife relapsed. Lewis had to make the difficult decision to leave in order to protect his own sobriety.
“Sobriety always comes first, no matter what,” Lewis said. “I follow a lot of things today. I am a musician; I am a singer-songwriter; I am a son their parents are proud of. I’m a friend to people who need me to be a friend, but first and foremost, I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and without sobriety, I can’t be any of those things.
It was a tough time in his life, but Lewis said it ended up being the best. Soon after, he moved to Nashville for the second time.
2020 was supposed to be the best year yet for Lewis, he said. He had reservations and gigs and was hoping this would be the year he finally broke into the music business.
Then COVID-19 arrived. Fortunately, Lewis said he was able to get grants from music associations and was able to continue writing music.
But in 2020, Lewis became something of an overnight sensation, at least on social media, with the release of a raunchy bar single about a promiscuous woman in Dallas and other parts of the country.
One of the songwriters, Matt McKinney, had heard Lewis sing a not-so-family version of Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor” at Auburn’s SkyBar one night, and when he found it in Nashville, he told him. said he and his buddies were working on the song “Dallas.”
Lewis, who had been releasing music for eight years by then, offered to record the song and release it. It immediately went viral and reached No. 1 on the iTunes and Billboard Hot 100 charts.
While he might not have expected to go viral with a song whose lyrics might make a lot of people blush, Lewis said it was really meant to be just a “fun song,” and while he don’t hesitate, there’s more to him than just one song.
“Being extravagant and crazy is definitely part of my personality, but that’s not all,” Lewis said.
help to heal
On a recent trip to Nashville, Lewis took the time to play some of his songs and share his story with those recovering from addiction, he said. Back home, he played “Tunes for Tripp,” a fundraiser held in memory of his high school friend, Tripp Norris, who died in 2012 of a drug overdose.
One of the songs Lewis wrote while sleeping on that mattress in Nashville was called “Little Tired.” In it, he details his battle with mental health and facing life’s challenges. His testimony to the importance of mental health Lewis wanted to share with his fans and wanted it to be well received.
Lewis released the song in October 2021, and while he still receives disapproving messages about the song “Dallas”, he receives an overwhelming amount of positive messages about his music, whether
“Little Fated” helps people take charge of their sanity, or another song helping a military member through their deployment.
“It’s really cool that what I write and the things I can say can affect people in a positive way,” Lewis said.
Knowing that some of his fans might be struggling with the same things he
fought or fought his own battles and drawing strength from his music is powerful, Lewis said.
“It means the world to me,” he said.
Music has always been part of Lewis’ healing process as well. Although he still sees a therapist and participates in 12-step groups, there’s something special about writing and playing music.
“Music does something for me that I can’t get anywhere else, and I believe it does for everyone,” Lewis said. “At six months clean, I bought a guitar. … When I figured out how to play a G chord, I was like, ‘Wow. That’s better than drugs.
When Lewis was 26, his father passed away. The night after his funeral, he played Rogue Tavern for four hours.
“It was the best thing I could have done because I got on stage, and I was able to play guitar and sing for four hours, not crying, but releasing something inside of me” , Lewis said.
The sweetness of the hearth
Growing up in Vestavia, Lewis said it seemed like most kids had both parents, unlike Trey, who grew up with a single mom.
“I always felt like an underdog,” he said.
Lewis said that although he’s gotten sober, some people refuse to accept that he’s really changed, but he’s okay with that.
“It’s just something I learned and had to accept, and I ended up being completely at peace with it,” Lewis said.
Growing up in Vestavia was tough at times, Lewis said, but he added he couldn’t say enough about all the teachers who tried to help him.
“I was hell on wheels,” Lewis said. “About three years of sobriety, I went back to high school and made amends to all my teachers.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Lewis said. “I’m proud of where I grew up.”
Although he hated Birmingham in his early years, Lewis returned, even writing a song called “Hate this Town”, which asks how he could have hated his hometown. And although he has played all over the country, there is no better place than his home, he said.
“There was nothing better than coming to Zydeco right here in Birmingham and playing for a sold-out crowd and then playing Avondale and seeing…friends and family in the crowd,” said Lewis.
Living the dream
Years after playing every Mexican restaurant and Moe’s BBQ in the Birmingham area, Lewis is now paid by Sony Music Publishing to write and release songs. In addition to releasing “Little Tired” in October, Lewis also released, among other songs, the singles “Single Again” and “Whole Lotta Nothin”, and the five-song EP “Shut the Door”, released in 2021. .
From December 2020 to December 2021, Lewis said he and his band played 120 shows. They were probably one of the first bands to come back and tour after the COVID-19 pandemic started to subside.
“That was crazy, man,” Lewis said. “There is a demand for that.”
Now, instead of covering the hits of other country artists, Lewis has fans singing his songs to him.
“For years and years and years of playing other people’s music for a living and then only playing an hour and a half, playing my original music and hearing people sing those songs to me, that’s a dream come true,” says Lewis.
Fans will often ask why there is no “VIP” meeting with Lewis, he said. And the answer is simple: he does it for every fan of his show. After performing his set, Lewis will head to the merchandise table, sign autographs and take photos.
“If you spent your hard-earned money on a ticket to come see me play, then I can spend an extra hour and a half just taking the time to shake your hand,” Lewis said. “It’s been really fun getting to know my fans. It helps me with everything, with songwriting, what kind of people do I talk to? It was really great.
Lewis began releasing one song a week from January 14 and plans to continue releasing music and attracting new fans.
“I’m living the dream,” Lewis said. “I’m doing what I feel like God put me on this earth to do.”
Fourteen years after beginning his journey to sobriety and then beginning his journey to country music, Lewis is now headlining concerts, as he did in Birmingham at Iron City on December 18. It’s a far cry from the teenager who couldn’t even dream of his own future while battling a drug and alcohol addiction.
“I remember my sponsor asking me, ‘What are your hopes and dreams?’ said Lewis. “I was a 19 year old kid who was addicted to drugs and alcohol; I did not know. He said: ‘That’s the problem; we must make you dream and hope again. … Today, I have hope and I can share it with others.