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Interview: Donna Lewis's Brand New Day

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Courtesy Dan Martland

You’re probably familiar with Donna Lewis via her inescapable hit “I Love You Always Forever,” which camped out on the top of the charts for months in 1996.

But Lewis contains multitudes: She majored in classical composition in piano and flute at school, and her new record, Brand New Day, was recorded with jazz trio The Bad Plus. PEOPLE talked with Lewis about the new project, picking cover songs and working around that massive hit.

“This record is a completely different path for me,” Lewis explains. Brand New Day is composed of cover songs from artists ranging from Neil Young to David Bowie to Gnarls Barkley. “I didn’t want to be one of those pop singers coming back from a hit many years ago with a standards record,” she says. “We sat down really thinking about the musicians and what kind of songs we wanted to do.”

Lewis worked with avant-garde guitarist and composer David Torn on Brand New Day: Between his involvement and The Bad Plus’s, one could be forgiven for doing a double-take when they look at the liner notes to the record. (The Bad Plus are a piano trio known for covering everything from The Bee Gees to serialist composer Milton Babbit in their sets.) Lewis met Torn through a mutual friend and says she found him in the studio working on a piece and simply asked him, “Can I have that,” which later became Lewis’s side project Chute.

Working with The Bad Plus, Lewis says, was slightly frazzling, at least at first. “Here are these three musicians, so incredible, and I was in this new environment. But we had a couple days rehearsal, and I really came away each night feeling elated.” The group recorded the songs live, and a few of the songs that appear on the album are first takes.

The album does include a new version of “Always Forever,” which Lewis says was conscious. “I was definitely thinking I wouldn’t do that. We had a couple of other things that didn’t make the record, and it was an afterthought. And it was David who pushed to do a completely different arrangement of it. But I’ve grown to really like it.”

Being known exclusively as the “Always Forever” woman “used to bother me,” Lewis says. “But over the years, I just sort of carry on. I hope that this record will allow other people to see this other side of me.”

Check out Lewis’s version of David Bowie’s “Bring Me the Disco King” below and be sure to check out Brand New Day, available March 10.