By: Lindsy Carrasquillo
Jeffrey Lewis is an indie rock singer/songwriter and comic book artist from New York city. He will be playing here in Gainesville on May 2nd at the Atlantic with his backing band, Los Bolts with support from the bands Rosemary Kennedy and Black Haw Shake. We are able to talk to him about his lyricism, new music and more.
You’ve been on tour for a few days now, what have the shows been like so far?
“It’s a short tour with eleven shows in total and no days off as usual. We started off in Baltimore and it was much smaller than usual. I thought “oh man, maybe everyone’s forgotten about us”. But we played a show in Richmond, Virginia the next day and it’s nice to feel like people still care about us.”
Your newest release, Manhattan, came out in 2016 and the tracks are full of honest lyrics. Is that your goal when writing music?
I think that anybody writing songs or writing anything whether it’s a novel, comic book, or theater, you try to find your own artistic voice and whatever emotional tools you have to create from. You necessarily can’t predict what that will come out as but you’ll find the materials that are functioning. For the materials that I put on the record, it’s what I felt strongest about at the time. I ended up writing a lot of songs that don’t get used or I try stuff live and see if I should put it on the record or not. For that record, I picked from a pile of about 35 and went for the geographic theme of New York City. Some of its autobiographical and some of its more fantastical or bizarre that seems to work in the overall fabric of it.
As a New York native, how would you describe the music scene?
New York City’s music scene has gone through different periods of vibrancy. I imagine that even in times where there’s nothing famous going on in terms of bands that become known outside of New York City, there’s still a lot of good stuff happening. With what I check out, it’s just very small bands and friends of mine. There’s so many clubs and musicians and a million different scenes from indie rock to electronica to jazz, song writing, country, and all cross overs in between. I don’t know who all the buzz bands but music is a significant part of my life and I pay attention to all the comings and goings and the history also. I’m a big fan of a lot of New York city music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s like The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and on and on. There’s also this huge wealth of rap coming out of New York city that’s conquered the world differently from how punk rock even did. I really recommend the band Prewar Yardsale, their album Lowdown had a big impact on me.
The song “Dictator Seeks Reichstag Fire” came out in February on Audio Antihero’s Unpresidented Jams complication. How has the current political climate impacted your song writing?
I’ve certainly written a lot of political songs over the past few months, they just keep flying out of me. Not really intentionally but sometimes, the ideas just hit you. “Dictator Seeks Reichstag Fire” was written back in November and I don’t really consider myself a political songwriter but I’ve just got a stack of these songs. That one, I guess, is pretty self-explanatory in the sense that a lot of historical evidence shows that leaders take advantage of bad situations to consolidate their leadership. In a country that’s so divided, it would kind of be a scary thing if something were to happen and Trump were to take advantage and get people to forget about what they don’t like about him or their own problems and rally around something. In the song, I basically just make a list of the events that repeat over and over in history.
Who are some of your current inspirations?
Daniel Johnson is a formative inspiration who kickstarted why whole way of thinking about music. Tony Green from Portland, Oregon is one of my favorite song writers. He’s got a way of making something simultaneously funny and true to life and I find them very emotionally effecting and I’ve found a lot of inspiration from his songs.
Along with creating music, you make comics. Can you tell us about that process?
I’ve been doing comics my entire life. I’ve been doing them pretty much since the late 70’s when I was four years old. Some are fiction and some are nonfiction whether autobiographical or a historical topic. Even the autobiographical songs, they may not be about me, it may be about the French revolution or something like that. It’s hard to know where inspiration will come from and it’s not a conscious decision, I just pursue it. Sometimes I feel like it’ll be months or ages until I find another idea that comes into my brain. I’ve been able to average putting out one a comic once a year but I’d like to put out four a year. But it’s a combination with the band and music. It’s just a DIY project where I’m the one booking all the shows and organizing the houses. It’s slowly, slowly, does get done but I do wish I was putting out comics more regularly.
You mentioned booking your own shows, what is the importance of DIY in music?
It’s a valuable lesson because you can just do it than wait for someone else to do it or you. It’s time consuming but I’ve been able to have a career in music for 15 years without all the things that people think needs to happen. It’s accessible to anyone if you have the desire to do it and try it out. That’s what’s cool about meeting bands like Rosemary Kennedy and the others we encounter, everybody develops their own way of doing things and you learn lot form the way they set up a stage, the way the book their shows and the ways the make things work.
You’ll be playing in Gainesville on May 2nd, what should fans expect?
I usually like to keep things pretty unpredictable. I don’t like to write a setlist until right before I get on stage and I’ve got so many songs to pick from between the solo acoustic stuff, the harder sort of garage punk stuff, and then I have some songs that are illustrated where I’ll be showing drawings while showing a song. I try to have some weird mix where something will be a brand-new thing that I’m trying and something else will be an old song that hasn’t been played in a while. I’m really looking forward to Gainesville, there’s a lot of good music stuff and really cool people.