May 2009


I think Kevin and I are pretty much in agreement that this Moldovan band is the greatest thing since cheese. And if you don’t dig the beats, you surely can’t argue with pretty girls running through fields of sunflowers.

Originally posted at Weickgenant.com 

The interview below, which I conducted shortly before moving to Amsterdam from Austin, Texas, formed the basis for this article in Paste Magazine online.

I urge everybody who reads this to check into Black Joe Lewis. In one of the world’s most exciting and varied music scenes, Joe stands out right now. The Honeybears’ sound is still a raw, unpolished gem, but these guys should be headed for big things.

Listen to the music, then read the article and this interview to get a look at the philosophy that drives it.

Interview slightly redacted:

JW: How did you discover you were into music?

BJL: I used to work at this pawn shop and I was always just kind of fucking around with {guitars}. And I just ended up buying one one day, and then I just kind of learned on my own, and then would try to hang out with people that are playing.

JW: What kind of guitar?

BJL: It was a fucking Ibanez or something, looks sort of like a Stratocaster.

JW: So you started jamming, attending open mikes? How did you have the confidence that you could lead your own band?

BJL: I don’t know. I think just because of like all the shitty shows I had at the beginning, now it’s just like whatever, you know. I don’t know. I did some really bad shows and then I surprised people when I’d keep coming back {laughs}. I just wanted to get better, you know?

JW: When you say shitty shows, what do you mean?

BJL: Well, I was pretty much learning on stage, you know. And just forgetting the words. I guess it was kind of corny, you know, it’s all about not taking yourself too seriously at that point…it really doesn’t matter to me what people think. I mean, I want people to like me, but just, I’m not gonna…

JW: That sort of seems to go with your style, which involves a lot of stream of consciousness…

BJL: Pretty much. And that gets me in trouble a lot.

JW: What about the blues, what corner out there hasn’t been brought out yet. How do you think it can “take fire” again?

BJL: I think just now, all the blues is just too cleaned up. I think the more people get back to doing like the really the old style, it’ll come back, because people like that. People hear, they think of blues, and they think of like Stevie Ray Vaughan, shit like that. I think the more people get back to doing that old stuff…everything’s just guitar solos over and over. I mean that’s cool, but not the whole fucking song.

JW: What older blues musicians influenced you?

BJL: Lightning Hopkins, Elmore James, Hound Dog Taylor. JW: Was it just like, once you started playing guitar, you started listening to that kind of music?

BJL: Yeah, I started listening to Jimi Hendrix. And that kind of introduced me to stuff other than rap. And then I guess once I started playing later on, I picked Blues as a direction. Because the stuff I listened to now, I didn’t hear back then…

JW: What did you hear growing up?

BJL: I’ve always been a big MJG fan. Ghetto Boyz. Fuckin’ U.D.K. James Brown was always around. My dad really was a disco guy, so, stuff like that. I started getting into other stuff just out of high school, started listening to different kind of music.

JW: There’s a sort of gallows humor to songs like “I’m Broke.”

BJL: I kind of just try to make it, to keep it real. You know, I hate my job, “they keep fucking me with no grease,” you know. It’s like shit, I’m at work, you know, I fucking hate my job. That’s just how it is. It’s true you know. And the truth is funny sometimes. Whenever I write, I just keep it real, just tell it like it is. Cause like, {take as} an example all of the club rap that’s real big right now, all that Soulja Boy shit. That shit’s fucking stupid man, nobody does that stuff. Rappers that I like they’re talking about real shit. I’m not gonna talk about being rich, having a lot of cars, because I don’t know what that’s like. But I wrote a song about being in prison. I’ve never been in prison. I’ve been in jail. But when I wrote that song, I wrote down stories of like…I mean my dad was in and out of prison a lot, and I used to watch all these MSNBC lockup shows. So I got a lot of stuff from that.

JW: Am I correct in saying most of the upcoming cd was recorded live?

BJL: I guess so, like at least half of it. A lot of those songs we’d been playing together for like a really long time before we went into the studio. So that helped make it tighter. And I guess we did three or four takes, well a couple songs we did two takes and we’d just know it. And then when we got into like some of the overdubbing that took a long time. I’m always a fan of doing things live. If I had it my way, I know you’ve got to cut out all the fuckups, but I like that stuff in there. It’s like who cares. You don’t want to take nothing out of it. I always can tell the overdubs, sounds really studio-like, they just sound more unnatural to me. I like the old shit. I want it to sound like old records. You ever heard of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Live in Cambridge?” That’s like my favorite album. It’s just live.

JW: You toured with Spoon. How was that?

BJL: That was our first tour. Coming out spoiled dude, because we were playing these really big rooms, that were sold out. Like, the West Coast is just so much fun. The East Coast, everybody’s too cool, you know. The South, everybody’s kind of, if they come out, they don’t come out for music. Austin…you know there’s music cities in the South, but all the places in between, there’s nothing there. You’ve got to really be playing country music. It’s not a…I mean, I think that we could do good in a lot of those towns, but it’s just trying to get them out there, you know.

JW: How long have you been with the Honeybears?

BJL: In April, I think it might be three years. When we met, I had the Cool Breeze. That was my other band, my second band. My first band was Black Joe Lewis and the Holden Brothers, Nick and Josh Holden. And we were all really young and it was so much fun. We used to play to nobody. We’d always go to Lafayette and play for Mardi Gras and play for fun. They had something else they went to do, so I got with Cool Breeze, and that band lasted for a while. We did this Sunday night gig at Hole in the Wall. Like, for like years, and we played the same fucking songs. Because everybody in my band, they were all older than me. So, it was really hard for me to tell them stuff. I was gonna quit. Because we never practiced and we just played the same songs for fucking two years. And that kind of ended on a bad note I guess. And right when that was about to end, I met Zach {Ernst, currently rhythm guitarist for the Honeybears}. He was on this committee for 40 Acres Fest while they were booking Little Richard and he had heard my CD I guess and interviewed me and got me and booked me to open for Little Richard. And that’s how I met Zach. And my friends played that show. Cool Breeze, I fired them before that show. So a bunch of my friends got together and we played that show.

JW: Was that nerve racking?

BJL: You know, I got up there and it was all right. The anticipation was kind of rough. Like Little Richard’s a fucking, almost a comedy act. He’s bitching at everybody for taking pictures, and talking about a show with Pat Boone that happened in like the 50’s. So, we did that, and I was gonna quit after that, because I was tired of my band, just because I just didn’t know where it was gonna go, I was like maybe I should just go work. I’m not just gonna sit here playing Sunday nights. Zach was like, I know some guys from school. I can put a band together if you want. So, we got together with that.

JW: During the EP release party at Beauty Bar, you could tell you guys knew each other well. There was a lot of chemistry.

BJL: Yeah, I was impressed. All these people just didn’t move. It’s a hipster bar, it’s just like, they’re not gonna…

JW: Is that what you view as your fan base, the hipster contingent?

BJL: I think so. Because when we started this band, because I’d been playing around in all the bars and I saw all these indie bands just fucking killing it. So I was just like: we need to target the indie clubs. Because I don’t think that just because you play country or rap or something you should have to be at this bar. If you really want to be successful, everybody’s got to hear it and let them decide whether they like it or not. Get out and ignore the scene shit. I was just like, we’ve got to get into these bars, because these are the people that go out the most, and pay attention to music. Indie rock is taking over the world. So one of the first places we went was Beauty Bar. And Britt Daniel happened to be there, and that’s how we met Spoon. And then he liked it, took us on tour, and that’s how everything starts. Because we went to the fucking indie rock bar.

JW: You started playing just seven years ago. That means you really don’t know what your potential is as a musician.

BJL: A lot of the times I find that when we go into record, a couple months later, I’ll be like, damn, I wish we could go back and record again, because I’m a better musician now. Every day, unless you don’t play, you don’t practice, then you’re not gonna get better. But as long as you put in your time, you know, you’ll get better. That’s just my goal, is to just keep getting better, and to get there and not have to work anymore.