Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interview - Jeffrey Lewis - Club Cafe - 3.24.12 - Show Preview - Concert Preview

As previously mentioned, Jeffrey Lewis will be playing this Saturday at Club Cafe. We were able to finally catch up with him after his SXSW shows this past week. JL was kind enough to answer questions on how he has been able to create a living with his DIY ethos, his connection with Jaymay and Kimya Dawson and his dark lyrical content. As mentioned before, we would like to offer you a free pair of tickets to the show. As usual, just email us with your name at pghmusicreport@gmail.com

You have been making a living with your DIY ethos for over 10 years. What is your secret for sustaining an ‘indie’ career especially in NYC?

Three things: one, read "Our Band Could Be Your Life" to see how some other bands did it; two, don't pay for any services until after you've already made enough for yourself to survive, in other words any money for a manager, photographer, publicist, record producer, vehicle, hotel, or any other possible expense, should only come out of the profit that you make for yourself and your bandmates, so that the musicians get paid first and foremost and only after the musicians are surviving is it possible to then start spending money on those extra things. I don't believe in investments, or spending money to make money, going into debt in hopes of making money later. You have to be making money before you can spend money. And the third rule is that the function of art is to blow minds, that's your job as an artist, if you're doing your job then you'll do fine.

Jaymay and Kimya Dawson recently played here. You are linked by the ‘Sidewalk CafĂ©’ anti-folk scene. Do you feel any connection with it? These are other artists that are making it on their own. Do you similar economic structure?

The Sidewalk Cafe has this great Monday might open mic that's been going on for decades, and it's where I got my start performing in New York City when I began writing songs. It's the perfect place to start in many ways, because anybody can just walk in off the street, no demo tape needed, no pre-arrangements, and there's usually a good crowd and a lot of inspiring and talented people to meet, and creativity is prized more than musicianship or cover songs or posturing. Everybody who plays the Sidewalk is called "Antifolk" no matter what kind of music they play. I feel a big connection with that place, and especially the group of people who were around there in the late 90s when I was starting out. Everybody's got their own economic situations, and their own goals and ambitions, but I think of it like the "million monkeys on a million typewriters" thing, like, there's so many zillions of people who have played that open mic there's inevitably going to be a handful of great people coming out of there.

A Turn in the Dream Songs is your latest album. Was there a particular theme behind this? Or?

My records usually don't have conscious themes, though in retrospect when I look back on an album a couple years later I can see the dominant thoughts and ideas and attitudes that inform the overall feeling of the record.

You have been on Rough Trade Records now for years. With your DIY ethos, did you ever consider putting out these albums yourself? Why do you stay with a label?

I put my recordings out myself on cassettes for a few years before Rough Trade asked me if they could release some of this stuff on CD, and it seems to have been a good idea to have them do that. It's not like I was shopping stuff around to different labels, or like I chose Rough Trade for some reason to be my label, it was just a lucky circumstance that I got an email from them one day in 2001 that lead to all of this. Now, ten years later, I still give them first choice when I make an album, I'll send them a copy of the recording and ask if they'd want to put it out, and most of the time they've said yes, which has been great. I can also still put stuff out myself, which I do sometimes.

Is there always a plan to create a comic book with your albums? Or is this something you do every now and then?

Do you mean for the album packaging artwork? I have been trying, for the past few albums, to give each album a unique packaging design that is different from anything else being sold. I think that in this day and age when the music itself is very easy to download, it's important that the physical item be worth buying. I've even considered releasing the album packaging without even including the disc, just with a note saying where to download the music. I'm very happy with the way the artwork and design worked out for A Turn in the Dream-Songs, but I think they printed it too dark. I've been asking Rough Trade to fix this on subsequent printings, maybe they will.

Your music is often described as comedy, but there is a darker side. Do the ‘depressed, gloomy’ lyrics personify you as a musician?

My music is mostly pretty dark, as far as I see it myself. I'm basically an atheist and a pragmatist, trying to keep myself happy and sane in a world that often seems poorly designed for such stuff. I usually try to use songs as ways to battle the darkness of life, with a tool kit that includes logic, humor, and philosophy. If people take some of it as comedy, that's at least good to the extent that it admits humor as a part of life, on equal ground with tragedy, love, death, heartbreak, food, housing, travel, history, art, youth, all of the stuff of human existence on earth. I think any artist who narrows their scope to exclude any of these aspects is missing some colors in their pallet, missing some parts of the toolkit. So yeah, humor is part of it, but everything is part of it.

Was there a show or artists who made you want to dedicate your life to music/comic books?

Any great comic book creator makes me want to dedicate my life to comic books, whether it's Alan Moore, Daniel Clowes, Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Matt, Jack Kirby, and a long list of others who have inspired me to pursue making comic books my entire life, from a very young age. As for music and songs, I'd have to point to Daniel Johnston as the primary inspiration for me making and recording songs, when I discovered his stuff in the mid-90s it was a life-changing experience because he proved so clearly that songs have nothing to do with how good you sing, how good you play, how expensive your recordings are, what you look like, any of that stuff. A song can be the greatest, most moving, most enlightening thing you've ever heard even with absolutely none of that stuff going for you. The song itself is the only important thing. That's a lesson that my entire songwriting output is based on. When it comes to the more musical side of what I do, I think Yo La Tengo and Lou Reed have had the biggest influences on the dynamic that I aim for, the balance between the sonically beautiful and the sonically brutal, complete control and complete chaos, with no corner unexplored.

What future goals would you like to accomplish?

More comic books and more songs that I'm proud of.

Anything you would like to say to Pittsburgh?

I have fond memories of Pittsburgh, some old friends from New York moved there a while back.

This is the early show at Club Cafe with doors at 6p and show at 7p. Tickets are only $8 and can be found here.