Jeffrey Lewis Interview
1. Any book recommendations?
2. What have you been listening to lately?
Back From the Grave Volume 9
3. Do you think Mr. Bean would be into your music?
I don’t know anything about Mr. Bean.
4. How many frogs have you owned in your life?
Four or five.
5. If you ever meet Ray Romano, can you please tell him that I love him?
I don’t know who that is.
6. What is AntiFolk? (just kidding.)
7. What band has influenced you the least?
8. Would you ever consider writing a song about Daniel Johnston?
9. Worst advice you can give me?
If at first you don’t succeed, give up.
10. What are you excited about?
Finishing and releasing my new comic book, finishing and releasing my critical-analysis book about Watchmen.
Isaac Gutierrez for Born Loser Magazine: To start things off, can you introduce yourself for those readers who may not be familiar with you?
Jeffrey Lewis: Hi, my name’s Jeffrey. If you don’t know who I am or why you’re reading this, or why you’re asking me questions, then please leave me alone and let me get back to other work.
BL: You’ve been active in music for a while now, what have you learned along the way that you wish you would’ve known when you first started out?
JL: Having a hippie ponytail is not a shortcut to being taken seriously in indie-rock
BL: Has your view of “success” in music changed as time went on, or has it remained the same?
JL: It has stayed the same. Daniel Johnston.
BL: You’ve mentioned that Daniel Johnston is one of your musical inspirations. Is there anything specific about him or his music that inspired you most?
JL: He’s the greatest, that’s it. He dispenses with all bullshit and gets to the truth about art—he uses his heart alone, to utterly demolish you and anything in his path. He’s god.
BL: Do you remember the first time you heard Daniel Johnston’s music?
JL: Yeah, it was the “Fun” album, sometime around 1995. At Purchase College.
BL: Talk to us about your latest album “ Bad Wiring”
JL: It’s pretty good.
BL: Do you have a favorite lyric from the album?
JL: There’s a number of good lines. Here’s one:
“You gotta have free will/
to live your pre-planned life /
you gotta pay the bill/
Or you get unsubscribed”
BL: What is your favorite song to play live?
JL: "Exactly What Nobody Wanted" is a recent favorite to play live.
BL: Do you have a favorite part of the process? (writing, recording, producing etc.)
JL: The realization that I have just written a great song.
BL: How long was the process of making the album? From writing to releasing?
JL: About 3 years probably. The earliest of the songs that appear on the album started to develop around summer 2016. By the time my band recorded the album in March 2018 we had been performing most (but not all) of the songs live for at least a year or longer. Almost all of the songs had been recorded originally as acoustic home demos, and then as full-band studio demos, in NYC, and then again as full-band studio-demos on the first day of our recording week in Nashville in March 2018. We recorded the album in 7 days in Nashville in March 2018, then I went back to Nashville alone to finish the mixing, with producer Roger Moutenot, for 3 days in May 2018. Then there were additional decisions to make, and mastering. I sent it to Rough Trade Records in Sept or Oct of 2018, didn’t get a response from them for a while, then when I pushed for a response they said they did not want to release it (no explanation given). So then I had to get involved with contacting a whole list of possible record labels and trying to make a decision about who and how and where and why to release it. I also had to start thinking about the album art and design and concepts, and start working on all the illustrations and lettering and ideas that would form some kind of album packaging. The album finally saw the light of day in November 2019. At this point I have about 2 or 3 songs that I’ve been playing live that will go on my next record, and a lot of home demos of other new songs from the past couple years that don’t feel good enough to me to pursue. I’ll need to write a lot more songs before I have enough good ones for a new record.
BL: I read in a previous interview that sometimes when you release an album you have the thought that you’ll never be able to do it again. Did you feel like that with your latest release?
JL: Yeah, I know it will take a lot of work to make another worthwhile batch of songs.
BL: Besides being a talented singer-songwriter, you’re also an illustrator and comic book writer. Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud of?
JL: My new issue of Fuff Comix (#12)
BL: Where can we check your work out?
JL: On my website. (www.thejeffreylewissite.com)
BL: Did you have any comic book writers or artists that you liked or admired growing up?
JL: Alan Moore, John Romita Jr, Frank Miller, many others. Getting into Daniel Clowes and Joe Matt and Chester Brown in the 90s was transformative for my adult relationship to comic book making.
BL: My college roommate loves comics and has wanted to make a comic book for a while now. Any advice on getting started?
JL: It takes a lot of time, and, like being a novelist, you will have thousands of mediocre pages within you that need to be created before you reach the point where the higher quality pages begin to come out of you. It’s a long road, a life-long road,a road of craft that never ends, but with many rewards and satisfactions along the way. And there are also many all-time great comics which did not require excessive levels of skill to produce, only heart. You don’t have to be great at jazz to make great music. One of my all time favorite comic books is Snake Pit, which is super simple.
BL: What has been the wildest or weirdest thing you’ve seen while performing?
JL: People trying to jump up onto the stage to kill me (or at least assault me).
BL: What happened???
JL: One time I remember was in Manchester England, this lady jumped on stage and tried to smash me with a keyboard, but it was plugged in so she couldn't extend it enough. When security threw her out she waited across the street and started throwing eggs at all the people leaving the gig at the end of the night! And she punched my drummer in the face! She was angry because she had helped my band find a ride through Germany earlier that month, and she felt that we ought to have reciprocated by letting her join the band, or by letting her play opening sets on the tour. She was a volatile person, at some point a couple years later she traveled to New York and poured a beer over the head of my friend Toby in relation to a completely different dispute that she had with him at that time.
Another time I remember being attacked on stage was at a DIY festival in Italy at a big warehouse, we were playing on stage and this one guy in the front of the audience really hated our music and kept screaming at us and giving us the finger and splashing his beer in our direction. The beer splashing was really problematic because I had artwork on the stage and electric equipment that he was in danger of splashing on to, so I poured a beer onto him in revenge. Which of course made him get even angrier and he jumped up on to the stage and grabbed my brother's shirt and we had to stop playing for a minute to throw him back off the stage, people dragged him out of the place and he was yelling that he was going to come back and kill us and all this stuff.
Anyway both of these times were a momentary disruption in a set, but both sets continued after each short disruption and ended up fine. Those are the two circumstances I most remember. Pretty minor, really, especially if you read a book like "Get in the Van" by Henry Rollins, where just about every night on stage with Black Flag he's getting punched in the balls and having beer mugs hurled at his head and stuff. In 20 years of touring I haven't had very many real problems, which is good because I'm mostly playing the kinds of small to medium rock clubs where there's basically zero security. If somebody tries to jump up on stage there's nothing to stop it from happening other than ourselves or the audience.
BL: You’ve been making music for a while. Before streaming services were as prominent as they are now. In your opinion, what are some downsides and upsides that you’ve seen as streaming platforms became one of the biggest sources for music consumption?
JL: A lot of people have discovered my music because of these services. That’s good. But I’m a bit sad that my attempts to make interesting physical packages for my albums often goes ignored, plus it’s a bit sad to think of how difficult it is for record stores to stay in business.
BL: Sometimes I get creative blocks and feel extremely frustrated. What do you do to push through those moments?
JL: Just create. Ain’t nothing to it but to do it. Those who fail more, succeed more. Make bad art; who cares? Just make. It’ll get better.
BL: What motivates you the most?
JL: The utterly insane feeling of making something great, something that blows my own mind. I’m my own biggest fan, and when there’s a new Jeffrey Lewis song or a new Jeffrey Lewis comic book or a new Jeffrey Lewis gig, I kind of can’t wait for it, and if it’s a really awesomely good one then I’m just in absolute heaven.
BL: What has been your favorite accomplishment as far as music goes?
JL: To know the depths of artistic despair, to be completely utterly washed up and convinced that I’ll never make another song of any value… and somehow, impossibly, to knock it out of the park again, eventually. I’ve gone through this cycle of utter defeat and utter victory endlessly for over 20 years now.
BL: What has been your favorite fan interaction?
JL: The woman who approached me after a gig who had never seen or heard of me before but found me “intriguing and annoying” and become the love of my life.
BL: You lived in Austin for a while! What was that experience like?
JL: You’d have to read my whole “Austin Diary” comic book for the deets.
BL: Do you have any favorite places to visit while on tour?
JL: Tebay motorway services has become a bit of a UK touring tradition for me, on the drive up to Scotland from Northern England. One day a year, a stop at Tebay for lunch. And on a west coast USA tour I’ve always got to set a little time aside for a short walk through the giant redwood trees in northern California, in the Avenue of the Giants.
BL: What is your go to place to eat while on tour?
JL: Nothing specific, just trying to find good diners and interesting spots if we can.
BL: What do you miss the most while on tour?
JL: Time to write songs and make comics.
BL: What are you currently working on?
JL: Organizing my band’s Feb-March tour of Europe, sending demo songs to Kramer of Shimmy Disc for a potential recording project with him, trying to finalize and publish my 23-years-in-the-making Watchmen analysis book, and, most pressingly at the moment, trying to finish and edit and format my new comic book “Fuff #12” to send to the printer as soon as possible. Also hoping to get together with Peter Stampfel soon to write liner notes for our new recordings and figure out how and when to release them.
BL: To wrap things up, do you have anything that you want our readers to know?