Interview: Jeff Lewis

This interview was originally published in Issue #16, March 2011. Cafe Kino is fast becoming a crucial hub of Bristol’s Stokes Croft, and it’s not hard to understand why. As a not-for-profit co-operative run by volunteers and those who own it, it’s an attractive proposition to the liberal arts community that surrounds the venue. In return for their support, Kino lends its space to local residents for everything from hosting meetings to putting on gigs that challenge the common format. Enter Jeffrey Lewis, a musician who’s never shied away from doing it himself. Over the course of two decades, the New Yorker has released a slew of cassettes, albums, comic books and even an iPhone application. “A bunch of my comics are on there now,” He explains when I quiz him about his digital developments, “There’s a company called Electric Nectar [who have] been taking the ordinary comics and making them digital. It’s much cheaper than actually manufacturing them, and cheaper for people to [...] buy. But of course you have to have the proper technology.” Despite this unprecedented acknowledgement of the internet and a select few albums hosted on iTunes, Jeff remains largely at odds with the virtual world. In a typical display of team work, those sites he has are maintained by his fan base: “There’s a Jeffrey Lewis website that was made [by some fans] and there’s a bunch of unreleased recordings that are available as downloads on the message board.” He can’t remember the address, but he thinks the fans may be French. We’re sat in Cafe Kino’s basement; Lewis will play here later to a sold out crowd alongside The Holy Modal Rounders’ Peter Stampfel. The two completed their collaborative record Come On Board moments before setting off for the UK - “We just managed to get copies back from the factory before we went on tour! [It was] a very quick turnaround. We finished December 22nd and here we are on January 22nd and the album’s here!” A close call, but their joint venture has been a long time coming: “I met [Peter] at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. I performed my song “The Complete History of the Development of Punk on the Lower East Side from 1950 to 1975” where I mention a couple of Peter’s songs [...] and [he] happened to be in the audience, so we started talking afterwards.” While Jeff concedes he was “a bit intimidated to [work] with him at first”, following Stampfel’s contribution to 2005’s City and Eastern Tapes the duo played a succession of shows together in New York “where we’d trade songs and play together. I thought it would be nice to release a single. Somehow once we got into the studio we just kept recording more and more. We had some other friends playing drums and bass and mandolin - it turned into a full band record very quickly!” Said with typical coyness, those “friends” Jeff mentions are somewhat more influential than the word insinuates: “Anders Griffin, who was my original drummer back in 2002 – I reunited with him, and he’s been playing with Diane Cluck recently. John Castle played bass on the record and he’s played on a number of recordings in the past. Also Spencer Gaketis on mandolin. A lot of my early recordings were made in Spencer’s apartment. He used to have a little home recording studio, so I’ve played with him a bunch over the years.” The list goes on. Despite being an iconic, creatively affluent member of the anti-folk movement, Lewis is perhaps the most amenable musician I’ve ever met. At times I’m worried I’m daunting him. His band mates are warming up in the background, and throughout the interview he’s aware of the effects noise could have on the quality of my Dictaphone recording. He refuses to eat his dinner until we’re through (“That’s not polite!”) and he reacts enthusiastically to all of my questions, even though he must have been asked everything a million times before. After only eight short minutes I can’t bare it any more – his food’s getting cold, and he’s too nice to let go hungry. I mentally cross out pages and pages of questions, and frantically come up with the most generic, awful wave out: I can’t remember,” he admits when ask him how many times he’s played the UK, “Although I know that the first time I toured the UK was in 2002. I’ve done at least a couple of tours a year since then, so [I think] it must be [around] 16 tours.” This said in the most matter of fact way. The man’s a walking, talking, singing, drawing robot – and he’s under warranty for the rest of his life. Long live Jeffrey Lewis!

2 Responses to “Interview: Jeff Lewis”


  1. » Dream Songs from Lewis DRUNKENWEREWOLF - 04/08/2011

    […] here to read my full interview with Lewis, taken in May shortly before his Bristol […]

  2. » Jeff Lewis is a Cult Boyfriend DRUNKENWEREWOLF - 29/09/2011

    […] For my full interview with Jeff for Issue 16, head over here. […]

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