Recently, PM spoke to Jeff Lewis. It was good. He’s really nice and knowledgeable. It was early in the morning for him though, so he took a few moments to warm up.
What time is it over there, is it early?
JL: It’s pretty early, it’s about 9:30…
Have you had any breakfast yet?
Any plans for breakfast?
JL: Uhh, no plans.
Do you have a morning routine? I suppose it’s quite a fragmentary lifestyle that you lead…
JL: It’s pretty random, I don’t have a regime.
You’re off to Australia tomorrow, are you excited?
JL: Yeah, it’s pretty thrilling, I’ve got a lot to do before I go though. I’m not sure what to expect when I get there.
Have you even packed?
I’ve been listening to ‘Roll Bus Roll’ from your new album. Do you get lonely when you’re on the road?
JL: It’s funny, because I hadn’t even thought it was interpretable as an on-the-road touring song. It’s funny that people might think of it that way, I hadn’t realised it until yesterday. We tour in little cars mostly. It’s more about experiences taking Greyhound buses, specifically between New York and Maine, where I go to my cabin in the woods to get away and work on my comic books. It’s kind of a jarring experience to go from the hustle and bustle of New York and have a ten-hour bus ride and get to Maine in the morning. From the bus in Maine to where the cabin is, it’s like a thirty mile hitch-hike, and then there’s a mile of dirt road where my little shack in the woods is. There’s no electricity, no computer, just perfect for getting artwork done.
How often do you go there?
JL: I used to spend a lot of time there, like 3 or 4 or 5 months out of the year. The last few years it’s just been whenever I get a chance go for a couple of weeks. Maybe a couple of times each year.
Do you take your guitar?
JL: Yeah. I write a bit. It’s mostly for doing comic books, but I usually end up with some songs by the time I go. I guess I was there about month or so ago. It’s definitely a weird emotional experience. I mean, you don’t need to buy tickets in advance, you can just get on that midnight bus and be in a completely different environment.
I wanted to ask you about ‘The Upside-Down Cross’, which your brother Jack wrote. There’s a trumpet solo on there.
JL: Yeah, the writing was all Jack. Usually he’ll present a bassline and lyrics and then I’ll flesh it out with a guitar arrangement and some arranging ideas, maybe we’ll change or adjust some of the lyrics. That song we had some differences on how we were going to end up mixing it. Jack has his own musical projects, he can do what he wants with his songs in his band…
But this is coming out under your name…
You’ve released records under several different names, with the Jackals, this one is Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard, sometimes it’s you and your brother… why the constant name-changing?
JL: Partially it’s because my brother and I can never agree on a name. He’ll come up with something and I’m not that into it, I’ll come up with something and he’s not into it. Every time we print a new shirt or go on a new tour we need a new band name… it’s very hard to apply a name to project that already exists. It’s much easier to start out with a band name. If you already have a band and try to think of a name that describes it accurately, that’s very challenging. And also the band line-up is flexible, y’know?
Any names you rejected?
JL: Tons and tons. I’m always partial to alliteration myself, I usually like the ones that start with ‘J’ or ‘L’…
You recently recorded a cover of Eminem’s ‘Brain Damage’ with Laura Marling. What drew you to that song?
JL: We’re doing this weekly podcast series for The Guardian, and that’s the first episode. I’m supposed to get the second episode in today, but I’m really behind the deadline, there’s a lot of work to do on that. I thought doing something with Laura with back-and-forth vocals would be good, and that song ‘Brain Damage’ has parts where he has dialogue with his mother and with a nurse, so I thought might lend itself to Laura and I keeping that dialogue aspect.
Your version makes it sound like a Jeffrey Lewis song instead of a hip-hop song. Do you listen to any other hip-hop?
JL: To a certain extent. It’s not my main musical intake, but I do have my share of hip-hop stuff. Eminem is kind of a new discovery for me. I’d heard his bigger hits, but that album in particular, ‘The Slim Shady LP’, grabbed me more than his other albums because he’s not really rich and famous yet. A lot of it is about living through rough times, school, being broke. So much popular hip-hop is about being rich and famous, and this is a more interesting angle and topic to write about.
More tomorrow! Visit Jeffrey Lewis at his MySpace and enjoy his whims.