Black Joe Lewis: If you like cheap, go listen to Miley Cyrus
Keith Davis Young
You really couldn't pick a better mascot for this oasis of the freaky in the Lone Star State than Black Joe Lewis, whose guitar-driven rhythm and blues sound crackles with down-home warmth and a few traces of heady psychedelia. Formerly known as Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, the group has trimmed the fat from their name and roster since 2011's breakout Scandalous , resulting in a leaner, tougher sound on their new album Electric Slave.
Fans of the horn-driven block-rocking songs from Black Joe Lewis' first two records will still find a lot to love in the infectious "Come to my Party," but they had better try to prepare for the double-barreled guitar assault of jams like "Skulldiggin" and "Guilty." Gimmie Noise got Lewis himself on the phone during the start of their Electric Slave tour to talk about lineup changes, record stores, and those goddamn Austin hipsters.
Gimmie Noise: A lot of people might have the wrong impression that you're a newer artist since Scandalous seemed to gain you a much wider audience. To set the record straight, you've been at for something like 10 years now, right?
Joe Lewis: Yeah, I guess so! It's probably been a little less, more like six or seven years now with this lineup. I've been playing for the past 10 or 12 years or so, but this is only my third record to be released on a label.
Electric Slave is definitely the most guitar driven record you've done in a while, and the riffs are fantastic. Why the heavier sounds?
I just wanted to make a record that sounded like this version of the band. I feel like the other two that we put out were a little too clean, and the producer kind of had his own idea, and a couple of the other guys in the band had their own ideas about stuff, so it was tough to get it exactly how I wanted them to sound on there. Now that those guys are gone, I just want to go in and do what I wanted to do, you know? I wanted it to sound live, I felt like the first two, a lot of my guitar fills weren't on there and stuff like that. They just felt a little dry, and kind of boring.
Anything you've been listening to that influenced that? I hear a bit more MC5 and Death than in the past.
Yeah, I'm definitely a big fan of that stuff, any kind of Detroit rock 'n' roll is always good. I'm a big Stooges fan, and I always think you try to play the music that you listen to, you know?
Your records always sound like a party, but this time out the party sounds like there might be a mosh pit involved.
We've been playing a lot of these songs for a while now, and just haven't gotten the chance to record them and put 'em out. It just came out last week, so we're still kind of waiting to see what the reaction will be. We're out on tour right now, and people seem to be really into it, but they still reach for the last two records and want to hear the old stuff. I hope when this one takes off we'll get people goin'!
You also seem to have dialed back the horns a bit since the days of the 8-piece Honeybears. The charts on the new record still sound great though. Why did y'all decided to make that change?
Certain songs just call for certain things, some songs didn't really need to be a horn song and some songs did, so we use 'em when we need 'em. We still use 'em on a majority of the songs, but if I don't hear it we're not gonna use them.
You guys had worked with Jim Eno from Spoon for the past two records and switched it up to Stuart Sikes and John Congleton this time out. They're known for more polished sounds than the fuzz on Slave, what was working with them like?
We did most of the record with Stuart, and then John kind of came in and remixed them but he was really busy with other stuff he was doing, so we were kind of waiting around for him and decided we couldn't wait anymore. He kind of hipped us to Stuart, who was a better fit, I think. We jus went in and I think he just understood what we were going for. He merged our different styles and to get the sound that he did, and Stuart had a similar idea I guess. We're all into really old shit, and I think you can see that coming through on the album.
Lyrically, I'm hearing a bit more political lyrics on this record too. After all the police and community frictions in the news this year, "Vampire" is definitely a potent statement.
With "Vampire" I was playin' off this thing we have back home called "no refusal weekends". So, like, you're drivin' around, drunk or whatever, you could always refuse the breathalyzer and take your chances. But the cops have rolled out this new thing where saying no to the breathalyzer means you have to get a blood test done. So I just made that into the idea of blood-sucking police, the song is about this guy who wants war really bad, and is going around with a gun, ready for anything, just so people will know. I was trying to be a little rebellious.
"The Hipster" also seems to address gentrification and appropriation within the rock 'n' roll scene. Is that in relation to things you've seen happening in Austin?
Yeah, it's about the scene in Austin. There's not one person in specific that it's supposed to pertain to, but you know, there's all this kids that run around, and they're from the suburbs, and they're all sticking together because they want to be some "artists." I see them in the neighborhood, trying to act like they're broke and they got a lot to say and no one will listen to 'em, ya know? I feel kinda bad because I'm straight-up making fun of 'em, but it's true of any town. In Austin you got a lot of "punk rockers" from Highland Park. Highland Park is the nice neighborhood up in Dallas where Dick Cheney lives, one of the ex-Dallas Cowboys, all the backyards have hard-courts and pools. I wrote that one to kinda be like "I see who you really are," and keep 'em from trying to pretend.
For Electric Slave you did a full vinyl release and even a series of in-store performances at record stores in Texas. Are record stores and vinyl really important to the band?
Yeah man, I buy everything on vinyl and transfer it to my computer. I don't believe in file sharing or any of that shit, when it comes to music. That's how we make our living, and I feel like you should support the arts, you know? If you like cheap, you can go listen to Miley Cyrus and that bullshit. Support the artists that stick around, those people are giving it all.
We played at Cactus records, that's one of the best record stores in Huston. I don't go there a lot, to be honest, but you see a lot of cool stuff in there. Then we did one in Dallas, at Good Records, and they got good stuff there. Then Waterloo in Austin, which is the iconic record store here, everybody knows Waterloo. It's a landmark in Austin.
You and the band look really natural playing in a living room in your "Come to my Party" video. Do you still play any house shows these days?
You know, we haven't but I'm not opposed to it, we just haven't had the chance. We just anxious to get back on the road, we haven't had a record in a while and now that we've finally got it recorded we're hitting the highway and hopefully we'll come across it at some point. Invite us to your house and we will do it!
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