Jeffrey Lewis

"If you have a good song, nothing else really matters."

Jeffrey Lewis is the rare combination of musician and comic book artist rolled into one.

When it comes to his lyric-writing skills, he's been compared to Bob Dylan. Rolling Stone Magazine calls him "Downright inspiring", while Jarvis Cocker of Pulp considers him "the best lyricist working in the US today".

We talked to Jeffrey Lewis about music and so-called good sound from the comfort of his living room in NYC on a snowy spring day.

MUSIC, COMIC BOOKS AND BLANK PAGES

Being irreplaceable
The fast-talking/singing 38-year-old New Yorker is not traditional in any respect, especially when it comes to his views on so-called 'good sound'. But first: Where does he see himself on the music scene – being this rare combination of music and comic books?

"I'm sort of outside both scenes. I'm not really fully in the music scene or fully in the comic book scene; I'm a bit stuck between," Jeffrey explains.

"In all the years that I've been doing this, I haven't seen another band that does anything like my band does, so that's a good thing. We're the best at this. We're the only ones at this!

I've noted that 99.2% of all bands could evaporate from the face of the earth and it wouldn't make much difference to the music and culture scene. The average band is replaceable with the next band, but my band is different. Not everybody will love it, but when we're gone you probably won't find anything like this to replace it," he muses.

Only good songs matter
Jeffrey Lewis isn't traditional and has the courage of his convictions. When it comes to so-called good sound, seen strictly from a creative songwriting point of view, his statements may be surprising:

"I think 'good' is usually the enemy of real quality. You can hide behind 'good' gear, a 'good' guitar, 'good' recordings, 'good' amps and speakers and whatever, but none of that means you have any art of value to yourself or to anybody else,"

Money can't buy it, period. It's very frustrating actually. When you have money, it simply does not help. The blank page does not care. That is your challenger, the blank page. The blank page does not care at all about your speakers and your monitors. And the audience doesn't really either, in their hearts, if they have hearts.

It's only your heart and the listener's heart, with the blank page between you, that's the place where you have a chance to meet and make life worth living. If you get scared, you think 'Maybe I need to spend more money on a nicer guitar' or some other silly thing like that, just to distract yourself from the real struggle.

But if you have a good song, nothing else really matters. And if you don't have a good song, nothing else will help you," concludes Jeffrey.

Between Lou Reed and Daniel Clowes
He has a big picture of Lou Reed's old wrinkly head staring at him from a wall in his home, and a Daniel Clowes (American cartoonist and screenwriter, ed.) face staring at him from the opposite wall. "Both of them are hard to please," he says, and he's pinned between them and "I have to not disappoint them."

Jeffrey doesn't create stereotypical songs with a traditional structure or dynamics. How come?

"Usually, I'll just write a song at home, then take it to the band in practice. We'll play it on stage the same night or within a couple of nights, to get it together for real as fast as possible. That'll help me know what works and what doesn't work. You can really only tell if you're on stage with it, I think.

I don't know how to write songs. It's not a daily life recital any more than any other songwriter, though.

Yes, some material comes from my life, but not more than Pink Floyd material comes from their lives or Neil Young material comes from his life."

The next page is always blank
Jeffrey isn't too sure what's going to happen next in his career as a musician and comic book artist. He always thinks he's finished, because the next page is always blank.

"But at this point, I have already felt finished so many times in the past. I clearly remember feeling totally creatively bankrupt in 1999, in 2000, in 2001. Basically, at every point in my life doing this.

And yet somehow I cheated and murdered and crept and stabbed and blundered and cried and found myself once again riding on a wave of total artistic victory, making myself so happy with what I was creating and doing," he says.

Creativity is a drug
Jeffrey finds making creative things to be a drug with tremendous highs and lows. "An emotional gambling problem and I am addicted to it." So even though he doesn't think he'll do it again, he probably will.

"Actually, I just released a new album, Jeffrey Lewis & The Jrams. We recorded, mixed and mastered it all in one day. I made 1,000 copies and I've been selling them on tour and on my website.

If I sell them all, I can't decide if I will re-print it or work on the recordings more and make more of an 'official' album out of it. Also, I just released Fuff#9 in my comic book series. Currently, I'm doing an illustrated music video for this Belgian songwriter, Milow."

Taking it one day at a time
Jeffrey sits in his living room in NYC as we talk to him. It's snowing outside.

There's still snack and beer bottles sitting around from last night, because once a week he invites a bunch of different artists over and they just sit around drawing, listening to records and talking – so next, he has to clean up the mess.

"I'm listening to all my Spirit LPs today. Nobody really cares about this '60s band Spirit, and I don't really care THAT much about them. But I just noticed that I somehow own their first four LPs, just randomly buying one now and then over the years, and each album has at least a couple of good songs on it," he explains.

"So now that I've realised I accidentally built up a little collection of Spirit albums, I'm re-listening to them all. So right now, I have to get up from this couch and go flip the record over."

www.thejeffreylewissite.com 

- Rune H. Jensen, rhj@dali.dk

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