This Interview was conducted on September 23rd by
Krisbee
and first appeared on Krisbee's Website.
Krisbee: I have your CD here, and another compilation of your mp3
site, which is great.
Jeff Lewis: I have to fix that; that site was put together by this guy, Matt in Texas, who put on every single song from my first couple of cassettes.  If I knew how to work the mp3.com site I would definitely not have as many songs there; it just seems, especially on a slow computer, to take so long for the site to come up. There's over twenty songs, plus a lot of it I wouldn't have there just because it was on the first tapes.  Some of the songs I'm still into, but a lot of it I'm like, "Oh God, I can't believe these are the songs that are available for anybody to log onto the site."  I think I would like to make it six or seven songs that I think are the best ones.  I would also like to put more artwork on the site, like have a different drawing for each song.  That site has been exactly the same since a year and a half ago.
Krisbee: Dance Myself to Death seems the most different.
Jeff Lewis: And it's the first one there, right?  The evolution of that song is kind of weird.  I wanted it to be like, the whole idea of 60's garage psychedelic bands where you can find these old scratchy 45's with these awesome songs, which doesn't really exist in other genres.  I was wondering what if you could find an old, scratchy 45 with a really cool disco song that some garage band recorded in the Midwest.   There doesn't really seem to be a market for obscure disco... well, there actually probably is and I am not a part of it.  I first recorded that at John Kessel's recording space.   John is this cool songwriter in the Anti-Folk scene who had a house in Brooklyn but then got evicted, and all the master tapes from the album I was making got lost and scattered.  Then the space where he was storing all his stuff had a fire and a lot of tapes were screwed up.  So we had this recording that was all screwy but still sounded cool, and I took it to Spencer, who is another person who records people on the Anti-Folk scene.  Every additional track that we tried to add to it sounded way too clean and different compared to the rest of the tracks, so we had to try to do all this stuff to make it sound like it all fit together.  Even though the sound quality overall is bad, it definitely is as lo-fi sounding as any of the other songs, even though it was a regular studio production.
Krisbee: Is most of the stuff you do on four-track, or do you use an eight-track, or a computer?
Jeff Lewis: Well, I have never owned a four-track.  All the stuff from the Indie Rock Fortune Cookie cassette was mostly done by my friend Whip who had a four-track, and he was recording a lot of friends of his.  I went over, and he just setup a few mikes and hit record; that's my solo acoustic stuff.  I have recorded some stuff with my brother, and I have recorded stuff on my own with just a tape player and hitting record.  That works out okay if it's just solo acoustic stuff; there never seemed much point in doing a fancier recording.  There are people like Spencer who have a whole home studio thing with a Pro-Tools setup, a bunch of mikes and all that.   Sometimes I will go over there and record stuff, you know, if someone offers the opportunity to record some things; it's sort of catch-as-catch-can.
Krisbee: When you get a new song idea, do keep working it, or do you try to get it down so you have it?
Jeff Lewis: I don't know, I don't have a real method.  For the past few years, I just make a new tape every summer.  I've been up in Maine over the summers, and that's sort of where I end up writing most of the stuff because I have a lot of free time and there's no one there that I hang out with really.  I have more time to myself, and usually at the end of the summer I will play all the new songs straight through onto a walkman so I have document of all of those songs.  Maybe a couple of them are worth holding onto or playing when I get back to the city.  So, I've been making cassettes for the last few years, and the Rough Trade album is a compilation of the songs from a couple of different cassettes.   I am trying to work on an album now that is a regular recorded thing; it's in the midway stages.
Krisbee: How has been playing in England?
Jeff Lewis: Its' been totally amazing.  We still can't really believe it, though after doing it a few times, I'm almost taking it for granted.  The first time I was over there it was completely crazy.  We were playing small places, but there were people there to see us who weren't people that know us personally, which is different than New York who are friends, or other people, or people who play at the Sidewalk Café... which is nice to play for friends, but going over there, there are these whole bunch of people to see us like a regular show.  Since then, going overseas makes you feel like you're a regular band, a regular performer, nothing on big level, but having that experience at all is different than playing here in New York.
Krisbee: Plus you were on the historic Peel Sessions...
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, that was really cool.  That was actually one of the best shows that we did over there because we had such a long time to get acquainted with the performing space.  We got there hours beforehand, and we were just playing through stuff; we usually just wing stuff and end up shooting ourselves in the foot.
Krisbee: It started off low-key, and then became really rocking in the end.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, it has been really cool playing with a drummer lately; having Anders on drums.  My brother and I played a show with him in February, and we didn't really have a chance to do that since then.  We were able to get him to come with us on that tour, so its' been great to play those rock songs and have an actual drummer to give a much bigger sound to it.  I also find its hard to do a quieter song once it has gotten loud.
Krisbee: I saw Beck play where he started rock, and then did his acoustic stuff in the middle.  I don't know how he pulled it off, but it worked; it was a natural organic thing, where it was the cool down period...
Jeff Lewis: We were just discussing Beck this morning.  There was an article about him in the Village Voice saying he's not the songwriter that he should be...
Krisbee: You mean he should be more regarded, or that he hasn't reached his potential?
Jeff Lewis: Oh, I don't know.  I mean maybe he is doing his potential, but considering his place of being a "gifted songwriter of the age and really intelligent and eclectic, he's changing styles," this and that; it just seems that the actual substance of the songs, compared to people that I really think are great songwriters, there just doesn't seem to be that much substance.  When the Midnight Vultures album came out, me and Grey Revell were driving around and listening to it... it seems that it wasn't good enough to be revered, but I guess it's the case that nobody is doing anything better in the mainstream world.
Krisbee: Had you heard his prior album, Mutations?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, and you know I just can't get behind that stuff as well.  I think there are people who write songs of real substance, and they don't get noticed as songwriters, which I guess is always the case.
Krisbee: I ended up writing a page about music, that if you quizzed five people, they wouldn't know anything about those bands on that page, and those aren't obscure bands.   The Flaming Lips is not an obscure band, or The Eels isn't an obscure band, but people would have never heard of that music.
Jeff Lewis: I guess it's just how important music is in someone's life, and if they want to seek out music; what their needs are, and if they need to be nourished by music.   I don't mean that all people need to necessarily be into obscure music, or even music in general; there are some people for who it is just not a priority, which is fine.
Krisbee: Then, at the same token, I find it amazing that the first time I heard Odyssey and Oracle was a year ago.
Jeff Lewis: Oh yeah, there are albums like that that are considered legendary albums, that in the world of obscure music they are the mainstream, like Forever Changes by Love, or the first Moby Grape album, or the first 13 Floor Elevators album, and things like that count as obscure stuff but among obscure stuff they are introductory albums into obscure music. Odyssey and Oracle is sort of famous, but it is definitely in an undercurrent.
Krisbee: Well, I guess it's how you learn about music, which for me is by reading, and unless that stuff comes to you, you just don't know about it.
Jeff Lewis: It's just different people's nature to want to seek out stuff; some people are really into sneakers, some people are into candles, some people are into music.
Krisbee: The way I tried to learn about music, besides reading different rock books was I had a critics top 100 list and you would find normal stuff in there like Exile on Main Street or the White Album.  Then somewhere in the collection there would be the Paris 1919 thrown out, and I would think, "Who is that? John Cale, what's he about? He was in the Velvet Underground, who are the Velvet Underground?"
Jeff Lewis: Somehow you get fiercely curious to hear this stuff...  I just love reading about music and you get like, "God, I just got to hear that album!"
Krisbee: The last real passion, and maybe it's because I revisited The Shaggs again, is really hunting down outsider music like Jandek.
Jeff Lewis: Exactly, there's one of those guys that I have heard so much about.    I guess I will have to be at somebody's house and then I will get a chance to listen.
Krisbee: Just like anything, once you get caught on it, it will become an obsession.   I got my friend hunting down Jandek, and he ended up buying all the albums.
Jeff Lewis: That's a lot of albums right?
Krisbee: Like 30...
Jeff Lewis: That's the way I am with The Fall... since getting hooked into them, I'm totally addicted, and they have like 30 or 40 albums.   I just can't get enough, and I listen to them all the time, and I want to listen to the albums that I don't have.  Jandek is something I haven't caught the bug of.
Krisbee: Which might be fine; the story is much more important than the music.   Particularly for Jandek, but that's also true for other things; sometimes the story makes the music that much more important, I guess.
Jeff Lewis: Well, you can come from that a couple of different ways.  I mean, what is really great is when you discover and like the music, and then after that you discover the story; it just enhances it that much more - which for me is Ian Dury and the Blockheads, a band I have been obsessed with.  Perhaps a year after picking up some of his albums, I found out that he had polio, and one leg or arm was shorter.  He was crippled and he had this crazy stage presence, which I had no idea that he was this guy that would be behind this crazy music.  After hearing the story, the legend and the music was enhanced so much.

(We started talking about my past interviews, and about Steve Espinola, which takes us to...)

Jeff Lewis: I think he's really good.  I guess he's sort of not as much a part of the regular crowd of performers as he was a few years ago... I guess I haven't been either.  When I started playing Sidewalk Cafe, my parents place was just a couple of blocks away from there so it was pretty easy for me to hang out at the open mic until 3 in the morning, and I could just walk home and go to sleep; it's definitely a lot easier for me than Steve.   Lately I haven't been around as much.
Krisbee: Were you up in Maine?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, I was up recently in Michigan with my girlfriend visiting her parents.  The year before I was in Maine for four or five months, and in Texas for six months.

(We get interrupted by my dog jumping on the couch.  We talk a bit about the fish in Jeff's house.  I switch gears.)

Krisbee: Its' got to be tough being a full-time musician.
Jeff Lewis: I wouldn't necessarily say I'm full time.  I'm not really a full time anything... I have just been sort of bumming around for the past couple of years.  I just sort of ended up on this path; I got out of college and had this really cheap apartment for a couple of years.  I didn't need to have a regular full time job, so I started playing music and had more time to do art work.  Since I lost that apartment I haven't found myself going back to regular life.  I'm just sort of bumming around; staying at different people's places or my parent's place up in Maine.  This music thing has just taken on a bigger part of my life since it started four years ago, and the art is still going on there; if I just gotten out of school and gotten a regular expensive apartment, just like everybody else, who knows what would have happened.
Krisbee: You lucked out.
Jeff Lewis: From one perspective, perhaps.
Krisbee: I have a regular full time job, and have for a long time now, and it's impossible now for me to think about not having one, which is awful.  I was able to survive just fine in and out of college, and now I'm kind of stuck in that thinking.
Jeff Lewis: I guess that's what everybody worries about being; being stuck.   That's sort of what I feel like; where I feel I'm stuck in this limbo, where I'm 26, I have been out of school for five years, and I'm still living the life of a high school bum.  Not having my own apartment, not having a regular job... my resume is pretty pathetic.  "Oh yeah, I'm an artist...", not really making a living doing that, clinging to this childhood fantasy to the bitter end until it all collapses into disaster, which I always feel is right around the corner.
Krisbee: If you had a preference of making it in one endeavor, what would it be?
Jeff Lewis: Well, my whole life I just wanted to draw comic books, although, anybody who is a professional illustrator will say, "It's a hard life, and there's no glamour in it, if only I could do it over again...," but it still seems pretty cool to me.
Krisbee: The only comics of yours that I have been able to see is on the antifolkonline website, which is very small.
Jeff Lewis: Brad really packed a lot of stuff on there, which is cool. Rough Trade put a comic up on the site that is much more seeable.
Krisbee: One question I am hesitant to ask, but I saw it on the Olive Juice message board, was about you getting married?
Jeff Lewis: I was pretty entertained about that one.  I think Steve Espinola asked me about that, sent me an email asking if it was true, and then some other people asked me which I thought was pretty funny. I mean it seemed pretty obvious to me that it wasn't true.  The guy said I married Geoff Travis, who is the head of Rough Trade records, and Geoff is like in his forties or fifties, and is a regular, married, grown up guy.   I finally went on the Olive Juice message board just a few days ago to see the original post.  I was tempted to keep the idea rolling, but it just seems crazy to me that people would believe it.  I guess there was a really a real possibility of it; I guess if people who don't know who Geoff Travis is, or whatever, it would make that believable.  The thing is I have a suspicion, whether this may or may not be true, that it is my nemesis who also recently sent me a death threat.  The original post seemed to have a mean spiritedness about it, rather than just jokey.
Krisbee: You're 26 and you have a nemesis?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, a guy I met in Texas; it's all in my Austin diary comic.

(edited for space)

Jeff Lewis: The whole thing is just weird... whatever. I thought it might have been him that did the Olive Juice posting.
Krisbee: It seems like a lot of energy that he's spending.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, I don't know... I don't know what else he does with his time, he's just a little weird, I guess.
Jeff Lewis: What have you been listening to lately?
Krisbee: I got Peter Dizzoza's album, Pro-Choice on Mental Health.
Jeff Lewis: Have you ever seen any of his plays?
Krisbee: I haven't, and it looks like I am going to miss The Golf Wars, which is a shame.
Jeff Lewis: To me, like, Prepare to Meet Your Maker are the greatest shows I have ever seen. Do you know Seth's stuff, Dufus?  He also does musical theater performances, the Fun Wearing Underwear show that's always taking new forms, and that to me is some of the most amazing stuff on the scene... I hate to keep using the word "scene".  If you ever get a chance to see Peter or Seth's stuff, that's really special.
Krisbee: I just got Prewar Yardsale's album.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, that's one of my favorite albums.  I just saw them play on Friday night; it was a really great show.
Krisbee: The community of antifolkers seem to have fun making music.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, it's certainly more fun to be doing it in the community with everyone going to everybody's shows, checking out each others' albums and hanging out... I'm so glad I stumbled into it; my life would be so different otherwise.  I guess for better or for worse, but definitely different.  It's just a way of coming in contact with a group of friends.  It's such a widespread thing because, it's different than a group of friends that you would have at school, because here everyone is from different backgrounds, different ages... some people, like Peter Dizzoza, have a professional job, and yet he makes some of the craziest music and plays.  Everyone is just connected by the fact that they are performing.  Everything else about them is really diverse; you just have a group of really interesting people hanging out together.  There are school dropouts, Prewar Yardsale are a married couple living on the Upper West Side, and then you have Turner Cody who is a dropout hippie type, just traveling around and hanging out on the streets.  It's such a cast of characters; but everyone hangs out together and enjoys each other's stuff.
Krisbee: With regards to your music, most of the songs seem autobiographical.
Jeff Lewis: Any of the things that you think could be true, are true... the autobiographical stuff comes from the comics with the idea that your daily existence can be interesting when it is exposed.
Krisbee: There is a lot of humor and self-deprecating in your songs.
Jeff Lewis: I guess that is a defense, but that is sort of like the autobiographical comics; all the stuff that you are ashamed or afraid of, if you just expose it to the world, there is a value that comes out of that.  You can take everything that you feel is your worst aspect and invert it, and people will hopefully give you the credit for the courage or stupidity for you to do that.  Maybe you can get some gold out of that lead if you are lucky.  Or you can be perceived as an exhibitionist or self-obsessed, which I guess it is also.  It's a weird line where it crosses over as bad taste.
Jeff Lewis: There are some songs I don't want to play, or it just feels wrong, or it doesn't translate into something that's worthwhile song.
Krisbee: Is Everyone's Honest a song you don't like to play anymore?
Jeff Lewis: I never really played that one, maybe live like twice when the first batch of songs were coming into being... sometimes you can feel like the audience is getting bored, and you are stuck in this long song, and you think, "Wow! This is really a long song," and some songs are just better suited to recording.  The couple of times I played it live I felt totally ashamed of it.
Jeff Lewis: It's also a matter of playing to the same people in the same venues.   Once you heard this long song, how many times do you want to hear it or sing it?   Some songs, like The Chelsea Hotel or the other long songs I have done as an illustrated, giant book; each line has an illustration and I sing it a capella, which makes it for me a cooler experience.   The Crow Ballad song and a couple of others that aren't on any of the albums... some of them are better suited for that than for a song; because they are stories they might work better with pictures.
Krisbee: Is there a song that means more to you than other songs?
Jeff Lewis: It's embarrassing to admit this, but that first batch of songs, the first five that I somehow made up and got this whole thing started, nothing since then has come close to that in my mind; Chelsea Hotel, Life, Heavy Heart, Everyone's Honest.  I think part of that is that I wasn't really a songwriter at that point; I was expressing things very clearly and straightforward, and ever since then I have turned more into a songwriter.  I think about things, more conscious of what I am doing, and things are more muddled up... there was something about those first few songs where out of nowhere I was able to say what I felt very clearly.
Krisbee: There are no preconceived notions.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, and that was before I was in a performing environment.  Also I felt like I said everything I had to say.... I think everyone has something to say, but I don't think that everybody has an infinite number of things to say, and I feel that I very clearly said my piece, and I said what I though about drugs, God, sex, hope, and whatever else. Since then, I am telling different stories and different rock songs, which I like, but everything that I really had to say about the world I said at first, and that didn't really leave me much to say afterwards.
Krisbee: I was just thinking about how dense the songs are, and how much information there is of your viewpoints. Life, History of Jeff's Sexual Conquests...
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, there's one to me that isn't really performable anymore.  It just seemed that without having a real lofty musical talent, or vocal talent, or melodic talent -  The only thing that I had going for me was saying things straight out, and after you have said them, they are said.  I do like that dense wordiness, but I also like simple straightforward things, also.  Even though a song is long it doesn't mean that it has to be wordy.  I take wordy as meaning that there are words that don't have to be there, that there are words for the sake of words.  I remember people leveling that complaint against Turner Cody; wordplay for the sake of wordplay.  I love a lot of Turner's songs, and actually he's one of those people like Kimya, that are so good at what they do that it inspires you to cease going in that direction at all because there is no way that you can do it better than they are doing it, so you want abandon writing that kind of song altogether.
Krisbee: Heavy Heart has hardly any lines in it comparatively.  It's interesting in your work, the contrasts.
Jeff Lewis: There are times when I have played that song and there was no applause, maybe because people thought it was too short to be a song; people didn't get the fact that it was over.  There are certainly shorter songs in the world.
Krisbee: Sure, Mason Williams has a 20 second song.  I have a Dwarves album where the longest song is a minute. That's interesting, with epic songs like Jethro Tull or Dylan compared to the Ramones...
Jeff Lewis: John Kessel was working on a project were he was writing a song that was a whole set long, while not being a suite - like Jethro Tull where they have all these different musical sections, but more like a Dylan song where it's long but the musical changes just happen over and over again over these stream of lyrics.

(fade out)

Jeff and I chatted more about music, about epic songs, and what he had thought about the band Cornershop, which I found out that he toured with.  It was a great conversation, but a full transcript would be just too long to read.  I encourage anybody who hasn't had much exposure to Jeff to check out the page over at Antifolkonline.com that Brad wrote.  You also can purchase his album at Amazon.Co.Uk.

Krisbee's Interview of
JEFF LEWISinterview
Krisbee's Interview of
October 5th 2002:
Krisbee: I have your CD here, and another compilation of your mp3
site, which is great.
Jeff Lewis: I have to fix that; that site was put together by this guy, Matt in Texas, who put on every single song from my first couple of cassettes.  If I knew how to work the mp3.com site I would definitely not have as many songs there; it just seems, especially on a slow computer, to take so long for the site to come up. There's over twenty songs, plus a lot of it I wouldn't have there just because it was on the first tapes.  Some of the songs I'm still into, but a lot of it I'm like, "Oh God, I can't believe these are the songs that are available for anybody to log onto the site."  I think I would like to make it six or seven songs that I think are the best ones.  I would also like to put more artwork on the site, like have a different drawing for each song.  That site has been exactly the same since a year and a half ago.
Krisbee: Dance Myself to Death seems the most different.
Jeff Lewis: And it's the first one there, right?  The evolution of that song is kind of weird.  I wanted it to be like, the whole idea of 60's garage psychedelic bands where you can find these old scratchy 45's with these awesome songs, which doesn't really exist in other genres.  I was wondering what if you could find an old, scratchy 45 with a really cool disco song that some garage band recorded in the Midwest.   There doesn't really seem to be a market for obscure disco... well, there actually probably is and I am not a part of it.  I first recorded that at John Kessel's recording space.   John is this cool songwriter in the Anti-Folk scene who had a house in Brooklyn but then got evicted, and all the master tapes from the album I was making got lost and scattered.  Then the space where he was storing all his stuff had a fire and a lot of tapes were screwed up.  So we had this recording that was all screwy but still sounded cool, and I took it to Spencer, who is another person who records people on the Anti-Folk scene.  Every additional track that we tried to add to it sounded way too clean and different compared to the rest of the tracks, so we had to try to do all this stuff to make it sound like it all fit together.  Even though the sound quality overall is bad, it definitely is as lo-fi sounding as any of the other songs, even though it was a regular studio production.
Krisbee: Is most of the stuff you do on four-track, or do you use an eight-track, or a computer?
Jeff Lewis: Well, I have never owned a four-track.  All the stuff from the Indie Rock Fortune Cookie cassette was mostly done by my friend Whip who had a four-track, and he was recording a lot of friends of his.  I went over, and he just setup a few mikes and hit record; that's my solo acoustic stuff.  I have recorded some stuff with my brother, and I have recorded stuff on my own with just a tape player and hitting record.  That works out okay if it's just solo acoustic stuff; there never seemed much point in doing a fancier recording.  There are people like Spencer who have a whole home studio thing with a Pro-Tools setup, a bunch of mikes and all that.   Sometimes I will go over there and record stuff, you know, if someone offers the opportunity to record some things; it's sort of catch-as-catch-can.
Krisbee: When you get a new song idea, do keep working it, or do you try to get it down so you have it?
Jeff Lewis: I don't know, I don't have a real method.  For the past few years, I just make a new tape every summer.  I've been up in Maine over the summers, and that's sort of where I end up writing most of the stuff because I have a lot of free time and there's no one there that I hang out with really.  I have more time to myself, and usually at the end of the summer I will play all the new songs straight through onto a walkman so I have document of all of those songs.  Maybe a couple of them are worth holding onto or playing when I get back to the city.  So, I've been making cassettes for the last few years, and the Rough Trade album is a compilation of the songs from a couple of different cassettes.   I am trying to work on an album now that is a regular recorded thing; it's in the midway stages.
Krisbee: How has been playing in England?
Jeff Lewis: Its' been totally amazing.  We still can't really believe it, though after doing it a few times, I'm almost taking it for granted.  The first time I was over there it was completely crazy.  We were playing small places, but there were people there to see us who weren't people that know us personally, which is different than New York who are friends, or other people, or people who play at the Sidewalk Café... which is nice to play for friends, but going over there, there are these whole bunch of people to see us like a regular show.  Since then, going overseas makes you feel like you're a regular band, a regular performer, nothing on big level, but having that experience at all is different than playing here in New York.
Krisbee: Plus you were on the historic Peel Sessions...
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, that was really cool.  That was actually one of the best shows that we did over there because we had such a long time to get acquainted with the performing space.  We got there hours beforehand, and we were just playing through stuff; we usually just wing stuff and end up shooting ourselves in the foot.
Krisbee: It started off low-key, and then became really rocking in the end.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, it has been really cool playing with a drummer lately; having Anders on drums.  My brother and I played a show with him in February, and we didn't really have a chance to do that since then.  We were able to get him to come with us on that tour, so its' been great to play those rock songs and have an actual drummer to give a much bigger sound to it.  I also find its hard to do a quieter song once it has gotten loud.
Krisbee: I saw Beck play where he started rock, and then did his acoustic stuff in the middle.  I don't know how he pulled it off, but it worked; it was a natural organic thing, where it was the cool down period...
Jeff Lewis: We were just discussing Beck this morning.  There was an article about him in the Village Voice saying he's not the songwriter that he should be...
Krisbee: You mean he should be more regarded, or that he hasn't reached his potential?
Jeff Lewis: Oh, I don't know.  I mean maybe he is doing his potential, but considering his place of being a "gifted songwriter of the age and really intelligent and eclectic, he's changing styles," this and that; it just seems that the actual substance of the songs, compared to people that I really think are great songwriters, there just doesn't seem to be that much substance.  When the Midnight Vultures album came out, me and Grey Revell were driving around and listening to it... it seems that it wasn't good enough to be revered, but I guess it's the case that nobody is doing anything better in the mainstream world.
Krisbee: Had you heard his prior album, Mutations?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, and you know I just can't get behind that stuff as well.  I think there are people who write songs of real substance, and they don't get noticed as songwriters, which I guess is always the case.
Krisbee: I ended up writing a page about music, that if you quizzed five people, they wouldn't know anything about those bands on that page, and those aren't obscure bands.   The Flaming Lips is not an obscure band, or The Eels isn't an obscure band, but people would have never heard of that music.
Jeff Lewis: I guess it's just how important music is in someone's life, and if they want to seek out music; what their needs are, and if they need to be nourished by music.   I don't mean that all people need to necessarily be into obscure music, or even music in general; there are some people for who it is just not a priority, which is fine.
Krisbee: Then, at the same token, I find it amazing that the first time I heard Odyssey and Oracle was a year ago.
Jeff Lewis: Oh yeah, there are albums like that that are considered legendary albums, that in the world of obscure music they are the mainstream, like Forever Changes by Love, or the first Moby Grape album, or the first 13 Floor Elevators album, and things like that count as obscure stuff but among obscure stuff they are introductory albums into obscure music. Odyssey and Oracle is sort of famous, but it is definitely in an undercurrent.
Krisbee: Well, I guess it's how you learn about music, which for me is by reading, and unless that stuff comes to you, you just don't know about it.
Jeff Lewis: It's just different people's nature to want to seek out stuff; some people are really into sneakers, some people are into candles, some people are into music.
Krisbee: The way I tried to learn about music, besides reading different rock books was I had a critics top 100 list and you would find normal stuff in there like Exile on Main Street or the White Album.  Then somewhere in the collection there would be the Paris 1919 thrown out, and I would think, "Who is that? John Cale, what's he about? He was in the Velvet Underground, who are the Velvet Underground?"
Jeff Lewis: Somehow you get fiercely curious to hear this stuff...  I just love reading about music and you get like, "God, I just got to hear that album!"
Krisbee: The last real passion, and maybe it's because I revisited The Shaggs again, is really hunting down outsider music like Jandek.
Jeff Lewis: Exactly, there's one of those guys that I have heard so much about.    I guess I will have to be at somebody's house and then I will get a chance to listen.
Krisbee: Just like anything, once you get caught on it, it will become an obsession.   I got my friend hunting down Jandek, and he ended up buying all the albums.
Jeff Lewis: That's a lot of albums right?
Krisbee: Like 30...
Jeff Lewis: That's the way I am with The Fall... since getting hooked into them, I'm totally addicted, and they have like 30 or 40 albums.   I just can't get enough, and I listen to them all the time, and I want to listen to the albums that I don't have.  Jandek is something I haven't caught the bug of.
Krisbee: Which might be fine; the story is much more important than the music.   Particularly for Jandek, but that's also true for other things; sometimes the story makes the music that much more important, I guess.
Jeff Lewis: Well, you can come from that a couple of different ways.  I mean, what is really great is when you discover and like the music, and then after that you discover the story; it just enhances it that much more - which for me is Ian Dury and the Blockheads, a band I have been obsessed with.  Perhaps a year after picking up some of his albums, I found out that he had polio, and one leg or arm was shorter.  He was crippled and he had this crazy stage presence, which I had no idea that he was this guy that would be behind this crazy music.  After hearing the story, the legend and the music was enhanced so much.

(We started talking about my past interviews, and about Steve Espinola, which takes us to...)

Jeff Lewis: I think he's really good.  I guess he's sort of not as much a part of the regular crowd of performers as he was a few years ago... I guess I haven't been either.  When I started playing Sidewalk Cafe, my parents place was just a couple of blocks away from there so it was pretty easy for me to hang out at the open mic until 3 in the morning, and I could just walk home and go to sleep; it's definitely a lot easier for me than Steve.   Lately I haven't been around as much.
Krisbee: Were you up in Maine?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, I was up recently in Michigan with my girlfriend visiting her parents.  The year before I was in Maine for four or five months, and in Texas for six months.

(We get interrupted by my dog jumping on the couch.  We talk a bit about the fish in Jeff's house.  I switch gears.)

Krisbee: Its' got to be tough being a full-time musician.
Jeff Lewis: I wouldn't necessarily say I'm full time.  I'm not really a full time anything... I have just been sort of bumming around for the past couple of years.  I just sort of ended up on this path; I got out of college and had this really cheap apartment for a couple of years.  I didn't need to have a regular full time job, so I started playing music and had more time to do art work.  Since I lost that apartment I haven't found myself going back to regular life.  I'm just sort of bumming around; staying at different people's places or my parent's place up in Maine.  This music thing has just taken on a bigger part of my life since it started four years ago, and the art is still going on there; if I just gotten out of school and gotten a regular expensive apartment, just like everybody else, who knows what would have happened.
Krisbee: You lucked out.
Jeff Lewis: From one perspective, perhaps.
Krisbee: I have a regular full time job, and have for a long time now, and it's impossible now for me to think about not having one, which is awful.  I was able to survive just fine in and out of college, and now I'm kind of stuck in that thinking.
Jeff Lewis: I guess that's what everybody worries about being; being stuck.   That's sort of what I feel like; where I feel I'm stuck in this limbo, where I'm 26, I have been out of school for five years, and I'm still living the life of a high school bum.  Not having my own apartment, not having a regular job... my resume is pretty pathetic.  "Oh yeah, I'm an artist...", not really making a living doing that, clinging to this childhood fantasy to the bitter end until it all collapses into disaster, which I always feel is right around the corner.
Krisbee: If you had a preference of making it in one endeavor, what would it be?
Jeff Lewis: Well, my whole life I just wanted to draw comic books, although, anybody who is a professional illustrator will say, "It's a hard life, and there's no glamour in it, if only I could do it over again...," but it still seems pretty cool to me.
Krisbee: The only comics of yours that I have been able to see is on the antifolkonline website, which is very small.
Jeff Lewis: Brad really packed a lot of stuff on there, which is cool. Rough Trade put a comic up on the site that is much more seeable.
Krisbee: One question I am hesitant to ask, but I saw it on the Olive Juice message board, was about you getting married?
Jeff Lewis: I was pretty entertained about that one.  I think Steve Espinola asked me about that, sent me an email asking if it was true, and then some other people asked me which I thought was pretty funny. I mean it seemed pretty obvious to me that it wasn't true.  The guy said I married Geoff Travis, who is the head of Rough Trade records, and Geoff is like in his forties or fifties, and is a regular, married, grown up guy.   I finally went on the Olive Juice message board just a few days ago to see the original post.  I was tempted to keep the idea rolling, but it just seems crazy to me that people would believe it.  I guess there was a really a real possibility of it; I guess if people who don't know who Geoff Travis is, or whatever, it would make that believable.  The thing is I have a suspicion, whether this may or may not be true, that it is my nemesis who also recently sent me a death threat.  The original post seemed to have a mean spiritedness about it, rather than just jokey.
Krisbee: You're 26 and you have a nemesis?
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, a guy I met in Texas; it's all in my Austin diary comic.

(edited for space)

Jeff Lewis: The whole thing is just weird... whatever. I thought it might have been him that did the Olive Juice posting.
Krisbee: It seems like a lot of energy that he's spending.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, I don't know... I don't know what else he does with his time, he's just a little weird, I guess.
Jeff Lewis: What have you been listening to lately?
Krisbee: I got Peter Dizzoza's album, Pro-Choice on Mental Health.
Jeff Lewis: Have you ever seen any of his plays?
Krisbee: I haven't, and it looks like I am going to miss The Golf Wars, which is a shame.
Jeff Lewis: To me, like, Prepare to Meet Your Maker are the greatest shows I have ever seen. Do you know Seth's stuff, Dufus?  He also does musical theater performances, the Fun Wearing Underwear show that's always taking new forms, and that to me is some of the most amazing stuff on the scene... I hate to keep using the word "scene".  If you ever get a chance to see Peter or Seth's stuff, that's really special.
Krisbee: I just got Prewar Yardsale's album.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, that's one of my favorite albums.  I just saw them play on Friday night; it was a really great show.
Krisbee: The community of antifolkers seem to have fun making music.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, it's certainly more fun to be doing it in the community with everyone going to everybody's shows, checking out each others' albums and hanging out... I'm so glad I stumbled into it; my life would be so different otherwise.  I guess for better or for worse, but definitely different.  It's just a way of coming in contact with a group of friends.  It's such a widespread thing because, it's different than a group of friends that you would have at school, because here everyone is from different backgrounds, different ages... some people, like Peter Dizzoza, have a professional job, and yet he makes some of the craziest music and plays.  Everyone is just connected by the fact that they are performing.  Everything else about them is really diverse; you just have a group of really interesting people hanging out together.  There are school dropouts, Prewar Yardsale are a married couple living on the Upper West Side, and then you have Turner Cody who is a dropout hippie type, just traveling around and hanging out on the streets.  It's such a cast of characters; but everyone hangs out together and enjoys each other's stuff.
Krisbee: With regards to your music, most of the songs seem autobiographical.
Jeff Lewis: Any of the things that you think could be true, are true... the autobiographical stuff comes from the comics with the idea that your daily existence can be interesting when it is exposed.
Krisbee: There is a lot of humor and self-deprecating in your songs.
Jeff Lewis: I guess that is a defense, but that is sort of like the autobiographical comics; all the stuff that you are ashamed or afraid of, if you just expose it to the world, there is a value that comes out of that.  You can take everything that you feel is your worst aspect and invert it, and people will hopefully give you the credit for the courage or stupidity for you to do that.  Maybe you can get some gold out of that lead if you are lucky.  Or you can be perceived as an exhibitionist or self-obsessed, which I guess it is also.  It's a weird line where it crosses over as bad taste.
Jeff Lewis: There are some songs I don't want to play, or it just feels wrong, or it doesn't translate into something that's worthwhile song.
Krisbee: Is Everyone's Honest a song you don't like to play anymore?
Jeff Lewis: I never really played that one, maybe live like twice when the first batch of songs were coming into being... sometimes you can feel like the audience is getting bored, and you are stuck in this long song, and you think, "Wow! This is really a long song," and some songs are just better suited to recording.  The couple of times I played it live I felt totally ashamed of it.
Jeff Lewis: It's also a matter of playing to the same people in the same venues.   Once you heard this long song, how many times do you want to hear it or sing it?   Some songs, like The Chelsea Hotel or the other long songs I have done as an illustrated, giant book; each line has an illustration and I sing it a capella, which makes it for me a cooler experience.   The Crow Ballad song and a couple of others that aren't on any of the albums... some of them are better suited for that than for a song; because they are stories they might work better with pictures.
Krisbee: Is there a song that means more to you than other songs?
Jeff Lewis: It's embarrassing to admit this, but that first batch of songs, the first five that I somehow made up and got this whole thing started, nothing since then has come close to that in my mind; Chelsea Hotel, Life, Heavy Heart, Everyone's Honest.  I think part of that is that I wasn't really a songwriter at that point; I was expressing things very clearly and straightforward, and ever since then I have turned more into a songwriter.  I think about things, more conscious of what I am doing, and things are more muddled up... there was something about those first few songs where out of nowhere I was able to say what I felt very clearly.
Krisbee: There are no preconceived notions.
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, and that was before I was in a performing environment.  Also I felt like I said everything I had to say.... I think everyone has something to say, but I don't think that everybody has an infinite number of things to say, and I feel that I very clearly said my piece, and I said what I though about drugs, God, sex, hope, and whatever else. Since then, I am telling different stories and different rock songs, which I like, but everything that I really had to say about the world I said at first, and that didn't really leave me much to say afterwards.
Krisbee: I was just thinking about how dense the songs are, and how much information there is of your viewpoints. Life, History of Jeff's Sexual Conquests...
Jeff Lewis: Yeah, there's one to me that isn't really performable anymore.  It just seemed that without having a real lofty musical talent, or vocal talent, or melodic talent -  The only thing that I had going for me was saying things straight out, and after you have said them, they are said.  I do like that dense wordiness, but I also like simple straightforward things, also.  Even though a song is long it doesn't mean that it has to be wordy.  I take wordy as meaning that there are words that don't have to be there, that there are words for the sake of words.  I remember people leveling that complaint against Turner Cody; wordplay for the sake of wordplay.  I love a lot of Turner's songs, and actually he's one of those people like Kimya, that are so good at what they do that it inspires you to cease going in that direction at all because there is no way that you can do it better than they are doing it, so you want abandon writing that kind of song altogether.
Krisbee: Heavy Heart has hardly any lines in it comparatively.  It's interesting in your work, the contrasts.
Jeff Lewis: There are times when I have played that song and there was no applause, maybe because people thought it was too short to be a song; people didn't get the fact that it was over.  There are certainly shorter songs in the world.
Krisbee: Sure, Mason Williams has a 20 second song.  I have a Dwarves album where the longest song is a minute. That's interesting, with epic songs like Jethro Tull or Dylan compared to the Ramones...
Jeff Lewis: John Kessel was working on a project were he was writing a song that was a whole set long, while not being a suite - like Jethro Tull where they have all these different musical sections, but more like a Dylan song where it's long but the musical changes just happen over and over again over these stream of lyrics.

(fade out)

Jeff and I chatted more about music, about epic songs, and what he had thought about the band Cornershop, which I found out that he toured with.  It was a great conversation, but a full transcript would be just too long to read.  I encourage anybody who hasn't had much exposure to Jeff to check out the page over at Antifolkonline.com that Brad wrote.  You also can purchase his album at Amazon.Co.Uk.

This Interview was conducted on September 23rd by
Krisbee
and first appeared on Krisbee's Website.