Musician, comic book writer, and Rough Trade veteran, Jeffrey Lewis is about to set off on a huge tour that comes to Leicester this spring. Lewis is no stranger to the city and calls it “one of my long-term city relationships,” He’s visited us once a year since 2002 and recalls some of the classic Leicester venues like Sumo and Lock 42 from his many visits.
Since his early days, in New York’s open mic scene, he’s released a new album nearly every year in his inimitable anti-folk style, has released a clutch of EP’s, collaborated with tonnes of his favorite musicians and kept steadfastly to his DIY ethic. He now releases his albums when “he feels like it” and is currently wrapping up a third Jeffrey Lewis/Peter Stampfel album. He’s also looking to make a record with Roger Mouton, who produced one of his favorite Yo La Tengo recordings.
Recently, he’s recorded with Peter Stampfel, Deposit Returners, and Steve Espinosa and explains “I’ve now made four albums with Peter Stampfel (co-founder and a life-long member of the Holy Modal Rounders, and also briefly a founding member of the Fugs) and we’re working on a follow-up album to those. But then the Deposit Returners thing is a whole different project to that follow-up album. We’re devoted to covering the songs and poems of Tuli Kupferberg, a founding member of the Fugs who died in 2010. Every year on Tuli’s birthday we get together to do a tribute concert, picking different Tuli songs to play, and it has been a goal of mine to make a proper official album. We finally managed to do that and the album includes a lot of great rare and unheard Tuli material that was never on any Fugs albums.” The Deposit Returners is comprised of Jeffrey Lewis on guitar, Peter Stampfel on fiddle, Steve Espinola on piano, and a few other bandmates, musicians and friends.
“That’s part of the thrill, knowing that you’re part of a long line of human artistic endeavor!”
As well as this he’s also in an open relationship with Rough Trade and in the 40-year history of the label, no other artist has put out as many albums with them as he has. “I don’t know how it compares to other artists’ relationships with labels, but it seems pretty casual” Jeffrey explains. Does he ever tire of being the wandering troubadour? Not really, he says. “That’s part of the thrill, knowing that you’re part of a long line of human artistic endeavor! Like the little traveling theatre troupe in the Bergman movie The Seventh Seal, in their wagon, experiencing ups and downs from town to town, hundreds of years ago.”
He also makes his own comic called Fuff. He reminisces: “Comic books have always been in my life, my parents got me a couple comic books when I was really little and then I guess my mom noticed that I liked them and started buying me more, and reading them to me until I was able to read them for myself. When I was little it would have been whatever random comics were available at newsstands or in supermarket racks or at garage sales, Spider-Man, Superman, House of Mystery, X-Men, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, just anything completely at random. But then for whatever reason, the two series that I began to specifically follow as a fan were Rom and Elfquest.” He has now been making comics for years and it became a regular thing when a guy called Mark on 23rd St, at Cosmic Comics, told him he’d stock his work in the store if he made it into regular series. However, he fancies starting a new series soon with a new name. “It’s nice having an ongoing project with a consistent title and format, but I think I’ll end the series soon, I’m tired of the name.”
The amount Jeffrey has going on is enough to make anyone dizzy. Alongside all of this he regularly works on a project called Sonnet Youth. So how did that come about? “I was on tour in the USA with Wooden Wand and my old touring vehicle broke down and died. I was very stressed out being stuck in Texas, missing gigs, needing to get back on the road immediately and needing to buy some kind of cheap replacement vehicle. People were telling me “just do a crowd-sourcing funding thing online, you’ve got enough fans that you can raise the money to buy a cheap second-hand vehicle and get back on the road.” But I’m stubbornly against crowd-funding, I feel like, hey, I’m supposed to be an artist. That means I’m supposed to use the powers of my creative mind to generate ideas that are exciting enough, or moving enough, or entertaining enough that I can pay my bills and do what I need to do, without needing to resort to charity. I feel like my art has to sink or swim on its own merits. So after a couple sleepless nights of anxiety, I had a late-night brainstorm to make “Sonnet Youth”, a silly pun, but a good fun project to tackle, to try to re-write every Sonic Youth song in sonnet form. I could make them into album-by-album little poetry zines, sell them for a buck, and it would hopefully be enough of a quirky and cool item that I could re-pay myself the $3,500 I had to spend to get back on the road via a rather sketchy vehicle purchase. I never did finish re-writing all Sonic Youth albums, it was very hard work to make the sonnets, but it made me a much better writer actually, just the exercise itself. I finished three complete Sonic Youth albums in this form, and I had the vehicle for four years of additional touring before it bit the dust.”
Jeffrey Lewis plays The Musician on 3rd April