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jeffrey lewis session
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Lo-fi storytelling from the East Side.“You can’t say that there’s a New York sound, but bands that come out of New York tend to be weird and not make any sense.” Jeffrey Lewis, comic book artist and performer of strange punk/folk stories, is talking about his hometown. “I’ve heard it said that it’s the sound of the subways, that you grow up with this rumbling, droney, somewhat arhythmic bumpity-bumping, which might have some kind of psychological effect on people making music in New York.”
Jeffrey Lewis is part of New York’s “anti-folk” scene: “I think it’s a cool title. The fact that no one knows what it means, including me, makes it kind of mysterious and more interesting than saying that you’re a singer/songwriter or that you play indie rock.” And Jeffrey is certainly more interesting than that. He describes his music as “narrative folk music with stories”, but adds that there’s “some stuff that’s very loud and distorted”.
It’s a good description. Songs on his new album range from a story about him confessing his worries about being an artist to a man on a tube train who turns out not to be Will Oldham (of Bonnie Prince Billy fame), to the trials and tribulations of moving house. “Some of the songs are very autobiographical, and some of them are about zombies and time machines,” he explains. “I guess with all my stuff there tends to be a pretty clear split. The stuff that’s true is, like, REALLY true and the stuff that’s not true is REALLY not true.”
Jeffrey began playing gigs almost as a way to promote his comic books, which he started drawing before he could read and have a similar ethos to his music. “Lately I’ve been doing more biographical things, like stories that my father tells - he’s always ranting on about his life of adventures. And there are other projects, like this History Of Communism project I’ve been working on, and a story of the Guggenheim family and the history of the Guggenheim Art Museum.”
He combines his comic books with his music by including in his live show what he terms “low-budget videos”. “I have these giant drawings that I flip through while I’m singing the song that are illustrations of the lyrics I’m singing. After a few tours they get pretty beat-up and ragged so I have to keep making new ones. I find they have a sort of disarming effect – I can do them without a microphone and without electricity. It’s such a simple thing to do and such a nice way to connect with an audience.”
And that’s the key to Jeffrey Lewis. He’s a brilliant, engaging storyteller, genuinely funny but touchingly heartfelt at the same time, whether he’s informing you of the history of the Soviet Union, describing the best way to kill a zombie or fretting about whether devoting his life to being creative is worthwhile. But when you create as well as Jeffrey does, it has to be.
Jeffrey & Jack Lewis – City & Eastern Songs, released 05 December 05 on Rough Trade.
Read members' comments related to this music.
comment by Spinky Feb 21, 2006Lady in dead?
comment by fingerchimp Feb 21, 2006i hear chris de burghs new album will feature at least four songs exclusively about killing zombies.
comment by lightning49 Feb 20, 2006Not only should they sing about them, they should kill them, including all zombies in the music industry, the rest of the arts , all the governments of the world. Trouble is, zombies are already dead, so even if you shoot the head it's rather difficult. "Shoot the Head, Kill the Ghoul" is great rock, it could wake up the dead. And a fine retro horror fantasy like when we were kids.
comment by danpilau Nov 23, 2005of course, the boy is a genius... live review here ...
comment by mmd040 Nov 21, 2005The new album is available now.
comment by David Thair Nov 17, 2005Well, yes. Of course they should.
"Write about what you know", or so they say. That should apply to songwriters too.
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