Black Joe Louis (center) and the Honeybears
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are coming to the Belly Up on Thursday. It's been a whirlwind for Joe Lewis, who first taught himself how to play guitar while working in a pawn shop and eventually got up the courage to perform at local open-mic nights in Austin, Texas. After a chance opportunity to open for Little Richard, Joe Lewis began collaborating with the Honeybears, which eventually lead to national touring spots with acts like Okkervil River and Spoon.
It all sounds very serendipitous, but it wasn't without months of constant touring and a fierce work ethic, not to mention a natural knack for crafting wildly catchy songs that are a little tongue-and-cheek and a lot of soul. We caught up with frontman Joe Lewis while he was out on the road and asked him about his thoughts on people labelling him as a "soul revivalist" and his Top 40 music-conspiracy theories.
Nada Alic: So when the break came to tour with Spoon -- it seems like nonstop touring after that. Was that something you were prepared for?
Joe Lewis: It's just kind of something that happened. It was something we all wanted to happen to get the band off the ground. Nobody saw it coming.
NA: With Scandalous, is it ever exhausting to have to keep doing interviews and talking about a record that came out earlier this year, which you've been touring on for eight months?
JL: No -- only when people ask the same questions. Like anything, it gets hard to tell the same story.
NA: Do you prefer being an artist in the studio or on the road?
JL: Prefer the road to the studio. In the studio, everyone's throwing their opinions around. You have to listen to the same stuff over and over.
NA: Are there really eight touring members? How does that work on the road?
JL: We have seven in the band and one merch and one crew. We've got a 15-passenger van and a trailer. Everybody does good, because it's how they're making their money. Mainly when you get paid, they tend to cooperate.
NA: Have the Relatives ever performed live with you?
JL: Yeah, a few times. We did ACL live with them, we did a show in Australia with them, one in France. We've done four or five different performances together
NA: How does songwriting work between you and the Honeybears?
JL: I'll bring something to them; that happens a lot of the time. Sometimes, something comes up in practice, and it sounds cool. We'll keep on at it and see if it turns into anything. We're kind of random; we're all over the place. We just don't have a routine. Most of it's when I'm home. It's kind of hard when you're on the road because you're always busy.
NA: Scandalous is a bit of a different album from Tell Em What Your Name Is. Some songs are even political. Especially with all the s--- that's happening now, do you feel like artists have a role to play in that conversation?
JL: Yeah, I guess because with, like, the times of movement in society, usually there's good music to go along with it. And it's kind of weird -- like what's happening right now: People are angry with the way things are, but still ... popular music doesn't match the times. Like, in the '60s with the civil rights movement and the hippies, there was a lot of good music. But right now, there's not. I kind of feel like there's a conspiracy to dumb everyone down so they can enslave us all to give us crappy music and we won't do anything. All you get shoved down your throat is Lady Gaga.
NA: What are you currently listening to?
JL: Big fan of Ty Segall, the Oh Sees, all the good stuff's not on the popular market, you know. You have to kind of go out and find it. Jim Jones Brigade is awesome.
NA: How do you feel about people calling you a revivalist band?
JL: I don't think it's accurate. People always have to categorize stuff. Just because we have horns, we're a soul revival band. If you come to a show, you'll see that that's not really what we're doing. You have to categorize everything, you know? The soul revival movement -- I don't think it's really a movement. I just kind of don't want to be apart of a "scene." I want to be doing my own thing. And if I wanted to listen to that kind of music, I would just listen to the original.
NA: Your music is considered a mix of soul and rock, but it's definitely got this tough vibe. Do you identify with that attitude off-stage?
JL: Hah -- I don't think that' I'm tough in real life. You'll probably have to ask someone else.
NA: What's next for you guys?
JL: We're working toward another record. We don't know when it's going to come out. Definitely touring as much as we can, making money. That's the only way you make money these days.
Grab your tickets for the Belly Up show here.