Jeffrey Lewis - Who Watches Jeffrey Lewis-
Musician, comedian and Watchmen devotee Jeffrey Lewis seems to have the world in the palm of his hand at the moment. 3D’s Nina Bertok speaks to the New Yorker about his new album.
Part-time musician, part-time comic writer Jeffrey Lewis has often been credited with leading the American anti-folk movement – now if only he knew what exactly that meant…
“Nobody really knows,” he laughs. “It’s a mysterious genre. Everyone’s like, ‘you’re the king of the anti-folk scene’ and I’m like, ‘sure, whatever’. As far as I’m concerned it’s about the whole New York City-oriented aesthetic. It’s like acoustic punk. Punk and folk music in New York have always been different from what’s going on in the rest of the world, there’s almost an outsider kind of flavour to it, whether it be Sonic Youth or even the hip hop that came out of NYC – traditionally our music was always made in non-traditional ways.”
And anything but traditional is Lewis’ latest collection of clever and often funny observations in the form of his new album Em Are I, the follow-up to 2007’s covers record, 12 Crass Songs.
“What I’ve done over the years have been very simple, home-made recordings, like the covers of Crass’ songs,” Lewis recalls. “With that album I just reinterpreted their tunes and I learned so much from that album-making experience about how creative I could get in terms of production and arrangement and taking the raw, basic songs and fleshing out the sonic pallet. I took a lot of that experience and applied it towards my new album. Em Are I was a very open and flexible album where friends could join in and add their bits here and there, and the whole thing captured a really free-wheeling vibe.”
Lewis’ hippy leanings stem from his eclectic childhood while growing up in Lower East Side Manhattan to bohemian parents who didn’t believe in McDonald’s or television.
“The whole neighbourhood was full of parents that raised their kids in alternative ways in the 1970s,” Lewis laughs. “Having beatnik parents meant there was never any television in the house and I wasn’t ever really the athletic type… so I got into comic books.”
Alan Moore’s Watchmen to be precise – a comic that Lewis went on to write his university thesis on and the topic he is lecturing when not supporting good friend Darren Hanlon in concert this month.
“The lecture has grown out of my senior college thesis on Watchmen because I thought it was an interesting comic book to tackle as a project,” he says. “There wasn’t much critical work on comics at that time because people believed they didn’t have the literary density to stand up to that kind of examination but Watchmen is different in that it’s not quite a comic but it’s not a novel. It’s culturally unique in ways that people haven’t fully understood yet, it certainly isn’t just an exciting adventure story.”
WHO: Jeffrey Lewis
WHAT: Em Are I through Rough Trade / Remote Control
WHEN: Out now