Rollo & Grady Interview :: Black Joe Lewis

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Black Joe Lewis
Black Joe Lewis @ Austin City Limits 2008 (Photo Rollo & Grady)

My dream is to be on the level of James Brown. I want to be the black Elvis.”

27 year-old Austin musician Black Joe Lewis has been kicking ass and taking names this past year. Relatively unknown a year ago, Joe turned heads and created quite a buzz at South by Southwest, Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza. Not to mention the fact that he was personally invited by Spoon’s front-man, Britt Daniel, to open up for the band’s west coast shows. Having recently signed a recording contract with the Lost Highway Records label, Joe is poised for a breakout year in 2009.

I recently caught up with Joe on the phone in Pittsburgh while he was touring with Okkervil River.

RG: Hey Joe.

Joe: Hello.

RG: What‘s going on with you?

Joe: Not much. How you doing?

RG: I’m doing well. What do your friends call you, J.J., Joe or Black Joe?

Joe: Joe.

RG: Prior to forming the band, you were shucking oysters and driving the delivery truck for Quality Seafood in Austin. Did you give them two-weeks notice?

Joe: I’m still there, actually. I work three days a week now. They let me leave town whenever I need to. They’re so cool. It’s always good to have a job, you know. I can get lazy, and I still need the money.

RG: What’s your relationship like with Britt Daniel [Spoon]?

I guess we’re friends now. I met him one night while I was playing at The Beauty Bar. He was hanging out in the back and he liked us. He was a pro, dude. He just happened to be there and then when he heard us play we said “Hi” to him. And then later that week I received a call to see if we would like to open up for them. So, if I see him around town, I say, “Wassup?” We’re pretty cool with each other. He came out to see us at Austin City Limits this year.

RG: How many dates did you guys play with Spoon?

Joe: About 9 or 10.

RG: Your music appeals to all ages. Do you see this as a problem while you’re trying to find a musical niche?

Joe: No, man. It’s good. You don’t want to get caught up in one thing and always have to stick to that.

RG: Do you think the indie crowds are going to be your bread and butter?

Joe: For the most part, yes, because that’s the biggest scene right now. And those who are doing well end up spending money to see shows.

RG: You appear calm and confident when you perform live. Do you ever get nervous before shows?

Joe: I used to get really nervous. Every now and then I still do. ACL was bad for me. I got nervous doing a recent show in New York. I was kind of nervous at Lollapalooza, but it doesn’t really bother me anymore because I’ve played so many bad shows. It’s like, whatever, I can handle this shit.

RG: Do you know when you’ve played a bad show rather than a good one?

Yeah, for the most part. But you never know what the hell the people in the crowd see, you know? The indie crowd doesn’t really dance a lot, but if you play at the Continental Club [in Austin] people are getting down and dancing. But just because people aren’t moving around doesn’t mean they didn’t like it. It’s because they’re too cool to move around, you know? But I can tell if I played like shit or not.

Rollo & Grady Interview :: Black Joe Lewis

RG: You guys just signed with Lost Highway Records. Why did you choose to sign with them?

Joe: It’s just a really cool label. Everybody I met there seemed like good people. They were also the only label that really pushed hard to get us. We had other labels that were after us, but they didn’t put in a ton of effort. Lost Highway is a good size label, too. They were the biggest label we could get on at this point.

RG: Were you concerned that a majority of their acts are Americana and Country artists?

Joe: Nah, I don’t care. I just feel like if you plug in the music, try to get it out to everybody, it’ll carry over. You don’t want to get stuck trying to play one scene. You know what I mean? You’ll be missing out on some cool new shit.

RG: Is the newfound success overwhelming?

Joe: Not yet. Call me in a couple months. We’ll see.

RG: What’s the name of the new album and when do they plan on releasing it?

Joe: It’s going to be released in February or March. I haven’t quite decided on a name yet. I have a couple things in mind. I’m thinking about naming it Nat Turner.

RG: Why Nat Turner?

Joe: He led one of the only slave revolts in the Colonial days, and then got out and went from town to town and busted shit up; he tried to go into these towns and burn them down. They had to call out the Army to stop him. I’m always into the whole revolutionary thing.

RG: I think you should go with it.

Joe: Yeah, name them after revolutionaries. I think I might do that with all my albums.

RG: You mentioned that after you release the album you want to put out some dirtier singles. What did you mean by that?

Joe: Some lo-fi shit. Stuff that sounds like an old record, like the way they would have been recorded in the ‘60s. I think all those older recordings are really cool and have good tone on them.

RG: Will the label support the release?

Joe: Yeah, I’m pretty sure. I mean, we’ve got to show it to them first. They’re definitely not going to like everything, but we’ll see what they say.

RG: Who’s the bitch on “Bitch I Love You?”

Joe: [laughs] That song was actually written by a friend of mine. It’s a complete joke, man. We used to sit around making up comedy skits and shit, and he wrote that song and he gave it to me. It’s really not about anybody. It’s just kind of a bad joke.

RG: It’s a great song.

Joe: Yeah, it’s a cool song. I really dig it.

RG: Barack Obama endorsed you back in February at a show in Austin. Did you get to meet him?

Joe: No, I didn’t get to meet him. Too many security people, and all that.

RG: Do you think he’s ever heard “DC Killa?”

Joe: Probably not. He probably hasn’t heard “Bitch I Love You” either.

RG: Have audiences complained about “Bitch I Love You?”

Joe: There were a couple of things. There was an opening slot for Al Green that we didn’t get because of it. And there was a tour – I can’t remember who with – out on the West Coast, so that was kind of a bummer. I don’t sing it too often, so I can make sure I don’t get known as some wife beater, or something [laughs]. It’s just totally a joke, man. But I’m going to have to tone it down because a lot of people take it the wrong way.

RG: What about changing it around, maybe call it “Baby I Love You” and make it a positive song [laughs]?

Joe: I could do that, but it’s just not as funny. Cuss words are funny.

I agree with you. You were wearing an Eazy-E t-shirt at ACL. Any plans to cover any N.W.A. songs?

Joe: That’s a good idea, man. Maybe we’ll do that.

Tags: ,