“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.
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?
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]?
Joe: 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?
Joe: 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.