Black Joe Lewis
Goes His Own Way
This album is definitely the heaviest you've ever sounded, especially the opening track, "Skulldiggin." Had you been looking to go in that direction for a while?
Yeah. I think with the membership changes in the past couple of years, I wanted to get back to the approach I had when I first put this band together in 2007. And just being the only guitar player in the band now made me focus a lot more on that, too. "Skulldiggin" was something we started jamming on and I decided to expand on it by putting a bunch of guitar parts down in the studio. A lot of these new songs came about that way.
What inspired the track "Dar es Salaam?"
That was another one that came out of jamming. The other thing about that song is I'm a big Star Trek fan and I love Uhura. Her name comes from the Swahili word for freedom and that got me reading about Africa. I discovered that my ancestors came mainly from Tanzania and I wanted to work that into a song somehow. Dar es Salaam just had a really nice flow to it when I sang it, so that became the hook.
Speaking of freedom, it seems to be a theme on the new album, from the title and "Skulldiggin" both conveying the idea of how people can become enslaved to technology.
Yeah, I guess that was something I was thinking about a lot. I mean, you can't help but notice it everywhere — people not being able to have normal conversations anymore, and walking around with their heads buried in their phones and their iPods. There's nothing you can do about it, but I think it's worth reminding people of that every so often.
You worked with a couple of different producers for the first time on Electric Slave, on top of signing with a new label. Was that another aspect of the new direction you were looking for?
Yeah. Once we got through the band shake-ups, it made sense to work with some new people. We started off recording three songs with John Congleton in Dallas, and then we did the rest with Stuart Sikes in Austin. They've both worked on a lot of great records and understood what was needed for these songs. I'm really happy with this record in every way. This is the best the band has ever sounded.
I really find it interesting how you've had this rapport with the indie rock scene right from the beginning. Why do you think that is?
I don't know man, I just never wanted to have us be anything other than a great rock 'n roll band. People might want to label us blues or R&B or whatever, but that's not who I am. Sure, those things are a part of what I do, but mainly it's all about putting on a good show and getting everyone having a good time. There's no category for that other than rock'n'roll, as far as I know. Once we'd started playing around town, we got to know the guys in Spoon and Okkervil River and played a lot with both of them. We toured with the New York Dolls and with Lucero, and with Sharon Jones too. The crowds were all the same, generally. They wanted to come out and party.
The timing seems to be perfect for Electric Slave, with blues-influenced rock really as popular as ever. Do you feel you'll be able to broaden your audience with this album?
I hope so. I mean, we're pretty fortunate here in Austin having such a great music scene that people don't really judge you on anything other than whether you're good or not. I think the only limitations that exist are ones you put on yourself. Like I said, I'm a big fan of sci-fi, but most people wouldn't think that by just looking at me or listening to some of my early music. I been saying for a while that I wish I could have re-recorded that first album [2009's Tell 'Em What Your Name Is], but now it's just like, fuck it, move on.
You're playing some shows here in Canada in September. What's been your experience like up here?
It's been great; I've played there a lot. I actually lived in Montreal for a while before I was playing music. I'd moved up there to be with this girl, but it ended up not working out. I didn't really feel that comfortable in Montreal anyway. I hate to say that people seemed snooty, but that's the way I felt at the time. And I didn't really get what a lot of the bands there were doing. A lot's changed since then, obviously.
So what are some of the things you've learned in the past year?
Basically, if you want to be in this business you've got to take control of what you're doing. There's always a lot of people telling you different things, but if you don't have an idea of what the right thing to do is, then it's just gonna cause a lot of problems for everybody. I think this new album is a big step forward for me realizing that.
FeaturesJun 04, 2015
The Weather StationTuning In
Tamara Lindeman — a one-time teen actor in various made-for-TV films who continues to act on the side — didn't always know she w...
FeaturesMay 28, 2015
The Exclaim! QuestionnaireBuffy Sainte-Marie
You wanna talk living legends? Buffy Sainte-Marie blazed through the Greenwich Village and Yorkville folk music scenes in the 1960s before e...
FeaturesFeb 17, 2015
When Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland first joined forces as Whitehorse in 2011, their assorted sound was still finding its roots in a mel...
FeaturesFeb 10, 2015
Father John MistyLove is a Drug
Sometimes it's hard to figure out where Father John Misty ends and Josh Tillman begins. From his early days as a singer-songwriter peddling ...
FeaturesFeb 04, 2015
Dan ManganNo More Mr. Nice Guy (Oh Who Are We Kidding?)
"Part of the 'Dan Mangan' thing is being this super, super nice guy," reflects the man in question. "It's not that I'm no longer nice, but I...
FeaturesSep 02, 2015
FIDLARFast, Cheap and Back In Control
Beer. Cigarettes. Weed. Speed. Meth. Heroin. "Eight-balls of blow." Crack. These were just some of the substances Zac Carper mentioned on FI...
FeaturesAug 26, 2015
Beach HouseAll Natural
When Beach House announced their fifth album, Depression Cherry, back in May, Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand described it — in their...
NewsAug 21, 2015
Katie Moore Brings Joy to 'Fooled by the Fun'
"I've always tried to record live," Katie Moore tells Exclaim! on a stop home between gigs singing backup for Socalled at the Calgary Folk M...