Published Aug 20, 2013Few artists in recent years have been praised for their live show as much as Black Joe Lewis, but on his latest album with the Honeybears, Electric Slave, Lewis wanted to take things up a notch in the studio. Speaking with Exclaim! of his new album — due out August 27 on Vagrant/Universal but now streaming here on Exclaim.ca — the Austin-based singer/guitarist says that after a couple of significant lineup changes and a label switch, his goal for Electric Slave was to de-emphasize his blues and R&B influences and focus more on Stooges/MC5 guitar rock.
"Once we got through the band shake-ups, it made sense to work with some new people," says Lewis, who recently parted ways with longtime second guitarist Zach Ernst. "We started off recording three songs with John Congleton [the Walkmen, Modest Mouse, St. Vincent] in Dallas, and then we did the rest with Stuart Sikes [the White Stripes] in Austin. They've both done 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."
Lyrically, the new album also moves away, at times, from Lewis's patented brand of straight-up party anthems, with the blistering opening track "Skulldiggin" commenting on our increasing obsession with technology, and "Dar es Salaam" drawing from both Lewis's exploration of his personal roots and his interest in sci-fi.
"I'm a big Star Trek fan and I love Uhura," he says. "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. [Tanzanian city] Dar es Salaam just had a really nice flow to it when I sang it, so that became the hook."
After spending much time touring with fellow Austin artists Spoon and Okkervil River, as well as the New York Dolls and Sharon Jones, Lewis is looking forward to getting out on his own and bringing his new and improved sound to fresh ears. The handful of Canadian stops on his upcoming tour includes Montreal, a place he'll always have a special relationship with.
"I actually lived in Montreal for a while before I was playing music seriously," he says. "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."
Exclaim.ca is streaming Electric Slave a week early, starting today (August 20). Listen to the album here.