Visions | Get To Know: Jeffrey Lewis

05 Aug 2013

RFB gets to know one of the most prolific alternative folk icons of the last decade, Jeffrey Lewis


Jeffrey Lewis, Junkyard, Peter Stampfli, Daniel Johnston, Rough Trade, Rockfeedback Concerts, Visions Festival

New York-based musician and artist Jeffrey Lewis has an artistic-career spanning over a decade and encompassing comic book illustration, collaboration and his own left-field folk compositions. Driven by the constant need to be creative, to try new things and work with new people, Lewis has carved out a unique world for himself built on an ethos of independence and inspired motivation that few artists can claim to match.

He recently released his latest album; ‘Hey Hey it’s… The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band’ in May this year on Rough Trade Records, and he’ll be performing solo (with some special guests) at Visions Festival as well as Reading and Leeds in the UK later this month.

As an songwriter, artist and collaborator you're incredibly prolific, how do you stay inspired to keep on writing music and making art?

It's always challenging so it remains engaging. The endless mental chess game against despair...

You've consistently collaborated with other people throughout your career from Kimya Dawson and Diane Cluck to Peter Stampfel and Daniel Johnston. Do you have a highlight or a collaboration that was particularly special for you?

At the MoFo Festival in Paris in 2003 there was a whole collaboration workshop where all the artists at the festival had access to little recording studios are everybody was encouraged to write and record songs together, it was a lot of folks, The Mountain Goats, Daniel Johnston, Eugene Chadbourne, Herman Dune, Kimya Dawson, and others. I'm not sure what became of all those songs and recordings, maybe somebody released them somewhere… I remember a cool song that I co-wrote and recorded with Lisa Li-Lund and the Wave Pictures, where is it now, who knows.  But that was a nice special collaborative situation for a few days, a nice idea for a festival. Ten years ago already, yikes.

The first four issues of your comic book series, Fuff, have been re-issued this year, how much crossover is there between your writing and your music? Do you find that story-lines from your comics find their way into you songwriting and visa-versa?

Not so much, there's no characters or situations that cross over from one to the other as far as i can recall, though I suppose there's certain attitudes that can't help but be present in both.

You're performing solo at this year's Visions Festival, what can people expect from your show? 

Not sure yet, I have to have a think about what I want to do. It'll be a solo set, so quite different from the Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band 5-piece tour that I did in May, and different from the Jeffrey Lewis & The Rain 3-piece tour that I just wrapped up this week. I'm hoping to get Franic of the Wave Pictures to play with me on stage so it won't be entirely solo acoustic, but essentially it'll be a folk set. I guess the usual - some older songs, some newer songs, some illustrated songs.

Finally, you've always been a big proponent of independence and a DIY ethic, you still handle press and deal with bookings yourself, why the choice to remain so self-sufficient?

More of a necessity than a choice, I can't really see another viable way to exist like this. Also, over the years I've realized that success can be understood as the percentage of the results that actually end up with the artist. I've played some pretty big gigs, and saw that only about 32% of the money that came in the door was actually going to the band, the rest was going to agents and lighting techs and promoters etc., which is a big contrast from when I play at a small club and the band is actually paid more like 70-90% of what comes in the door. DItto for making my own merchandise, and other such stuff. How is it considered success if the more work you do the more of it gets siphoned off to other people? That seems like an ever-increasing amount of servitude and being beholden to more and more people; in that light it makes more sense to stay smaller. But maybe I'm wrong, ask me again in another ten years and I may have a different perspective on all this, if I'm still around.

Jeffrey Lewis performs at Visions Festival on Saturday 10th August. Tickets are on-sale now and available to purchase here.

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