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Q&A | Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage

Jeffrey Lewis talks to TLMT ahead of Workman's Club show tonight in Dublin

What’s the last song you listened to?

Jeannie C Riley – Satan Place

What album of artist has been on repeat?

Witthuser & Westrupp – Der Jesuspilz 

What is inspiring your music right now?

Do you mean what from life is currently inspiring my music, or do you mean what inspirations am I currently getting from other music? From life I’m recently inspired by a strange acceptance of being okay with being wrong in my creations, the freedom to be artistically wrong, the idea that my ideas are merely the best ideas I have at the moment, but they could all be wrong, and that’s funny. I’m feeling okay with being criticized for being wrong, and feeling okay about potentially being wrong, it feels like a new perspective on a feeling of humbleness. My ideas are exciting, interesting, and incredible to me, at this moment, and that’s enough, I don’t feel like my ideas have to worry about standing the test of time. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. I’m newly accepting that my thoughts and my work are just a document of someone doing their best, not a document of somebody who is necessarily right. It’s like I’m just doing an anthropological documentary on the stupid limited worldview of a certain cross-section of modern cultural space-time, and that cross-section is the spot where I’m standing, an exposure of how thing look and feel from someone doing their best, standing here. 

As for what music is inspiring my music right now, it’s the same old 20th Century stuff. Everything I ever needed to know about making songs came from Daniel Johnston and everything I needed to know about being a band came from Yo La Tengo, and both of those things are still true. Still attempting this weird concept: what if Jonathan Richman was crossed with the Modern Lovers, in one band? Wouldn’t that be weird? What if Syd Barret was crossed with Pink Floyd, in one band? What if Lou Reed was crossed with the Velvet Underground, in one band? What a crazy mash-up! That’s my basic thing, I guess. Good solo song stuff, and good band noise stuff, I like them both too much. 

Tell us about Bad Wiring. How was it written and recorded?

 I try to write a new song every week, and play it at an open mic night, here in New York City. I don’t always have the time to do this, but I like to keep trying to make new stuff, playing it in front of a room full of strangers who don’t give a damn about me and just want to get on stage themselves. And if I feel like I’ve come up with something that feels good to play in front of people, doesn’t feel too humiliatingly bad to play in public, then maybe that’s a song that I would keep playing, keep working on, play for my bandmates and maybe start playing for my real audiences, the people who buy tickets to see me. So it’s like I try to keep making up songs, but not very many of them make it through the final filters of ending up on an album. Every song I think is okay is the tip of an iceberg of a dozen other finished songs that didn’t feel as right to me, for whatever reason. 

The recording was fairly easy, because by the time my band got to the studio, in Nashville, with the great Roger Moutenot recording us (of Yo La Tengo production fame, as well as Lou Reed and Sleater-Kinney), we really knew what songs we wanted to put on the album, and we really knew how to play them, because we’d been playing them live and trying them out different ways on stage for a while. We knew the songs and how to play them, that’s our end of it, the producer knew where to put the microphones and all that stuff on his end of it, and so we just got it all done pretty quickly, 6 days, including a little bit of time allowing for experimentation on a few things. For the most part the experimentation had been done in all the live gigs, so we weren’t in the studio wondering what the bass parts were, or the backing vocal parts, etc. A good way to work, I think. If the thinking has mostly been done before, then the studio can be mostly spontaneous. It’s cheaper that way too! I’ve recorded many albums in many different ways, but I think this was the best way and overall my best album. I don’t know how I’ll ever do a better one, but that’s how I think every time, that’s a good way to feel.

How do you think it contrasts with your previous work?
Compared to my previous albums, Bad Wiring is more of a full band album, almost no solo acoustic stuff, almost no finger-picking stuff, just because it came after two years of band touring. However, the follow-up album that’s hopefully coming out soon is kind of the opposite; instead of coming after two years of touring, the new album was recorded after two years of NOT touring because of, I don’t know, some terrifying long global crisis for all human civilization or something, hard to remember now. Same studio though; again recorded in Nashville with Roger Moutenot. 

What does the future hold in terms of gigs and new releases?
More gigs and more releases! Till the next terrifying global crisis for all human civilization.  

Jeffrey Lewis & The Voltage play the Workman’s Club, Dublin tonight. Tickets are available viaEvents | The Workmans Club

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