Jeffrey Lewis Interview


Here’s our interview with the multi talented singer/songwriter and Comic book artist

1. How old were you when you discovered your love of drawing? Did yer folks encourage you?

I started drawing at a very young age, but all kids draw. At a certain point in elementary school it’s
like some kids keep on drawing and start to identify themselves as being interested in art, and most
others fall away from it and identify themselves with other stuff. I was reading comic books from a
very young age, so I was just always into it. My parents would have encouraged whatever I was into,
probably. Neither of them had any involvement in art, but they were just generally supportive.

2. When are you at your happiest? Drawing or on stage?

On stage is more thrilling, but drawing is a deeper thing. It’s like, what’s better, cake or spinach… cake is a thrill but deep down you know that your body and mind are really happier with spinach, and in the big picture you’d be better off with a life of spinach than a life of cake. Drawing is like spinach, it has its own rewards but is not as flashy and catchy as the immediate-satisfaction of performing on stage.

3. How do you know when you get an idea that idea for a drawing that it’s not a song idea?

I don’t get many ideas just for individual drawings, but for narratives, and the narratives can take the
form of comics, or illustrated songs, or sometimes just regular songs. But other ideas that are non- narrative can perhaps be better expressed in songs.

4. Tell me about the album tittle “ The last time I did acid I went insane and other favorites.

Sad but true. But I’m mostly all better now.

5. Your senior thesis was on Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Watchmen. What was the experience like? Why that novel?

My work on Watchmen is something I’m really proud of, I’ll publish it someday. Every year I take it out and re-edit it and re-write various parts, so it has gotten a lot better over the past 15 years that I’ve been puttering with it, but I still don’t feel 100% confident to publish it. I’ve given lectures on
Watchmen all around the (English-speaking) world – America, UK, Europe, Australia. Watchmen is the Ulysses of comic books, because it’s so rich and dense it allows for a lot of fun discussion and interpretation.

6. Are you flattered that artists like The Vaselines, Dr. Dog, and Au Revoir Simone played with you on
your record?

Yes, I was hoping to also get David Amram, Bill Frisell, Diane Cluck, and more, but they weren’t
available. Maybe next time.

7. Are you happy with all the graphic novels that have been turned into films?

I haven’t seen them all, but most comic book movies are not very good. I think film makers often think
that they can improve a comic book if they add motion and sound and music and all of the things that
movies can add, but they forget that you lose something very important, which is the feeling of the
lines and the artwork.There’s so much emotion and atmosphere and unspeakable qualities and aspects

to the experience of absorbing visual art, lines and shapes and other aspects of illustration, there’s so
much character and personality that comes from the artist’s style, that when you lose that you really
have a hard time replacing it just with sound and motion and music. Film makers exist in a world that
is completely different from illustration, and I think they might not realize what an illustration or even a line or a pool of ink can mean emotionally, they are thinking about totally different things, so they don’t understand what they are losing and how hard they will have to work to replace it. I think American Splendor was a very good way to try to turn a comic into a movie, an interesting mix of story and documentary, that is one of the best adaptations I have seen.

8. How did the relationship with Rough Trade develop?

Sometime around early 2001 Adam and Kimya of the Moldy Peaches secretly made a CD of a few songs of mine that they’d gotten off of my cassette albums and gave the CD to Geoff Travis at Rough Trade and said he should check me out, which I’m eternally grateful to them for. It was all a surprise to me, and I never would have had the confidence to seek out a record label. One day I got an email from Geoff Travis saying that he’d heard some of my songs on this disc that Adam and Kimya had made for him and he wondered if I’d be interested in putting this stuff out on Rough Trade.

9. How much of an influence was Tuli Kupferberg on you

Definitely an influence, and more and more of an influence the more of his work I got my hands on. WHen I was 18 and discovering the first Fugs album I didn’t realize how big and varied a body of work Tuli and the others had, so over the years I kept finding more and more stuff of Tuli’s, his cartoons, his books, his recordings, and various Fugs albums over the decades, wonderful stuff. And Tuli as a person was a very striking and unforgettable guy, a huge spirit of kindness, activism, outrageousness, humor, and generosity; not without his failings but with a perspective and an imagination to make something great out of life .

10. Do you still collect lots of cassettes, are you surprised that so many bands and singers are releasing them these days?

I would never say that I collected cassettes, but for a period of time that happened to be the most convenient technology for getting music, traveling with music, duplicating music, making albums to sell, etc. When it became cheaper and more convenient to do all of that in different formats I switched over. I still have all my old tapes and I still have tape playing devices but I don’t hold them above all other media, each format has pros and cons. People releasing cassettes nowadays are probably not people who would have been releasing them at the time when they were prevalent; they are probably into it for different reasons, though not invalid ones.

11. Can you tell me five albums that have really impacted you as an artist?

In no particular order, here’s a few – six, actually. These might not even be the same as my favorite all- time albums, but these had big impacts on my own creative development.

1) Jad Fair & Daniel Johnston (the original 1989 LP)
2) The Fall “Dragnet” (1979)
3) Donovan “For Little Ones” (1967)
4) Pearls Before Swine “Balaklava” (1968)
5) Prewar Yardsale “Lowdown” (2000)
6) Yo La Tengo “Electr-O-Pura” (1995)


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