Black Joe Lewis Tells Us What We Can Expect From His Upcoming Tour and Album.
For the past five years, Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have transformed from a promising upstart into one of the more dominant forces in the Texas music scene — and rightfully so. Taking inspiration from gritty blues rhythms and whiskey-laced nights, and earning comparisons to the likes of Howlin' Wolf and James Brown along the way, the band's rise has been one of the most thrilling things to watch in the past decade or so of Southern rock.
These days, you could certainly argue that the band's “made it,” having participated in such nationally acclaimed music festivals as Austin City Limits, Coachella and SXSW — and scoring gigs all around the world (as well as on The Late Show with David Letterman) along the way. With Joe's soulful-yet-playful guitar skills and guttural voice, and the three-piece brass section rounding out his sound behind him, it's easy to see why.
And, tonight at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton, Lewis and his band kick off a Midwest tour in anticipation for their third studio album, which will drop sometime this summer. In advance of tonight's scheduled gig, we recently caught up with Lewis to talk about his life, his music and his distaste for SXSW.
First of all, you're a born-and-raised Southern boy, correct?
I was born in Tucson and raised in Round Rock, just north of Austin.
How's your family reacting to your rising stardom?
At first, nobody really thought anything of it. As long as I had a job, they didn't really care. Then I just kept going with it. I got a little notoriety and my mom would come to the show. They were proud of it and my friends now know about it. She's proud now, but at first she didn't really care.
At what age did you first decide to start taking music seriously?
About 19 or 20. That is when I got my first show.
Had you been playing at home before the first show?
Nah, I just figured it out as I went along! Just trial by fire. Just do it if you want to.
What music did you listen to while growing up?
I listened to a lot of rap and, the older I got, I got into more stuff. Jimi Hendrix was the first thing I listened to that was rock ''n' roll but my friends liked Metallica. But, basically anything that happened in the '90s, I listened to.
What music personally inspires you these days?
I listen to a lot of rock 'n” roll and blues. I listen to everything and take my inspiration from different songs.
Your music has been described as southern fried funk. Would you agree with that?
Yeah I guess. Itâ€™s been called a lot of things — regular blues.
For someone who has never heard your music, how would you you describe it?
I would say rock 'n' roll.
I understand you're currently working on a new album. Can you give us any details about it?
It's probably going to be eight to 10 songs, and I think it's our best stuff we've done to date. I'm looking forward to it coming out this summer. The first few records aren't my work, really. This will be no strings attached. I look forward to it.
What do you mean by that?
It was more politics back then with the band, so many guys wanting to do certain things and do other things. So I'm just looking forward to doing my stuff, y'know?
You were recently featured in the documentary Echotone, which details the recent struggles of many Austin musicians. What was it like to be asked to participate in that?
It was cool, man. They did a really good job on it. They pretty much followed me around at work and listened to me bitch about my job.
Speaking of Austin, you recently re-tweeted a comment that called South by Southwest “the biggest rip off.” Could you elaborate on that?
I was just thinking that, a lot of times, it seems like a complete rip off. I just feel like there is a lot of money made and they can pay the bands more. But, in reality, you're playing for the exposure. It seems like there is always a big guy with a giant cigar saying, “Follow me, son.” I think they can pay the bands more. It's gotten out of hand. It takes over the city, and it's not fun anymore. There are a lot of sideshows that you can play that are better for your band. On the other hand, it does do a lot for the city and brings in money for the city everywhere. There are a lot of people that just want to buy the wristband and, every year, they up the charge. Getting the wristband doesn't guarantee you to get into the show you want. Music execs get their egos stroked every week, and Austin has to kiss their ass every year. But, at the same time, we did it a lot when we were coming up, so some people enjoy being out there.
Your album Scandalous includes a highly acclaimed cover of Robert Johnson's “Stop Breakin' Down Blues.” Do you have any plans to include covers on future records?
I don't think we have any on the next one. We like doing blues songs, so it's possible. There might be one, but I can't think of it right now.
You described having to deal with your bandmates' processes earlier in this interview. Is it really that much of a collaboration?
Yeah! Everything is, if you're in a band. It's always a collaboration!
Got a favorite venue?
The best venue? I don't know, man. There are a lot of good ones. We did the Fillmore in San Francisco, and that was really nice. I think any venue can be fun as long as all the people that work there are nice and the city is cool. That is what make the venue nice.
What has been your most memorable performance?
We played on the beach in Spain one year. It was really good. There were a lot of people. They built a stage right on the beach, and there was a fuck load of people.
Last year, you toured with Floggin' Molly? How did that opportunity come about?
That was a great time. Those guys are badass. I hope to do it again some time. Great tour, great people. They have a really big fan base, so we got exposed to that. It was a great opportunity.
You have previously worked with The Relatives, a gospel group from Dallas. Do you have any future plans to incorporate other genres of music into your records?
Yeah, it could happen in the future. But we don't have anything like that on this record.
I read that most of the songs on Scandalous were written and recorded on the fly, live in the studio. Will we be seeing more of that on the new album?
It's more written songs, since we've had so long to get ready for this one. It will be less on the fly, but there always some of that in the studio.
What does the future of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears look like?
It's looking good at the moment. Just trying to get this record out. Things are looking up. Hopefully, we get more work.
So this Denton show we're previewing here is the kickoff to your tour. Any thoughts about this specific show?
We've played [Denton] once. A lot of good rock bands come out of there. It's a good place to jump off of. It's a good music town.
Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears perform tonight at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios in Denton.