The Charleston Pour House has been on a tear these last couple months with incredible bands rolling through and that trend continues when the Austin, TX, sextet, Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears bring their funk/rock/soul dance party to town. I had the chance to chat with Joe about his incredible new album, the trials and tribulations of touring in support of a (not so mainstream genre) Bluesy rock album, and his great lyrics.
Typically my prep work for an interview is streaming the band while Googling around for every single interview (text and video) I can find. In just the first song alone I felt like Joe’s music fell off the shelves of Stax records. It was easy to see why I bonded with his music so well when I came across him talking about his influences: “I grew up on hip-hop and whatever my dad was listening to – Springsteen and Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway-but once I picked up the guitar I started getting into the deep cuts – Lightnin’ Hopkins and Iggy Pop.”
I highly recommend giving his new album, The Difference Between Me & You, some stream time (album down below).
Writers on the Storm: One question I like to start with is “If you never had to answer one question again, which question would that be?”
Black Joe Lewis: “Probably the whole pawn shop thing. How I got started. That’s a question that comes up and the answer is already there. Every interview I’ve done for like the first four years that’s all you ask?” [Story: In his late teens he first picked up a guitar after getting a job at a pawn shop teaching himself chords on lunch breaks.]
I had my money on the Gary Clark Jr. comparisons (both being African American guitarists from Austin, TX)
BJL: “Oh yea!! That gets old, too. Back at home at Austin it gets old because we’re both from the same town. It’s fucking stupid because the only reason it comes up is there are two black guys in town doing a bunch of shit. There’s more of us now. But now that Gary’s so big I’m sure he doesn’t get that any more. But yea, that’s probably my second least favorite thing.
I’m really digging your new album. The track, “Suit or Soul,” has that Curtis Mayfield vibe. I love the intricate layers of the horns and multiple guitars and tambourines. What was it like pulling that together in the studio? How much was in your head and how much came together collaborating with the band?
BJL: “That one we had pretty well planned out before we went in there. A bunch of horns came up on the spot, but we worked for a month and half getting these songs together and arranged right. So, we went in there and it all just came together as far as the rhythm section, and the horns just kind of came in and did their thing.
Are the lyrics for “Suit or Soul” about A&R guys?
BJL: “Yea, there’s that. There’s just so many people I’ve worked with in the past that are super buddy-buddy and your best friend and as soon as you’re done working with them they’re nowhere to be found. It’s all business and nowadays, and I realize it now more than I used to. It’s definitely an industry thing. There’s only a handful of guys I still see and hear from back then and those are the real ones. Some try to do what they want and try and get up on you. It’s just kind of weird. You’re really close there until you’re done working and I wonder if they’re pissed off I didn’t go as big as they thought I would or whatever. You know what I’m saying? To me, whenever you meet someone and your homeys with them that’s just how it is. That’s Suit or Soul, man!”
And the track, “Girls on Bikes.” I love how super punky that song is. Does it kill it live and where did the lyrics come from that?
BJL: “Sometimes, but it’s still a new song. They still get down for it. Yea, we were hanging out in Austin where there’s a lot of biking going on. So, yea, when you’re sitting in a bar you see them ride by and check ‘em out. I think Bill [Stevenson] came up with a couple of the lines and Joe Woullard, we were joking around. We’re sitting around trying to make up funny ad libs or whatever and I was like, “I’m gonna make a song out of it.” We had another version of it that was kind of a disco/funk thing but we could never get it to sound quite right. So, we put kind of a Bo Diddley thing to it.”
By my count, this is at least your third time playing the Charleston Pour House since 2013…what’s your take on the venue and you hit any good food spots?
BJL: “It’s a good vibe. That’s the only place we’ve really played out there. That restaurant that’s next door [The Lot] is solid. I want to get some soul food in Charleston when I’m there, but I don’t really get time to fuck around.”
With you being so heavy blues, rock and soul, has it crossed your mind maybe I should leave Austin and take my music to Chicago?
BJL: “Yea, for sure. I do want to move and I’ve been talking about moving forever but right now it’d be shooting myself in the foot because that’s where my band is. If I was to do that, the time would have been a little while ago. Yea, just being somewhere more diverse and with a little more edge to it. Austin is pretty cookie cutter. But yea, it’d be nice to try some new shit out.”
I’m a big blues and Buddy Guy fan and one of his more recent songs, “Whiskey Beer, and Wine” should be a bona fide hit (and would have 40 years ago)…but in today’s day it is not. Is hard to be an artist in that kind of world?
BJL: “Definitely. That’s like a lot with the concept of this album. You can feel like it’s a dying art.”
So, on that note, could you do what Buddy Guy did with Junior Wells and do a collaboration to help reach more people? You style of music could play well with so many artists.
BJL: “Yea, I’ve never really had anyone come at me for that. I feel like I don’t get a lot of the respect others players do ‘cause I’m not like a technical wizard. I just have my thing. I’m like the art guy so they say. I’ve never really been asked to do a collaboration but if someone came along and asked I’d totally do it. I haven’t built bridges with similar and newer bands. They try and avoid us more than anything for whatever reason. But like I said, if something popped up, I’d do it.”
For this album, you had Grammy award winning producer, Stuart Sikes (The White Stripes, Loretta Lynn, The Sword, Cat Power, Modest Mouse) – What did he add to the process?
BJL: “He’s got a lot of experience. This is probably the third album we’ve done with him and we’re used to working with each other. He’ll say this part should go there. It just works out well. We’re both big Stooges fans. He’s worked with people like that. He listens to a lot of the bands I like to listen to, so it’s a natural fit I guess.”
I noticed on the previous records “The Honeybears” was not on the album cover but they’re back on there now. Is that with the album having more internal collaboration?
BJL: “We dropped the name because people didn’t like it, but then it caused confusion because when you look the band up on iTunes , Black Joe Lewis would come up with like one album. And all the other albums would come up with me and The Honeybears. So, that was like a weird misunderstanding that happened. But yea, this album we wanted to make it more of a cohesive style where before I was like I don’t give a fuck. I like this song and want to put it on there. Rock stuff, blues stuff, soul stuff. And I feel like with this one, we put it altogether into one thing.”
You guys have done festivals including Coachella and Bonnaroo, toured with Spoon…after this headlining tour are you going to try tour as a supporting act? What’s next for your band?
BJL: “We tried, but that stuff doesn’t work out for us. We’re not like new and hip so we can’t help anyone get cred with the kids, and I’m sure there are other reasons. We struggle to find gigs like that so we do our tours. After this, I’ll record some songs and probably hit the other markets we didn’t hit on this run. We’re always looking for those opening slots.”
I noticed on your Instagram there was a fight at your release party and in Seattle two women brawled. Any other funny stories to add to the list?
BJL: “We saw a guy in Canada try and drive a Rascal [scooter]….it’s hard to explain. It’s really cold and we’re going down the freeway and there’s like this furniture on the side…and this dude is hauling ass like off-roading on the side of the shoulder of the freeway going like 30 mph. We were like, “Damn!” So, that was pretty cool. Good stuff. The girl thing…that’s always hard to beat.”
We’ll assume they were fighting over you.
BJL: (laughing) “Ha..for sure.”
———– Follow ————-
—- Remaining Tour Dates —-
OCT 18 THU – Visulite Theatre, Charlotte, NC
OCT 19 FRI – Charleston Pourhouse, Charleston, SC
OCT 20 SAT – Deep Roots Festival, Milledgeville, Georgia
OCT 22 MON – The Spanish Moon, Baton Rouge, LA