Jeffrey Lewis and The Voltage perform at Cafe Nine in New Haven

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As a singer-songwriter, Jeffrey Lewis was part of the anti-folk movement of the late 90s in his hometown of New York, alongside Kimya Dawson, Diane Cluck and Regina Spektor and has been publishing ever since. new music regularly.

Lewis is also an accomplished comic book artist, often incorporating his drawings into his live performances, either as introductions to songs or as interludes between them.

Lewis will take the stage with his backing band The Voltage for a Sunday matinee at Cafe Nine in New Haven, with local indie rockers Pond View starting at 4 p.m.

We spoke to Lewis before the show about the comic books he grew up reading, using his performance as a means of communication, being excited to play along to his current songs and a stack of songs he’s cutting back for a new album. .

DR: When you grew up, what became your first love? Was it comics or music?

JL: Comics, sure.

DR: Were there any in particular that you were initially interested in when you were a kid?

JL: Marvel Comics’ The Space Knight rom was my favorite, it was the only one I really felt I followed from issue to issue, but I was also a fan of picking up whatever I could find. Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, just about anything random, but somehow Rom was the one I’d gravitated towards the most since I was five years old.

DR: When it comes to your own comics and your own design, what do you think are your main influences? It definitely seems to have a similar aesthetic to American Splendor and Robert Crumb, maybe I’m not right but that’s what I get out of it.

JL: Definitely alternative comics from the 90s. The era of Eightball, Peepshow, Optic Nerve and Dirty Plotte, there’s kind of a culture of these comics coming out through Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics at that time. Love and Rockets was also part of it, I liked it so much it’s a shame for me that the culture disappeared. For the past 20 years, all these kinds of people just want to make these giant books that come out once every seven years or something. I kinda miss the trashy, less pressured, freer creativity when it actually came to comics, but the creators were really great.

Joe Sacco, Chris Ware and all the stuff that was coming out around that time kind of disappeared. I kind of felt like somebody had to try to do this stuff and you just gravitate towards what you love. It’s the same with music, I just gravitated towards it because I love it so I can’t help but want to be a part of it.

DR: Yeah, I completely understand. When you play, it’s a mix of a show and a presentation with you playing a song and then showing a comic on an easel or projector. What kind of comics do you usually include and what made you want to structure your shows this way while combining two creative mediums into one?

JL: I usually show comics about the history of communism and Vietnam or some weird story about a crawling brain getting bigger and taking over the Earth. It could be a detective story or the story of Salvador Allende in Chile, these are the subjects that I gravitate towards and the ones that interest me, whether it is a kind of absurd fantasy or a kind of historical situation which obliges me or strikes me. It’s definitely a range of things, but the stuff that I show in concerts, I feel like it’s a different genre than the comics that I do as comics. The songs pictured are what I think in Japan is called “Kamishibai” or something, apparently in the 1950s after WWII in Japan these types of traveling troubadours were walking around singing stories while performing illustrations and they went from town to town on a bicycle. I feel like this is an interesting precedent for what I do, I didn’t know until someone told me about this Japanese tradition and I feel like it is the closest comparison to what I do in my gigs.

It’s kind of a very different storytelling medium than comics as comics or songs as songs. It’s a third way that I think other people could explore, it makes a lot of sense. This combination of words, visuals and storytelling opens up many possibilities.

DR: It’s also very interactive. Would you say that your experience of holding conferences helps you form this type of presentation and performance? I know you did one on Watchmen at the time.

JL: Yeah. I think if there’s a common thread between the comics that I do, the songs that I do and these picture song projects that I show or if there’s another project that I could work on, I guess that’s just basic communication. It’s how you have to communicate something and figure out how to get it across with the best structure, whether it’s a beginning, middle, and end that fit together nicely or a sort of explanation of a thesis in some way to explain where where you come from. This probably applies to all the things I do how do I get this across in a way where I kind of have this spirit merged with the person receiving it where we really understand each other and everything is completely communicated . It can be a feeling, a story, some kind of thought or even something that I question. The constant challenge is how best to communicate that so that it’s a shared experience between everyone in the room, which is me and whoever else.

DR: This approach makes sense. You have released many albums, EPs and singles throughout your career and have been involved in many compilations. What do you think inspires your prolific output as a musician?

JL: I have realized over the years that work creates inspiration rather than the other way around. If I just set about composing a song, something will come out. I won’t necessarily know what it will be but I will sit down and try to write a song or make up a song and it’s the same with comics, illustrations or other projects. Once you do, it’s like heading into the unknown and exploring. You don’t know what you’re going to find, but it won’t be something you’ve done before, it’ll be something new.

It’s almost like a sport. When you play baseball, you don’t know how the game is going to go, but you just step onto the field and do your best. It takes on a completely new form each time and it’s really exciting to engage in this process and try not to be afraid of failure because nothing ever happens the way you necessarily think. It is just a matter of joy to engage in this process with all its agonies and ecstasies. I write a lot of stuff that I sort of put aside, if I write a bunch of songs maybe one or two of them seem like something that might be worth playing for the people.

DR: This current Northeast tour you’ve embarked on, which includes a stop at Cafe Nine, has you playing with The Voltage as your backing band. What makes this band different from the Los Bolts or other bands you’ve been in?

JL: It’s just been the case for many years of making songs and making music and touring that the musicians in my band move around sometimes. There were different types of phases where I had a certain drummer, a certain bassist, someone else doing the keyboards, and then that bassist walks away or the drummer gets involved in another project. Then someone else comes along, and each combination and overlap of personalities, skills, and approaches somehow creates new textures and new opportunities to do interesting things. I feel like I tended to change the name of the band to reflect those changes and I was really excited to take the current lineup on the road because we haven’t really toured in a while. I’ve done a few solo tours over the past year, but this will be the first time I’ve taken the current band Voltage lineup on the road with Mallory Foyer on fiddle and keyboard in addition to Mem Pahl on bass and Brent Cole on drums.

The violin is something I’ve never had in the band before and it sounds really good. I’m really excited about new songs and how old ones sound. I try to write a different setlist every night so I mix old stuff and new stuff, middle-era stuff and picture stuff. I have so much to choose from and I can’t wait to show people how it all sounds with this current lineup. I’m also hoping to make a new record when we get back from all these tours and we’re ready to step into a studio for something new to happen.

DR: About this record, do you already have a vision in mind? Do you already have something written for this? What is its status ?

JL: It’s hard to say I have a lot of songs composed since the last album which was Bad Wiring which came out in 2019. It’s been quite a while already so I probably have a stack of 60-70 songs composed since this time. I released batches of homemade recordings on Bandcamp, especially during the pandemic when I couldn’t do anything but be stuck in my apartment in New York. I thought it would be interesting to put out these homemade tapes of songs that I was making but on top of that, every time I found a song that I thought could possibly be included in a new album, I would put it in a different stack. In this pile of songs, there are maybe around 15-18 songs that I think could potentially be on my next album.

A lot of that didn’t develop as much with the band because we spent the majority of the pandemic not seeing each other, not touring, and not getting together. There are more solo acoustic songs in this pile than I have for the new album, half of them sounding more like band songs, so I don’t know. I don’t really know which of these songs are going to end up on the album, but after this tour I will know which of these songs have really gelled and which represent who we are now.

Jeffrey Lewis and the tension

Coffee Nine
250 State Street, New Haven
Sunday, September 11 at 4:00 p.m.


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