By Timothy Dwenger
Back in the ’60s and ’70s, when dancefloors were packed with gyrating bodies, it was, by and large, funk and soul music that fueled the engines and, over the last few years, that music has made a massive comeback. Acts like Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley have taken a very literal approach to reinterpreting the music of that time period while bands like Pickwick, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears have used it as a jumping off point to create something very much their own.
Late this summer, Joe Lewis released his third album Electric Slave and this time around he decided to drop the “Honeybears” from the band name. “It’s a new lineup and we thought the new record was a good time to do it,” he told The Marquee during a recent interview, while visiting his mother in Houston. “Honestly, we never really liked that name; we came up with it at first as kind of a joke and ended up playing some shows under it and it kinda stuck and nobody really cared enough to complain about it. Finally we got serious about it and decided to drop ‘The Honeybears’ with this record. What better time than now?”
Electric Slave comes out of the gate raging with the gritty and distorted rocker “Skulldiggin’” and the track sets the tone for an album that doesn’t sound like it was made by any honeybears. This is a ballsy rock and soul record that unapologetically assaults the listener with a unique blend of tones and styles that range from heavily distorted vocals and guitars to clean and punchy horn lines. It’s a diverse and genre bending project that works and it works well.
One of the reasons for the different styles on the album comes from working with two producers, John Congleton (Explosions in the Sky, St. Vincent, Okkervil River) and Stuart Sikes (White Stripes, Cat Power, Modest Mouse). “We started off working with John and he was really busy so it was hard to get back into the studio with him. We did three songs with him and then he recommended Stuart to us and I think he was actually a better fit in the end,” Lewis admitted. “Stuart actually remixed a few of the songs that John did. I think ‘Dar Es Salaam’ and ‘Blood Ain’t Runnin’ Right’ are Congleton’s mixes but I think ‘Skulldiggin’’ got redone. They were both very cool to work with but so many people are all about working with John these days that it was kinda hard to get any time with him.”
Despite bouncing back and forth between producers and studios, Lewis seems thrilled with the album as a whole and prides himself in its different musical styles. “A lot of people tell me ‘Skulldiggin’’ is a rock song and ‘Come To My Party’ is a soul song and then ask me what I was trying to do,” he said. “I like the variety of production styles that are on there and I like the variety of songs. I don’t think that bands should take one direction and stick with it. We appeal to a lot of rockers and we appeal to a lot of people who are into soul and blues. I feel you should get out there and give yourself a chance to appeal to other people, give everyone a chance to like you or not. We have a pretty wide range of people that come to our shows — all ages. I think that is really important to show that you are versatile as a band.”
If it does anything, Electric Slave does exactly that, and as Lewis explained some of the themes that run through the album, it became clear that he himself has varied and somewhat surprising interests for a bluesy and soulful rocker. “I’m into sci fi. I’m a big ‘Star Trek’ fan and Gene Roddenberry is one of my favorite writers/people of all time. ‘Skulldiggin’’ is about mind control through media, mind control through the TV. ‘Dar Es Salaam’ is about aliens that come to earth to warn people to change their ways before everything kinda blows up. I guess Electric Slave is kind of a political message but most of the songs are kinda sci fi-y. I try to make them all kinda run together. It’s kinda my own little sci-fi flick,” said Lewis.
While the political message Lewis refers to has to do with how our society is constantly riveted to our electronic devices, he goes on to admit that the album also serves as his way of getting a few things off his chest. “This is my ‘fuck you’ album, I guess,” he said. “A lot of the songs are about people. I had kind of a rough year the other year and I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder when we put this album together, so a lot of these songs are about people and talkin’ about how shitty these people are. It’s a record about real shit with my sci fi twist on it.”
:: Black Joe Lewis ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: Nov. 25 ::
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