Joe Lewis of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears on Clubs, James Brown, and Scandalous
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are back with more of the same garage soul that they do so well. Their loud personality and groovy James Brown-style outshine those of other bands in the genre.
Frontman Joe Lewis spoke to Up On The Sun about why the group loves playing at clubs, having Brown as an inspiration, and the band's latest album, Scandalous.
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are scheduled to perform Tuesday, November 9 at the Crescent Ballroom.
Up On The Sun: Tell me the story of how your latest album, Scandalous, came together. Based on the subjects of some of the songs on the record, there's definitely a reason you've labeled the collection as something scandalous.
Joe Lewis: Yeah, you know, this record came together a little bit differently from the first one because the songwriting is better. The band had been playing together for a few years, so they're just a lot tighter. I think overall it's just a better record than the first one. A lot of the songs on the record are about girls in one way or another, so I was thinking it was "scandalous," and that we'd put some chick on the front [cover] who looks like she really fucked you over or something.
On the flip side, the song "Master Sold My Baby" has a very serious tone. That was from your last album, Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! Even though it's from an earlier time, it has a much darker mood. Were you going through some tough times in 2008 and 2009?
Yeah, but it's just a day job. I really just wrote the song to try to tell stories about a slave trying to escape and find his chick.
So what brought about these changes in mood between the times that Tell 'Em What Your Name Is! and Scandalous were recorded? Women? Music? The quality of your life in general?
There was better songwriting. I thought the first record was kind of just a fun thing with a bunch of horns and keyboards all over it, and that was about it. This one's got more purity and it's better thought out. The next one will be even better. We're kind of in the process of [beginning] that album.
You and the Honeybears have played for a hell of a lot of people at festivals. On this tour, at least while you're here in Phoenix, you'll be in much more intimate settings. In which type of environment do you guys perform optimally? Which do you actually prefer and why?
I prefer to play the club shows because of the nature of them. People are just rowdier and closer together. We like doing them all though. I feel like we perform pretty well wherever you put us. Last time we did Sasquatch, we had to drive in from Victoria Island in British Columbia, and we only had three hours to get there. We just pulled up and got right on stage and did a really good show. We perform wherever [we can] because we always want to try to put our best foot forward. But the clubs are just where it's at.
The group's music sounds like it was partially inspired by James Brown. If you could go back in time and talk to James Brown, what would you tell him?
I'd probably ask him how he did his stuff. He was a great band leader, and he always had power.
You identify your sound as "garage soul." What does that term mean to you?
I guess this is the word that we came up with. It really just means "rock 'n' roll with horns." A lot of people think that just because you add horns onto [music] that it turns into soul. But really we just play rock 'n' roll with horns.
The music video for "Mustang Ranch" is very creative and very entertaining. Is any part of the story told in the lyrics true whatsoever?
Some of it! I can't really say [which parts]. Bill, our bass player, spearheaded the whole project. He did a pretty good job.
The Sheepdogs are opening for you guys. They're a pretty major up-and-coming band after having won the Rolling Stone cover contest this summer. How did you connect with those guys?
When we were on tour with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, we played a show in Saskatoon on a big Canadian tour. We went to this house party after the show and a bunch of the guys from The Sheepdogs were there. That was where we first met. When we were looking for support for this west coast tour, they kind of jumped on it. We're glad to have them.
What's next for Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears?
We're trying to make a lot of money! More touring and we'll put out another record. We're just trying to get better as a band. Hopefully we'll be together longer.
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