Jeffrey Lewis was raised in New York City and is a maker of comic books, tragi-comic folk narratives, and head-smashing garage rock – all of which meld together into the band currently known as Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard. With brother Jack on bass and David Beauchamp on drums, Jeffrey Lewis & The Junkyard incorparate a disparate blend of influences from 60s acoustic psychedelia like Pearls Before Swine to the experimental art-punk of the Fall and the urban lyricism of Lou Reed, sounding a bit like if Woody Guthrie fronted Sonic Youth. Live shows also incorporate “low budget videos”, Jeff’s large illustrations displayed to accompany certain songs, such as Jeff’s educational multi-part History of Communism, or the fan-favorite chills of “The Creeping Brain”. In 2001 Jeffrey Lewis signed to Rough Trade Records and has since released five albums.
The Jeffrey Lewis band has toured the US, UK, Europe, and Australia, sharing bills with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, Devendra Banhart, Black Dice, Thurston Moore, the Fall, Beth Orton, Frank Black, the Fiery Furnaces, Daniel Johnston, Scout Niblett, the Mountain Goats, the Moldy Peaches, Cornershop, the Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players, Wooden Wand, the Cribs, the Danielson Famile, Dr. Dog, Kimya Dawson, Adam Green, Akron/Family, Roky Erickson, Au Revoir Simone, and others.
The Jeffrey Lewis Site
What projects are you currently working on?
Just finished an illustrated/sung piece about the fall of Rome, for the History Channel website, now I think I’d better get back to work on writing/drawing my new comic book issue (Fuff #8) since it has languished since I was working on it over the summer.
When and why did you begin writing?
I was always into writing through my school years, just random stories/poems/comic books/whatever, but it wasn’t until I was out of college that I started really writing songs. As for the “why” I suppose it was the age-old reason of too much lonely time to fill!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I don’t know if I’d consider myself a “Writer”, capital-W, or a musician or a singer, I’m more of an illustrator than anything else but I’m some sort of combination of these things without one being the focus of my “career”. It was in 2002 that I first realized I could make a living from my creative pursuits, so maybe that could count as a date.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Have never written a book, but I’ve been making comic books since my younger years. Inspiration at the time for the early stuff was whatever comic books I was into as a kid, Rom, Spiderman, etc.
Who or what has influenced your writing?
Comic writing has been influenced by Alan Moore, Joe Matt, Dan Clowes, folks like that, while songwriting has been inspired by people like Lou Reed, the Fall, Skip Spence, Daniel Johnston, etc.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
I think living in New York City all my life has had an inevitable effect on everything I write, just as my frame of reference for reality.
Do you have a specific writing style?
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
At the extreme poles, either super-truthful factual non-fiction stuff on one end or weird zany fantasy stuff at the other end – I’m not much for realistic fiction, as far as my own output of both songs or comic books.
Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
I think there’s a general hopeful message, since I’m pessimistic I think the challenge is not to make the world seem awful, that’s too easy, but to make things seem more interesting and hopeful – or maybe that makes me an optimist – but that’s a usual sort of theme in a lot of it.
What book are you reading now?
“The Comic-Stripped American” which is a sort of hack paperback from the 70s attempting to examine what old comic strips like Dick Tracy or Krazy Kat can tell us about American society.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Not that I can think of.
What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?
I think people make too much of the autobiographical stuff, in the comics and songs, and consider me a “confessional” artist, whereas the reality is that only maybe 20% of what I do is autobiographical and there’s a lot of other topics for both fiction and non-fiction that I get into.
Any memories of particular works: the writing of, feedback, the thought behind…etc.
It’s odd to me that two of my most popular songs, “Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song” and “Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror” were both written in the street, literally – I remember walking and coming up with lines while I walked, scribbling things down as line after line came into my head in order, till I had reached home and had all this story/song scribbled out and only awaiting being put to some guitar chords to be fully born as songs, a very painless and easy and intuitive process. Doesn’t always happen, but on the occasions when it does it seems to be the works that speak the most to people.