20 Questions: Jeffrey Lewis
The 20 Questions feature doesn’t work for everyone – we’d feel a bit awkward asking Nicolas Jaar if he thinks Gary Oldman is cooler than Gary Numan.
But occasionally we’ll be listening to a new record and then – bam – the perfect contender springs to mind. Enter Jeffrey Lewis – the longstanding anti-folk (do people still say that?) songwriter and comic book artist. Ahead of the new Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts album Manhattan (which is very good, by the way) we called Lewis to ask him about shoplifting, tombstones and the textures of exotic sea food; and at no point was he even vaguely rattled by our line of questioning.
What was your favourite cartoon when you were a kid?
What was the last book that you read?
I’m halfway through reading In The Fascist Bathroom by Greil Marcus.
What website do you waste the most time on?
Email. I’m mostly booking my own shows.
And what’s your signature recipe?
I don’t really know how to cook. This is New York City…
So many great places on your doorstep I guess?
Yeah, and whenever I buy groceries I have to throw them out because I’ll go on tour.
What’s the most exotic meal you’ve had on tour?
In Malaysia, I got a plate of string ray. A chunk of roasted ray.
How was it?
It was good. Good sauce. Sort of crispy on top, tender in the inside. Pretty cheap too.
Do you have a number one fan?
The eight, nine or maybe about ten people who still regularly post on the Jeffrey Lewis message board – I consider them my number one fans.
Do you have a nickname?
Some people call me Queso, they think it means “Jeff” in Spanish, but it actually means “cheese”.
"Has Dr. Dre ever heard a Kimya Dawson record? It would probably blow his mind"
Have you ever shoplifted?
Oh yeah, sure. I don’t know if kids do it any more, but when you had Tower Records or HMV or Virgin, that’s where you could shoplift music.
Did you ever get caught?
Yeah, in the Tower Records uptown. I think it was a Grateful Dead cassette. They did the whole thing where they photograph you, then take you into the back room. Now the chain stores are all out of business, does the FBI still hold onto a file of all those youthful shoplifters?
Has that been your only brush with the law?
Every band has been pulled over by the cops at some point. But I’ve never spent the night in jail.
Gary Oldman, or Gary Numan?
Interesting. Gary Numan, because I don’t understand why people give actors that much credit. I mean, if Gary Oldman wrote a script it would be like ‘wow, he really came up with something’. But if he just plays the role of like a tough guy, or a weird guy, then at best he’s an effective tool in a machine someone else is assembling.
Would you go for a beer with Kanye West?
Definitely, I think we’d have a lot to talk about. I’ll see an interview with him, and in my head I’m thinking about a counter argument to some preposterous thing he’s saying.
Do you think you could change his mind about things?
I think he’s probably proud of his own arrogance – that’s not someone who’s going to have an open mind to new perspectives. But in terms of lyric writing, I have a lot of respect. I think there are artists in rap who don’t realise that there are some great lyrics in other genres. Has Dr. Dre ever heard a Kimya Dawson record? It would probably blow his mind.
What was the worst job you’ve ever had?
I had a job doing surveys.
What were they about?
You know: “How did you hear about this cereal?”, “Are you White/Black/Hispanic/ Native American/Other?” “Are you married/ single/blah blah blah.”
If you could pick a surrogate grandparent, who would it be?
Tuli Kupferberg of The Fugs. He was sort of like a surrogate grandparent. He died a couple of years back. He could have been an older member of my family – an old New Yorker, very funny, political, atheist, jewish, satirical old guy.
Is there a piece of advice you wish you could have given yourself ten years ago?
Don’t ever be deceived into ever relaxing your standards.
And finally, what would you like written on your tombstone?
“What the hell was that?” Maybe should I have a comic book thought bubble as my tombstone.