Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel – Interview

Anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis has reanimated in yet another intriguing form. Jeffrey, who writes and illustrates his own comics, has previously worked with folk singer Diane Cluck, Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches, and his brother Jack Lewis. This time he is collaborating with 72 year old folk artist Peter Stampfel who is most commonly associated with The Holy Modal Rounders. They have been touring the U.K. this month where they have been promoting their new album Come On Board.

The unlikely duo met at a party where Peter witnessed Jeff’s song about the history of punk rock on the lower east side from 1950-75. The song struck a chord with Peter: “He nailed the subject with much more precision than I ever could have. I was knocked on my fucking ass [sic] by the writing.” They talked and realised they shared a passion for comic books and music. They went into the studio to record a single and after two productive days they came out with seventeen songs, thirteen of which made it onto Come On Board. Peter accurately describes the album as “fast and nerdy.”

Their live performance exudes an unintentional charm, their crowd interaction is awkward but personable and the crowd listen to their equally obscure ramblings with utter obedience. The simple folk song Bottle Caps Are Cool epitomises their unique and eccentric song topics. The mandolin and violin work pleasantly together but the story-telling lyrics are the main event.

Jeffrey Lewis seems far more comfortable on stage than he does in person where he talks about his neurotic notions regarding his music: “As an artist your artistic abilities are not measured by how well you can do the same thing over and over but by how well you can creatively make something great out of whatever you’re handed.”

Jeff openly criticizes himself for not taking full advantage of playing big venues to vast crowds. But in the same breath he vehemently defends his unwillingness to adapt to larger venues: “I’ve got money in my pocket I could walk out right now and buy a giant amplifier and a fancy guitar. It’s stubbornness, it’s creative atrophy, I don’t want to, why should I change? I like my guitar. I like the sound of it. I like playing on a small stage.”

Jeffrey Lewis doesn’t need to adapt, he has a cult following, which he is not entirely comfortable with: “I don’t want them and I never intended to have them and I don’t think they’re the best environment for music in general.” Despite that harsh truth we’ll keep listening if that’s alright Jeff.

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