Jeffrey Lewis @ Vinyl Underground
10,000W Advance/15,000W Door
Jeffrey Lewis website here.
By Lynn Hong
BUSAN, South Korea — Strip the man bare and push him out to the scum-filled streets of the city with a broken guitar and a stack of comics, and there you’d have him in his essence: Jeffrey Lewis. The jack-of-all-trades, anti-folk lyricist/comic book artist is trotting across the globe from New York City to Daegu on the 18th, Busan on the 19th and Seoul on the 20th for his first gig in Korea.
Jeffrey Lewis is a prolific musician and cartoonist that has published a plethora of albums and EPs intertwined with comics since the beginning of his career in 1997. His recent release of Come On Board (2011) marks the celebration of his core elements at best, a style he describes as “narrative folk music with stories.”
Incorporating the political undertones of anti-folk into his downbeat, sing-a-song writer musical style, Lewis offers a fresh take on the lo-fi folk genre. He benefits from the less-is-more aesthetic that possesses the intrigue of a long-winded, sharp-tongued street poet ranting about the glimpses of truth he observes in the world.
Born and raised in New York City, Lewis sings of the wobbly insecurities and fantasies of the backstreets with self-deprecating wit and honesty reflective of his roots. There’s a brutal sense of truthfulness in the way he sings about his breakups and make outs, highs and lows, stories all drawn from his own life. Some may call it an emotional overexposure, a seat-squirmer that makes the listeners feel embarrassed for him. But it is precisely this bare, straightforward quality of his lyrics that has won the respect of Devendra Banhart, Jarvis Cocker, Stephen Malkmus, and Thurston Moore.
In contrast to his more personal lyrical endeavors, other works of Lewis display an imagination refusing to be tamed by the conventions of the world. Embracing his comic books in live acts, Lewis performs with a large book of illustrations in sync with the story he tells through his songs. Amidst the flood of musicians that incorporate computer-programmed graphics and electronic projections, he adheres to the analog method of paper and crayons, which he finds to have a “disarming effect.” The simplicity and clarity of these hand-drawn comics evoke nostalgia in the audience that seek something akin to childhood bedtime stories.
Lewis has continued to branch-out his creative projects by collaborating with the likes of 99 Dollar Music Videos and independent artists to create low-budget videos. These low-key yet hilarious videos suggest his potential not only as a brilliant lyricist, but as a visual story-teller of the post-postmodern generation of today.
In addition to his various artistic efforts, Lewis has authored four columns for the New York Times “Measure for Measure” series from 2008 to 2009. In these, he touches upon subjects ranging from his “Communist” song-writing manifesto, to whether performing with an ex-girlfriend on stage about their break-up makes a song uncomfortably honest. These columns alone demonstrate his finesse as a writer and wry sense of humor present in his music.
Thus to appreciate Lewis’ music in its entirety, it seems necessary to dive into his universe of comic-book anti-heroes, his rambling but pointed lyrics, and his incredibly self-aware humor. It is a lot to take in, but in the end, every part of his art fuses into a one touching experience that couldn’t be represented otherwise.