In 2009, reporter Christian Bordal profiled an up-and coming singer from Austin, Texas — a guy who had learned to play guitar working in a pawn shop, and was still driving a fish delivery truck to make ends meet. But it ended up being a big year for the musician: His band, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, was named one of "Ten Bands to Break Out" at that spring's South by Southwest festival by Esquire magazine.
This week brings a new album from Black Joe Lewis and his band, though they've ditched the lengthy moniker.
"We never really liked that name in the first place," Lewis says with a laugh. "I think it came up in a rehearsal because somebody had one of those little plastic honey bears ... He said it as a joke and we played a couple gigs under that name, and it's one of those things that just kind of stuck."
Lewis discussed the new record, Electric Slave, with NPR's Rachel Martin. Click the audio link to hear their conversation.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A few years ago, reporter Christian Bordal profiled an up-and coming singer from Austin.
CHRISTIAN BORDAL, BYLINE: Joe Lewis learned to play guitar working at a pawn shop.
JOE LEWIS: Yeah. Yeah, the pawn shop and we just had a bunch of guitars and I kind of...
MARTIN: That was in 2009, when Joe Lewis was working a day job to make ends meet.
LEWIS: I mean, I drive a fish van around from like 8 o'clock to about 4 during the week usually.
MARTIN: But it was a big year for his band, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Esquire magazine listed them as one of the Ten Bands to Break Out at the 2009 South by Southwest Music Festival. This week, Black Joe Lewis is back with a new album. It's called "Electric Slave" and comes out Tuesday.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
BLACK JOE LEWIS: (Singing) (unintelligible) Where I come from...
MARTIN: We thought it was a good excuse to catch up with Joe Lewis. He joins us now from the studios of KUT in Austin. Welcome to the show.
LEWIS: How are you doing?
MARTIN: Doing well, thanks. So you still driving a fish van?
LEWIS: It's over. Never again, I hope.
MARTIN: The new album is just under your name. What happened to the Honeybears?
LEWIS: Aw, man. We never really liked that name in the first place.
LEWIS: We actually - I think it came up in, like, a rehearsal 'cause somebody had one of those little plastic Honeybears with some honey in it. And I guess he said it just as a joke. And so, we played a couple of gigs under that name. And it was just one of those things are kind of stuck. So I've actually - we've been trying to drop that name for a while now, you know, in probably like the last year.
But, so I just figured, you know, we got this record coming out right now, why not just try to knock it out?
MARTIN: So we've got another track we'd like to play. Let's take a listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: So you may have missed it, but that - at the very top of that track - was the actual sound of a needle dropping on a vinyl pressing of your album, "Electric Slave."
MARTIN: Which we were all, like, very excited about 'cause it's just kind of cool to see an actual record these days. Why did you want to do that? Why did you want to offer vinyl.
LEWIS: Well, I feel like I don't buy CDs no more. I just buy vinyl. And if I can't find a vinyl, I'd buy it online. You know, and the tone's all warmer. A lot of people think that that's just in your head, that the sound is better. But I personally feel like even when it sounds not as hi-fi or whatever, I like that scratchiness.
You know, like I just feel like that you get another instrument out of it. It's like you're listening to a whole 'nother thing that's not there with the CD or the digital.
(SOUNDBITE OF A SONG)
LEWIS: (Singing) Yeah, you don't want to get loose. (unintelligible) there she comes. Hey, (unintelligible)...
LEWIS: You know, nobody buys CDs anymore that I know, you know. Most people just rip it off, you know, so I just felt like why not put something out that people can feel like they're collecting and whatnot. Something that looks cool, you know, and...
MARTIN: How big is your album collection?
LEWIS: Around a hundred, may be.
MARTIN: What are you listening to right now?
LEWIS: Last night, I was listening to Chic. You know Chic, the disco group?
LEWIS: 'Cause they got some jams. Like Sister Sledge, was jamming out to some of that last night.
MARTIN: That is old school.
LEWIS: I love disco, man. So...
MARTIN: Does that seep into your own songwriting?
LEWIS: Yeah. I think "Come to My Party" is kind of a disco song.
(SOUNDBITE OF "COME TO MY PARTY")
LEWIS: (Singing) Come to my party. You bring your best friend...
LEWIS: I like the guitar style in it and that stuff, too, since I like anything that makes you a dance. So, you know, I'm not a big dancer.
MARTIN: Are you a good dancer?
LEWIS: No, I'm not a big dancer...
MARTIN: I was going to say.
LEWIS: No, I'm terrible.
LEWIS: I look like somebody trying to dance. You know? You know, some people tell me I'm all right. I never really - it's got to be a lot of people dancing around me before I get going because I don't want everybody staring at me. You know?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
LEWIS: (Singing) Jump on the furniture (unintelligible) the living room tonight. Put everybody around you at my party. All right. All right...
MARTIN: We mentioned this earlier, that you learn to play guitar in a pawnshop. Is that right?
LEWIS: Well, I bought the guitar there. I had a job at Action Pawn up here in Cedar Park. And the guy I worked with was - are you a "Simpsons" fan?
LEWIS: I swear to God that he was the Comic Book Guy.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "THE SIMPSONS")
HANK ANZARIA: (as Comic Book Guy) Handwritten script for "Star Wars" by George Lucas, film reel labeled alternate ending: Luke's father is Chewbacca. Ooh. Ooh. I'll give you $5 for the box.
RUSSI TAYLOR: (as Martin Prince) Sold.
LEWIS: Andy was exactly that dude, like butt cracks sticking out the bottom of the pants...
MARTIN: Alone, no.
LEWIS: ...red hair, ponytail, beard - total loser.
LEWIS: And was a nerd about guns instead of comic books, completely racist dude. And you know, like, and I hated the dude. He hated me. So I would kind of just walk around the store and just screw around with the merchandise whenever it was really slow, and screwing around with guitars or the lawnmower, or just whatever. You know, whatever I could - you know, the video games.
So I was like, man, what - and you get the discount so I was always buying these bad movies and stuff. And said, I'm going to buy one of these guitars. And I did that and I took it home, played it every day. And this dude, Brian, that - he's kind of like the guy that taught me most of the stuff that I know. And he was like, play the blues, man.
You know, like then we started playing gigs. And for some reason those dudes down there at this rock bars in Red River, you know, if it weren't for them, I would - you know, they gave me a chance to sharpen my teeth, I guess, or learn how to do what I wanted to do. And I just kept coming back and getting better. And I'm here today so...
MARTIN: And here you are.
MARTIN: Well, before we say goodbye, is there a track on this new album you are particularly fond of or proud of, that you'd like us to play?
LEWIS: I like "My Blood Ain't Running Right?"
LEWIS: And just the lyrics and stuff, you know, it reminds me of my dad. You know, kind of the song is loosely based on him, I guess. And I wrote it about, you know, losing everything you have and then just doing drugs and sinking into that, and being content with that. You know, and just not ever regaining yourself. You know, and finding excuses, be like everybody done me wrong, so I'm going to keep messing my life up or whatever.
So, my dad had - you know, he had some issues, you know, growing up. You know, he didn't have the greatest cards dealt out to him in life. And it is kind of caught up to him as he got older. And, you know, I guess is just about watching the downfall of a good person. You know?
MARTIN: In learning lessons about how to live your life differently, clearly.
MARTIN: Joe Lewis of Black Joe Lewis, his new album is called "Electric Slave." He joined us from KUT in Austin.
Joe, it's been such a pleasure talking to you. Thanks for taking the time.
LEWIS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY BLOOD AIN'T RUNNING RIGHT")
LEWIS: (Singing) My blood ain't running right...
MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.