Q&A: Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears aren’t your average band. Between Lewis’ intense, bluesy vocals that invoke images of James Brown crossed with Iggy Pop and the Honeybears’ tight, soulful grooves, the eight-piece group from Austin is making waves across the musical board. I talked briefly with Joe himself while the band was en route to Nashville for Vanderbilt’s Rites of Spring festival and a performance at Grimey’s for Record Store Day.

How did you get into music originally?

I was working at the pawn shop and we had all of these guitars for sale and when it was slow I would go over and play a little. Then one day I decided to buy one and I started learning how to play from other people-I would just hang out with people see how they play. I went and I got my first gig and I was still kind of learning and my music was pretty sloppy. Eventually I got this band together when I met Jack. He helped put the band together with some friends he knew from college, and here we are.

That’s funny, I picked up my first guitar from a pawn shop too. Who are some artists that inspired you to play?

Oh, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and I like the Stooges a lot. James Brown and Elmore James, too.

A lot of your songs tell stories. Tell me a little about what inspires your songs and the process you undergo writing them.

I kind of come up with a phrase and, if it works, you know, then it turns into a song. A lot of times I’ll try to use little stories when I’m writing my songs. Like, “I’m Broke” is about some guy that’s working in a McDonald’s and he gets tired of it one day but he has to do what he has to do to get some money, you know. I like writing songs about people’s situations.

You caught the attention of Spoon’s Britt Daniel at your first gig.

Yeah we met Britt, but it wasn’t the very first show. It was our second or our third and he was out in the crowd and I guess he liked us. The next week we got a call to see if we were interested opening for [Spoon] and we were like, “Hell yeah.” That led to going on tour for about a week and a half with them that summer, about 2 years ago I guess. And after that they got our name out there, more than anything. We got really lucky on that.

Then Jim Eno [of Spoon] ended up producing your album, right?

Yeah, Jim is cool. He had a lot of good production ideas, things we could do differently to makes the songs better. He is really patient. And he is very skilled and knows what he is doing so it was a good time working with him.

You just played SXSW a couple of weeks ago. What was that like?

It was really busy, the shows went pretty well and I think our last show was at Buffalo Billiards, so that was kind of interesting. They didn’t want to let us get on the stage; we had bodyguards and stuff. We also did an opening slot for Okkervil River, so that was a good time. SXSW is always kind of crazy. The whole city seems kind of drunk; it’s insane.

You’ve been getting a lot of buzz recently, especially on the heels of SXSW. What’s your next move?

We have this tour that we are on right now. We are on the way to Nashville now and then after that we are going to hit a few dates over here, then we are going to pick up a few dates opening a tour for Lucero going out towards the west coast. Then we’re heading to Europe for a little tour over there this summer, so we will be pretty busy.