The only musician I was aware of in Kentucky was Ben Sollee, who was one of my first discoveries when the internet made this sort of thing much easier. Indeed, his Learning To Bend album is a favourite of mine and lived permanently in my car for a good few months. When approaching Kentucky I did half wonder if I could find someone similar. One afternoon in 2011 I came across someone calling themselves "Lewis" who, despite only having a handful of demo recordings available, was exactly what I was looking for. As luck would have it it also turned out that Ben Sollee was helping to record and produce his as yet unreleased album.
Lewis, who is currently going by his full name Justin Lewis (although I much rather Ben Sollee's suggestion that Justin P Lewis is better) is not only talented but a lovely lovely guy. I was lucky enough to discover our GMT/EST time zones collided a couple of weeks ago so I heard his brilliant interview on WFPK based in Louisville.
Justin Lewis is playing both State Of Music Showcases in Austin on Wednesday 14th March, including a headline slot at J.Blacks Feel Good Lounge. All the info you need is here
So far only a couple of demo tracks of Justin's album have surfaced, but you can already hear the quality of what is about to come. Well worth keeping an eye on this guy. He loves Twitter - @JustinPLewis so well worth hitting him up on there.
CMM: Welcome to Choose My Music. I suppose the first question is - who is Lewis and where in the world would we find you?
My full name is Justin Lewis, but sometimes simply referred to as Lewis. It is kind of a pick and choose situation. I have been called Lewis off and on my entire life and just recently decided to throw it in as a stage name. I am a singer-songwriter based out of Louisville, Kentucky.
CMM: How long have you been in recording solo and how did it all start?
I have the average story of being in garage bands during high school. A lot of the guys I played with were into drugs and I just couldn't jump into it. So I decided I wanted to become a session guitar player during college, that is until I heard a live bootleg of Neil Young playing a solo show at the Canterbury House. It struck me in a way music never really had before. It was so simple and had such a deep effect on me that I was inspired to try out this solo troubadour career. I've throughly enjoyed it.
CMM: How best would you describe your music?
My music has been growing and changing quite a bit the past few years. I would say it is in the Americana fashion with a tad bit of Otis Redding influence. Lately my song styles have been changing each day. I have been known to model the musicians I keep as company.
CMM: What is the music scene like in Kentucky right now? What the genre of choice out there at the moment?
Kentucky is full of such beautiful music. Really. From Appalachia to Louisville, there is just so much great musicianship. We have more well known bands like My Morning Jacket, to the late Tim Krekel, to unknowns like Dan Hardin. Just so many great songs coming out of our state. Its an amazing place.
CMM: One thing I am hoping to find in this series is some kind of link between where a band is based and their music. Do you feel as an artist you are influenced by your surroundings and the scene around you? I am most definitely influenced by my cultural and social surroundings. Especially as I age. It seems post college I have taken in more of my home. Not sure if that is age, or simply more free time from the books. I have been very grateful to have some many great musicians to surround myself with over the past year and a half as well. They have been a big part of this "home" absorption.
CMM: What other influences do you have, musical or otherwise?
I could talk about musical influences for hours. I know alot of musicians say this, but I honestly listen to and enjoy most music. I have an adoration for the old Motown sound. I grew up on bluegrass, but quickly molded straight into Armstrong-esch jazz which led me to Motown. Completely into Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. And I just got back from having a conversation with my barber about a much heavier band, Jeff the Brotherhood. I just really love sound. Outside of music I'm an avid runner. Its an exercise that I think gives a person a lot of freedom to think and admire their surroundings in such a peaceful way.
CMM: You are currently working with a favourite artist of mine, Ben Sollee, how did that relationship start?
Ben is just a fantastic fella. We met through a handful of mutual friends over a short amount of time and became buds just as quick. I really admired the things Jim James did in producing Ben and Daniel Martin Moore's album "Dear Companion," and thought I would see if Ben was interested in branching off and doing the same thing for me. Its been such a great process having a producer look over and examine a batch of songs. Cutting them, transforming them, and molding them into a new sound that is so much more comfortable than the first draft. Ben really has an ear and passion for what he does.
CMM: Could you perhaps give a run down of the music you have released so far?
I wrote and released my first record "Man In Motion" when I was a bit younger. All of the songs were written when I was just out of high school, and are really interesting to look back on compared to now. I am really happy that album happened though. It taught me a lot about how to grow as a songwriter and how to just keep writing and writing and writing. Vocally I was very different as well. Just after that record, I went to a great friend and vocal coach, Turley Richards, for guidance. Turley, at 69 years old, compared to my young 24, has such a great career behind him. He toured with Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell among others, and has such a perfect ear for helping young songwriters build their mold. Since then I have had the chance to share the stage with so many of my idols including Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett. I have been selling bootlegs of those recordings at shows, but really anticipating the release of a few records in 2012. Including the one with Ben Sollee.
CMM: Are you able to get out an play live much?. Where are your favourite places to play both in and out of state?
I happily get to play quite often. For a while I was playing 5 or 6 nights a week just to make ends meet, but now its safe to play every few weeks either in Louisville or in the region. Once the albums are out I plan to do some extensive touring.
I love the Brown Theatre in Louisville. I played there with Lucinda and have seen so many great acts come through there since I was 8 years old. Schubas in Chicago has been a great staple. One of my favorite places of all time to sing was the Southgate House in Cincinnati. Sadly it closed on New Years Day 2012. It is such a sad thing to see so many great venues and record stores close across the country.
CMM: What's next in the pipeline for you?
Next in my pipeline is to keep writing. I have really been on a good cadence with it lately. Ben and I will be finishing this batch of songs together and I will probably immediately start recording another right after. I'm really excited to get these records on the road and see a bit of the country.
CMM: And finally, where can people reach out to you online and where can they get hold of your stuff?
My website is www.lewisliveshere.com. There everyone can access my Facebook, Twitter, show updates, and probably whatever I'm doing at that very second. Oh the beauty of social media
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