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Jeffrey Lewis (Interviewed) & Crass (Covered): Part 1 of 3

In this week's print edition of LA Weekly, I contributed a piece about Jeffrey Lewis's new album 12 Crass Songs, and the phenomenon of young(ish) indie rockers covering 80s era hardcore punk songs. Here is the unexpurgated Q&A.

Jeffrey Lewis (Interviewed) & Crass (Covered): Part 1 of 3

What are you doing the next few months?

Well I'm doing a bunch of solo dates opening for the Super Furry Animals and Times New Viking and immediately after that I'm doing the west coast with the Mountain Goats, and then I'm doing a bunch of one offs with Kimya Dawson + Mount Eerie, and then a full US tour with Ra Ra Riot and The Cribs. I'll do whatever I can scrouge up. I've worked with whatever I manage to bring up. All this US stuff wraps up in April 4th, and then I'm doing some festival stuff in Belgium starting April 15th. So we have about a week off between now and May.

Is it an interesting time to go out there with Kimya given her recent success?

I've played tons of shows with her in various situations. I've known her for years so it's not that strange.

Well you have to acknowledge it seems like a pretty good time for anti-folk again -- between Kimya contributing all those songs to the Juno soundtrack, one of the best selling records of this year, and you having a bit of a renaissance of interest with your 12 Crass Songs?

For myself it's not so much that there's been a resurgence because...don't call it a comeback I've been here for years.

After the jump, a Teenage Kicks exclusive: Will Jeffrey Lewis's next covers project be devoted to Public Enemy?

I've been making a living from my music for 7 years now and it's been very underground in the US. It's possible with the Crass album that it's a just quirky project that's been getting more attention. But we've been touring and doing shows with bands like the Mountain Goats previously and I've done a bunch of tours with Kimya and with Adam Green. With this new album, the quirkiness of the concept seems to be generating press and I guess we'll see if that makes much of a difference in terms of the kinds of people coming to the shows. But we've existed as a very under the radar cult thing for a number of years now and it's nice when certain events sway things your way for a little bit, but over the years these things come and go. I’m just happy we've managed to keep our heads above water through all kinds up and downs.

Has it been different in Europe?

It's hard to know but it seems as if our strongest fanbase has always been in England. But in a way the geography helps so much over there, because every day you're driving two hours instead of nine hours like in the US and -- especially because of the job George Bush has done at destroying the US economy -- the shows we do oversees are so much more profitable. Though, you know, it's also been the case that everything has a snowball effect so the more you tour in one place the more you build up a fanbase. So in that way one thing leads to another. It's possible we have the same number of fans in America but here they're spread over 3000 miles instead of 300, so we're traveling 100 miles to reach every 30 fans. Not being a mathematician I couldn’t be for sure.

How did you come across and get engaged w/ Crass?

Well did you get the comic? It's a shame with all the reviews so few people have seen it. I put as much time into the packaging of this album as the music, and it's this very elaborate die cut fold out comic book thing that explains the whole genesis of the album, and my experience with Crass.

The story is that, at one point, I had a roommate who was a skinhead, my freshman semester at college. I was the only hippie at the college, and he was the only skinhead, and being general misfits in the college population we spent a lot of time introducing each other into music. I was into a lot of obscure psychedelia, and he was into various punk and skinhead things I had never been aware of. He introduced me to stuff like Crass and the 4-Skins and Oxblood and various other bands, and Crass was something that stood out because I started noticing I was hearing those songs in other places. The actual recordings -- as well as the iconography and their whole aesthetic. And this was in like 1993, and I started to realize how much they formed a certain part of culture worldwide. I mean everyplace that I traveled across America, to squats in Europe, to the Czech Republic, and I'm sure even farther afield than that. Anywhere in the world where there's some awareness of punk and DIY aesthetics or a squat scene of any kind, Crass forms part of the inspiration for those people. It's incredible they had such a long lasting impact, and inspiration.

And especially when I started making music myself and touring many years later, around 2003 or 2002, when I started to do tours and really become more of a band, as opposed to just doing my comic books, Crass is one of the few bands that stood out -- maybe with Minor Threat and very few other examples -- as the sterling example of how moral it's possible to be as a band, regardless of what kind of music you play. Whether you’re placing rock or punk or jazz, they set such a high standard of how you can interact with the music business, with your fans, with the world -- as a band and as a person, regardless of genre. It's like people walk around with those What Would Jesus Do bracelets, and I think if any band walks around with a What Would Crass Do idea in your head, weather you’re a punk band or a blues rock band, it’s a pretty good start.

To be continued on Friday.


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