Anti-Folk Superhero

In the early 1990s, offbeat New York City musicians gathered on the Lower East Side and inadvertently created a new subgenre dubbed anti-folk. Counterculture mainstay Jeffrey Lewis accidentally fell into this scene long ago and has since collaborated with artists like the Moldy Peaches and Jarvis Cocker. Lewis, also an established underground comic book artist, pauses on his extensive tour of Asia to give TALK the inside scoop on his life.

Lewis began performing in 1997 at the infamous Sidewalk Café, a New York City venue that had been catering to a new sound, one that wasn’t even congruent with itself. “I was more into music as a raw expression of words and sound, not so much the delicate craft of piecing words and melodies together,” Lewis explains. With an extremely prolific discography under his belt, he continues to find new methods of musical expression, ranging from low fidelity folk to raspy garage rock and everything in between.

The anti-folk title denotes an attitude and sentiment rather than a musical style, established as a path out of the traditional singer-songwriter stereotypes. “No matter what you play there will be people who come up with a genre tag for it, and at least anti-folk is more unique than ‘indie rock’ or ‘post punk’,” Lewis admits. The abstract descriptions of the genre are varied in their explanations, although an inversion of traditional folk values often comes into play.

Tracking Lewis’ musical output is quite the task; in the last few years he has released, among several others, a record featuring only interpretive covers of the punk band Crass and a collaboration with psychedelic folk musician Peter Stampfel. “I was very happy to make a record with Peter. He’s 72 years old, and he’s a great inspiration,” Lewis notes. As a firm believer in the basis of punk ethics, he wanted to show his appreciation to Crass in a very different manner. “When you first hear hardcore punk, it sounds like noise. The project was intended to be a bit of a trick; it sounds like a nice indie album, but you are really listening to something more challenging and troublesome.”

While most groups only visit the large hubs of Shanghai and Beijing, Jeffrey Lewis is making a point of hitting no less than eight different cities in China. “It’s a great thrill to be able to go to China and play concerts, and a big part of our pay is the chance to see as much of the country as possible.”

It is not as widely known that Jeffrey Lewis is also a longstanding comic book artist and writer, a part of his life that bleeds into his music career as he constantly designs album artwork. “It’s easier to survive from music than from comic books,” he admits. “I think I know more about comic books than making music, but I probably make more interesting music because of it.” With an undergraduate degree in literature, Lewis has lectured on his continued analysis of the graphic novel Watchmen since he published his senior thesis on the topic.

An earnest man that pushes boundaries based on his own ideas and creative process, Jeffrey Lewis is not to be dismissed. Refusing to get wrapped up in the confusion of the New York City music scene, Jeffrey Lewis pushes on to exceed everyone’s expectations, with another new record coming in October. “We recorded it all on old analogue equipment in England, a very challenging experience. I’m also working on another complicated design for the CD packaging, although the record label will probably make me change it,” he laughs.

Jeffrey Lewis and the Junkyard, with Xiao He. 13 August. 10pm. RMB 60. Yuyintang, 851 Kaixuan Lu, near Yan’An Lu. Tel: 5237 8662. Web:

Syndicate content