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My goal is to keep doing this: an interview with Black Joe Lewis

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I read about you picking up a guitar in the pawn shop where you worked. What was it that compelled you to pick up the guitar and start playing?

I was just bored, man. I was at work - on the clock - and I saw the merchandise. I was screwing with it one day and said "I think I'll buy one." A couple years later, I started playing live. I was learning as I went along. I'm still learning.

Had you played any instruments before?

That was my first try at it. I started playing gigs because my neighbors had a band. Everybody has a band in Austin. They were always traveling and getting chicks. I was always getting up early, going to my day job. And I hated it. I was like, "I need to get in on that." I started playing gigs - happy hours, Sunday gigs, stuff like that.

It beats sitting in a cubicle all day.

Yeah. F--- that.

Compare the new album to previous albums you've recorded.

This is my favorite one. It's our most genuine one or true to our sound. We did two records and had a couple members drop out, and we got a different producer. We always had conflict about what kind of style we wanted to go for on the first two records. Those guys are gone and we don't have anyone to argue with now. When everything goes in one direction, things go a lot better. It's a lot different. Now we tell people that if you had heard my earlier stuff before this band - we're kind of going back to what we used to do. We have a better band with better musicians.

Is that one of the hardest things to deal with in a band - the clash of personalities and opinions?

It can be. Right now, we got a good group of guys. Some people are cool and have good energy. Some people are always trying to step on other people.

How do you deal with people that are always trying to step on other people?

You just gotta get rid of them, man. You can let go on for a while, or you can take care of it right there if it's not working out. It's just like a bad relationship. You gotta get out and say "F--- that!" They'll either leave on their own or you just fire them.

Why is it important for you to keep that raw quality in your music?

It's probably just because it's how I started playing. I didn't start playing until my early 20s. I played trumpet in junior high. Naturally I'm not going to be as refined. Also, I just like that style.

You're on the road a lot. What are some of the best lessons you've learned from touring so much?

Be patient. Don't let little things get to you. You gotta make every show fun, or it's going to get really old. You can always tell when someone's tired. You show up and load in. That takes about 20 minutes. Sound check takes maybe an hour. Then you're sitting around for another three or fours until you play. Then you do it all over again. You have to do it all over again. You have to occupy yourselves and learn to deal with different personalities. You're always around people.

What are some ways you pass the time in the tour van?

I read a lot. Guys are on their phones, playing games, stuff like that. When we drive, we have XM radio. We're big football fans and we listen to the Cowboys. My main thing is reading.

What do you read?

I just read a Stephen King book. I just started V for Vendetta the comic book. I read all kinds of stuff.

Do you read any other graphic novels?

I like The Walking Dead series. Those are pretty good. When I was a kid, I was into all the action comics - Spider-man, DC, Marvel.

What's your favorite thing about coming to southern California?

Oh man! The girls, the weather. The beach is great. I love California and the west coast. It's my favorite area to tour. It just always works for me. Northern California is cool too.

Is this where you have your biggest following outside of Texas?

We do pretty good everywhere. It's fun over there.

As a lifelong Austin resident, what's your feeling whenever South By Southwest comes around?

I try to stay at home. I went out last year on a bike around town. I had a pretty good time. The trick is to not have a car and ride a bike around. I had a pretty good time with that. It's a lot more fun to hang out than to play it. Playing it is great - the exposure. It brings a lot of money into the city. I used to complain about it a lot. I got a bicycle, so it's better now. If you're in a car, it's a hassle.

What would you be doing if you weren't making music?

Probably getting in trouble, working a sh---y day job. People ask, "What's your goal?" My goal is to keep doing this for a living until I can't do it anymore. Hopefully I keep that going. It beats a day job, and makes my life more enjoyable.

Black Joe Lewis plays the El Rey Theatre on 5 December.

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