Black Joe Lewis is sick and tired of being pushed aside. The Austinite experienced a rude awakening in recent years; all the growth in his city has moved many hard working musicians like himself to the sidelines. “I’m kind of not a big fan of Austin anymore. It just straight up sucks now, everything is overpriced and as far as being a musician, that has gotten way more political over the years.”
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are currently on tour promoting their latest album, The Difference Between Me & You, and will be performing in Houston July 20 at the Heights Theater. This is the band’s sixth studio album and it is full of Lewis’s trademark gritty guitar work and mix of blunt, funny lyrics in his howling voice. The Honeybears provide the perfect backing of soulful horns. If the blues had a baby and named it rock and roll, then Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears are that baby.
They burst onto the scene in 2007 with their in-your-face soulful blues sound mixed with Lewis’s punk rock energy. The band quickly garnered attention in a city full of musicians and were labeled as a band to watch. They found support from Austin indie darlings Spoon, going on tour with them and having their 2008 release, Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!, produced by Spoon’s drummer Jim Eno.
“When you're new you get that buzz but once you’re not new anymore, it's pretty hard to keep that buzz going unless you’re like putting out some hit singles.” says Lewis. He is clearly not feeling his hometown anymore and doesn’t appreciate the games played in the music industry. He has been around long enough to remember what Austin was like before high rises began to take over and rent prices skyrocketed all over the city.
“There used to be a lot more people that looked like me in East Austin and just Austin in general. A lot of them have moved to Houston or the suburbs where it’s cheaper. I feel like the town just doesn't have anything fun wise for black people, like culture wise. Maybe there is a little something going on that I don't know about because I’m older now, but you know it just doesn’t have that welcoming vibe.” says Lewis.
When asked if the city used to feel more welcoming to minorities and musicians Lewis says “I’d say so because the city wasn't so boushy all the way around. Austin kind of forgot about what made it popular, that musician culture, and now that it’s blown up so much it’s all about the money and its losing that.”
His latest album raises the middle finger to phony friendships, racism, the capricious nature of the music scene and at times his own city. The Difference Between Me & You starts strong and keeps the momentum going throughout.
“Its like a fuck you record to the industry. It’s kind of like saying, this is the real blues. I’ve been here for ten years; I’ve seen the ups and downs of it and you know the difference between me and you is that I can last ten years doing this without having a big hit or without having to be part of a big scene.”
The album is not entirely angsty, it also features the more lighthearted and fun “Girls on Bikes”, a dedication to lovely ladies of Austin riding around town on their bikes. Lewis and his crew directed a fun video highlighting their city with exactly as the name implies, girls on bikes.
The album was released in 2018 but somehow it hasn’t received the attention it deserves, possibly because of his criticism of the industry and Austin. “That’s probably why they aren’t playing it. If you want to be the bad guy you gotta own it. You can’t cry whenever people turn their backs on you.
“If you’re going to be outspoken, you have to take the heat that comes with it.” adds Lewis. He recently got fed up with what he said was poor management and performed a cleansing, firing his staff and taking the majority of matters into his own hands. “We didn’t get any exposure for that album, is it a reception thing or is it that people weren’t doing their jobs?”
Since taking the reins Lewis and his band have had a string of sold out shows and are feeling assured that they made the right choice. “It gave me some optimism that it does have some legs on it.” says Lewis. “The hip hop guys are the ones that got it figured it out, they do their own publicity. Those guys if anybody [has] have shown a way around the industry, but unfortunately, I play blues and I don’t have the power of the youth behind me.”
Fighting for change and a DIY attitude are the perfect elements to create Lewis’s sound. “Blues is also punk rock cause you’re talking about hardships, you’re not complaining or talking about poor me, but you’re getting that anger out. They both lend themselves to just being who you are, you can put your own spin on it. A lot of the riffs sound the same and it’s all about how you do it and the character you put on it that makes it.”
Lewis is looking forward to returning to Houston and giving audiences a chance to hear new and old material. He has plenty of family in Houston and hasn’t ruled it out as a possible future home. “Houston has taken over. It probably always was cooler because they have more diversity and what not.”
Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears will be performing with Walker Lukens, Saturday July 20 at the Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors open at 7 p.m. $25.