On a recent call with Joe Lewis, it was clear that he was enjoying the comforts of home, just as he was poised to give them up again – for a while at least. The heart, soul and frontman of the eponymously named Austin, Texas band Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears was having a quiet lunch at home as he prepared to hit the road for the better part of two months, the band’s biggest tour since 2013.
“I made a chicken pot pie the other night,” he said. “I’m gonna finish that off.”
Lewis is soft-spoken in conversation, a marked contrast to the gruff, high-energy singer that he becomes when leading his band. Combining a range of influences from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Iggy Pop, Nile Rogers to James Brown, Lewis and his band have made a name for themselves through their live shows, featuring horns and a rhythm section that doesn’t quit. They show off that same intensity on their albums, the fourth of which, Backlash, will be released on February 10. Lewis thinks it’s the band’s best yet.
“My skill level now versus then…everybody has just grown so much,” he said. “The songwriting [has] gotten better. I’m getting older, maturing. I was older when I started playing guitar, and all those early years you’re kind of learning, I was just doing it onstage. I feel like now I know my way around stuff more. You refine all that over the years.”
The band’s last album, 2013’s Electric Slave, featured a heavier, rockier sound and didn’t come with the “and the Honeybears” part of the band name which, Lewis said, sowed confusion. His intention at the time was just to shed a part of the band name that he didn’t want to keep for so long, but the change made a bigger splash than he imagined.
“We had the name and kind of just got tired of it,” Lewis said, “and we took it off. And it became like a big issue, and everyone was confused. So this time around I just put it back on, simple as that. The name change threw everybody off. I didn’t think it would, but it did.”
As for the band’s four-year hiatus, Lewis said there wasn’t any master plan, just a lot of different factors that added up, including wanting to record and release the band’s best possible material. While he often brings an idea to the table, he said the band’s songwriting process varies.
“Each song’s different,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll come up with the beef of it, and I’ll bring it in and the guys will do what they do to it. Or it’ll be an idea that comes up in a sound check that we jam out on, and somebody will record it on their phone, and when we’re back home working on stuff, we’ll f— with it. A lot of times, something will come up and it won’t be going anywhere, and we’ll say, ‘Hey, that thing from back in the day would sound cool here,’ and we’ll put ‘em together.”
The band has been signed to Lost Highway Records and Vagrant Records in the past, but this time around, they’re self-releasing their album.
“Unless someone is gonna be able to guarantee how much they’re gonna pump your stuff, and how hard they’re gonna work it…if you have enough money saved, it’s definitely better to do it on your own. You can control what’s gonna happen with it more.”
As the band gears up for the album release and tour, Lewis’s home cooking will be replaced with whatever is available on the road – just one of the changes that takes a little getting used to after some time off. But Lewis knows the drill and he’s ready.
“It usually takes me about a week to acclimate to being back out on the road,” he said. “And then it’s all easy sailing from there.”
Catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the 9:30 Club on February 21. Doors open at 7 p.m., and tickets are $25. Learn more about the band at www.blackjoelewis.com.
9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com