Black Joe Lewis' new album may be titled Electric Slave, but he's harnessed the power of electricity for his third full-length. No longer backed by the Honeybears, who played with him when he first grabbed attention as the fiery frontman of a rockin' soul band three years ago, the Texas songwriter is getting deeper into the wilds. "Skulldiggin," the album opener, is a raw and fiercely fuzzed-out guitar blast that's heavy on rhythm, and even heavier on the blues. As Lewis explained before heading out on tour, songs such as "Make Dat Money," "Young Girls," and "Guilty" keep him focused on his evergreen sources for musical inspiration.
Tell me about recording Electric Slave.
We've been writing these songs for a couple years. So we go into the studio. Went pretty well. I think it's my most successful album yet. We wanted Electric Slave to come out right. The first few records didn't really represent what we sounded like live. Now we're able to go in and do what we want, which wasn't the case before. We got a different producer, Stuart Sikes — the guy we had before didn't really get what we were going for and should've sounded like — so it's a better representation of the band and my songs. It's not so overproduced. We really got to focus on how I wanted it to be this time. In the past, some of the guys in the band wanted to do a different thing than what I wanted to. This is all me. There's just no conflict in opinion on this one.
Are you the kind of writer who likes to come up with ideas in the studio, or do you know the songs beforehand?
The music's already locked down. We've been playing a lot of these songs for the past few years, so the band has a good idea of what the song should be. A lot of people said the new material takes a while to get into, and maybe they aren't what they're expecting. So we do change things from time to time. We do that, but I guess it's not really work — we're not sitting down and making ourselves work. We come up with new stuff every night playing live.
Some artists vary their performances, and some say they feel constrained or limited once an album or "official" version of a song exists. Is that an issue for you?
We change stuff up all the time. I hope nobody cares. I don't know if anybody cares. If they do, nobody's told me. I don't really work like that. I don't like doing the same thing every night. Whenever I'm at home and put on records to listen to, I might just feel like doing something weird that night. So when I'm up on stage I can do that, too.
You put a lot of effort into your stage show. How do you know you've given a good performance?
Feeling like you've done your best — for yourself. Sometimes the crowd is good, sometimes they're not picking it up so you've just got to go on with it. You can't let that dictate how you feel or perform. If you're feeling pretty happy about things at the end of the night, that's all you can know, so that's what's good.