Saturday, December 7, 2013

Unbounded: Spencer Lewis Talks About His Music and the Influence of Eric Anderson

Spencer Lewis is a Vermont musician and performer who has recorded 22 CDs and sold more than 130,000 units. His first, Weeding the Garden, was released in 1988, an instrumental expression akin to the new acoustic/new age music being released in the day.

Earlier this month, after writing about Bob Dylan’s interpretation of Eric Andersen’s Thirsty Boots, Lewis contacted me to express his great appreciation for Andersen’s music, so much so that he that last year he had recorded his own CD of Eric Andersen songs which carries the title Unbounded, reprising much of Andersen’s second version of his own ‘Bout Changes and Things.

From the first listen to Unbounded I was drawn in and have continued to listen to the various stories in song that Andersen wrote as Lewis has presented them. Says Lewis, “Andersen's songs weren't just 'ok'. They were powerful and potent reflections of life and love.”

The CD itself is called Selected Songs of Eric Andersen but CD Baby wouldn't let Lewis use this title as apparently there is some protocol with cover albums and iTunes, so the digital version was changed to: A Tribute to Eric Andersen.

EN: What prompted you to take up songwriting? Did you grow up with music in your home? Where does that come from in you?

Spencer Lewis: My mother had a vision that I have 4 years of some formal music training as she was a classical pianist. So I studied violin from ages 8-12, with a member of the NY Philharmonic Orchestra as a private teacher.

I didn't really understand classical music but when I picked it up again on a year-long traveling alternative school in 1969, I began learning fiddle and general accompaniment. The school was run by Mike Cohen, (brother of New Lost City Rambler John Cohen) who encouraged me. I got a guitar for my 13th birthday from a friend -- learning chords and eventually studying at the Guitar Workshop in Roslyn, NY where the culture of folk music was never far off from the lessons. The year was 1968. Then, one hears that voice inside -- and we begin to distill life through our music -- to communicate with others.

EN: Why is music important to you?

SL: I hear the sound of life through music. I hear it in the wind, through timing and movement, stories, visions, all wrapped up in this catalyst that is my way of transferring energy in a massively nonlinear form. When we hear the call, we find a way to respond that works for us.

EN: What was it that caused you to get so drawn to Eric Andersen?

SL: The steel-stringed guitar has always spoken to me -- like a calling. Andersen had a nice bite to his flat-picking on his acoustic guitar on 'Bout Changes & Things, Take 2 and that influenced my sound down the road.

Lyrically, the intimacy of the lyrics were another influence. ("...her hungry thighs just sing to me, her mouth moves like a poem" ~ Time Runs Like a Freight Train.) Often his subject matter was the many sides of relationships, and he understood life and changes in way that I seem to resonate with like:

We always tried to shove aside what we could not say / as if tomorrow would ever be any different than today / For silence can mean many things it also can betray / that what it was all along didn’t matter anyway. ~ On the Edge of You

EN: Why did Eric do two versions of ‘Bout Changes and Things?

SL: He began experimenting with a back-up band and realized the songs took on another dimension as the collaborations with other musicians unfolded.... I see them as two distinctly different albums.

EN: What did you think of Dylan’s version of Thirsty Boots on Another Self Portrait

SL: Surprisingly endearing. He wraps himself around this song so well...

To purchase Unbounded and other Spencer Lewis CDs visit: spencerlewismusic.com.

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