Harmonica Lewinski: you can't wave a name like this under my nose and expect me to pass up the opportunity to be a wiseass. So let's get this out of the way: Harmonica Lewinski doesn't suck. In fact, the band blows me away. There, I feel better.
It goes without saying that this band is a smirk personified. But its lo-fi, psychedelic, psycho surf go-go is positively brilliant. It's trashy in the spirit of, say, The Cramps or The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Royal Trux. The reverb-drenched throb and drone is akin to the trippy side of garage rock. If this kind of stuff turns you on, then Harmonica Lewinski is the only band you'll ever need. They band has four current releases (several on cassettes — you heard me, cassettes). Another is on the way, along with a 7" record on deck.
Band members Joe Bushen and Jeremiah Richards stopped by my crib with a six pack and a mannequin head named Debbie. Debbie was the interview proxy for absentee band members Lindsay Everett, Docks Bushen, and Daniel Eustice, who couldn't make it. We discussed the joys of analog, the recyclability of cassette tapes, the thrill of a great show, and whether or not the band's infamous intern namesake knows who Harmonica Lewinski is. Debbie didn't say much. Come to think of it, neither did Richards. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
CITY: What was the idea going into the birth of this band?
Joe Bushen: Maximum rock 'n' roll, maximum fun. We just wanted to start something based on all the music we liked to listen to, just have a good time, and never take it too seriously.
Besides music, what are some other elements you plug into the band?
Bushen: There are so many other elements besides music with rock 'n' roll. Visual is always a big thing with us. We always have some kind of props or something. We like to make videos a lot and utilize that medium.
Has that extended the band's reach beyond Rochester?
Bushen: I guess if it's on YouTube anyone can see it. But I think our focus so far has been here in Rochester, just trying to be the best band around here. If that takes off, great — we can go somewhere else.
What's missing in local rock 'n' roll? What gap does Harmonica Lewinski fill?
Jeremiah Richards: Fun is missing in rock 'n' roll, I think. I'd been to a lot of shows and I never really had any fun.
Bushen: You see a lot of bands, people are standing there. Maybe they're enjoying it, whatever. You can't tell. Come to one of our shows, you're going to see people dancing around having a great time, dressing up in costumes... it's more of an experience of rock 'n' roll as I think it should be. You get there, you're a part of it, you're dancing. Our music is dance music. That's the music that's always got to me, because it makes you move. At our shows even the biggest squares are going to shake a little tail feather. And that's the goal.
What's with the cassette tape releases?
Bushen: While we were recoding, my shitty car only had a cassette player in it. So I wanted to make something that I could listen to while I was driving around. We found this old reel-to-reel tape machine that we used to record the album on and then put it on tape. So it was all kind of an analog-tape thing.
Isn't that limiting how many people get to hear you?
Bushen: Tapes never really went away. When you think of the fringes of rock music, punk, and more underground stuff, people have always been putting out tapes. And tape is fun. You can record over it if you don't like it. But all our music is downloadable, too.
What was one of your best shows, and what was one of your worst shows that maybe made you want to quit?
Bushen: I've never wanted to quit this band, but we've definitely had some best and worse shows. We try to get into Skylark like every month or so. We have the best shows there.
Do you ever run into fans that don't get you?
Bushen: Some. If they don't, they probably just don't come back. Some people probably hate us. I don't feel like it's something to get. We're not some huge joke. If you come and you like what you hear and want to get a little weird... I want to make the best sounding music and put out cool records.
Hitting the road at all?
Bushen: We've been to Medina, Fulton, Dansville — that's what I was going to say our worst show was. We were playing this old theater. Somebody ended up unplugging all our stuff while we were playing, which is pretty bad.
What does Monica Lewinski think of the band? Have you heard from her?
Bushen: We're still waiting for that call.