Life me up

Lewis Knudsen brings sing-along pop to Yellow Spring’s Spirited Goat

By Justin Kreitzer

Genre-defiant and highly prolific Quad Cities singer-songwriter Lewis Knudsen released The Way Of Most Resistance last summer.  His latest and greatest album sees him branching out into funk and soul music complete with jubilant horns and danceable rhythms, where previously his eclectic songwriting has been rooted in subdued acoustic folk, piano-led pop and rootsy rock.
In support of the album, Knudsen is going on a lengthy solo tour, including two stops in Chicago and three in New York City, and will wrap things up in Yellow Springs at the Spirited Goat Coffee House on Friday, April 8 before heading back to Iowa.
In anticipation, the Dayton City Paper spoke with Lewis Knudsen about one of his main influences, the new album and more.

First of all, I love that you list one of your biggest influences alongside Tom Waits as Martin Sexton. I can hear glimmers of his malleable voice and eclectic style in your music.  How has he inspired your music? 

Lewis Knudsen: A few years ago, a friend asked if I had heard of Martin Sexton, and I said no, so he played Sexton’s “Hallelujah” for me. Those first lyrics, “Does Satan wear a suit and tie/ does he work at the Dairy Queen?” pulled me right in. A songwriter who can write those words is worth listening to. One of the most fulfilling things about being a songwriter for me is finding spiritual truths in everyday life and using simple, recognizable metaphors to point them out.  Sexton does this so well, making him a constant inspiration for me. The incredible way he uses his voice is also something I continually come back to and seek to learn from.

More specifically, who or what inspired your new direction into funk and soul music on the new album?

LK: I started playing part-time with a cover band in last year, and we frequently covered Motown songs by artists like the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder. I had been really digging soul and funk music way before that, but when we started covering those songs, the music sort of possessed me, and I wanted to try my best to give my interpretation of that music. The main thing that was new for me was writing trumpet lines, and I love how the horns turned out on the album: they add such a cool, punchy energy to the songs. Along with that, my songwriting is eclectic, and there are several songs on the album that don’t match the “funk/soul” genre at all, but I thought they were strong songs and still deserved to be on the album. Anyone who likes a diverse mix of music on their iTunes playlist will probably enjoy that.

The soulful Gospel-soaked album closer, “Your Love Lifted Me,” stands out with its slow-building arrangement and lyrical similarity to the popular hymn, “Love Lifted Me.”  What was the inspiration for that track?  

LK: I grew up in a church that sang a lot of very old hymns. The style of those hymns is now dated, but I still like coming back to them, and I always had an idea in the back of my mind to write a re-interpretation of one of those hymns, so that’s what was going on with “Your Love Lifted Me.” When I perform this song live, I get the crowd to sing “your love lifted me” repeatedly and have some fun with it.

Your versatile music can be played solo or with a full band treatment.  On this tour, will you be flying solo or have a band to back you up? 

LK: I’ll be flying solo. This year, I booked a fairly extensive tour for myself but realized it wouldn’t be possible to bring the band, so I’ve been putting a lot of work into developing my performance as a solo singer/songwriter. I tell stories behind songs and do a good amount of crowd participation, and it really works very well. When playing solo, I like to turn the audience into my backing band.

Over the years, you have written many songs, but what is your one favorite song to play live and why?

LK: If I have to pick one, I’d say it would be “I Wanna Spend All My Love On You” from my 2014 album Joy, Pain, Love, Songs. It’s a love song I wrote for my wife when we first met. It’s got a Jack Johnson feel to it. It’s upbeat, but chill at the same time. And it’s a love song, so it’s something people can relate to.

Even though The Way Of Most Resistance was just released last year, have you started work on your next album? And in what direction might you go for this one?  

LK: Yes! I’m working on songs for a new album and stylistically will probably go back further in time to blues, jazz and ragtime. I don’t have a set release date yet but am very excited about this project. To me it seems like many people in our society see themselves as intensely political and also spiritual, but with the differences in our beliefs and experience, there is much disagreement as to what that means. At this point that’s what I see being the overall subject matter for my next album.

Lewis Knudsen will perform at 6 p.m. on Friday, April 8 at the Spirited Goat Coffee House, 118 Dayton St. in Yellow Springs. For more information, please visit lewisknudsen.com or spiritedgoat.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Justin Kreitzer at JustinKreitzer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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