When I first spoke to him a few months ago, his life was hectic. Just married, he was burrowed deep in work at his home in London, writing fresh material for a new album, and working on several other longstanding projects. Fresh from promoting the release of his second album and already scribbling down ideas for his third, he was also acting as producer for Kevin Rowland and rehearsing with his band each night until dawn. Move on a few months and the stone has kept rolling, to where he is now also producing for another artist on the Acid Jazz label, DJ’ing around the country and touring with Paul Weller's new group, filling the space left behind by the former bass player Damon Minchella.
I caught up with him in the airport cafe, surrounded by his band mates as they milled about passing the time until they were called to board, hastily sipping coffee and gathering momentum to board the flight to Milan. As relaxed and irrepressibly enthusiastic about all subjects as ever, he clambered over adjectives and superlatives, getting his teeth into every question, replying with consideration as I found out how his life had changed in the last few months.
When we spoke we didn't talk about the subjects we had discussed several months earlier; his thoughts on the mod movement and his solo career. The urgency and priorities had moved on to where he no longer had time to talk about anything but the immediate future. As the minutes counted down until he had to leave we caught up on how life had changed in the last six months, the responsibility of playing with Paul Weller on stage and how he was fitting into the band.
For Andy Lewis it’s getting better all the time.
Can’t get no worse.
ZANI - Good morning, Andy. How are you doing?
Andy Lewis – I’m good. I've only got a few minutes until we're going to Milan. We've got a show there tomorrow and then after that we're going to the EXIT festival in Serbia. It's in a place called Novisad, in Serbia.
ZANI - So, what's it like touring?
Andy Lewis - It's brilliant. It's been really good fun. We were playing in Cork on Sunday and despite it raining, it was lovely. The crowd was great and the atmosphere was really good. It was one of the best shows Paul's done for ages.
ZANI - What's it like being famous now?
Andy Lewis - I don't think I'm that famous. I mean, there are people who are definitely more famous than me. I don't know. It's strange. I do get people looking at me twice though, but I've always had that because I do look a bit unusual.
ZANI - But, do you get a certain feeling now, from being on TV? Do you feel different being in a very well-known band?
Andy Lewis - Erm, well, it feels good. It just feels strange because I've been doing this for ages and suddenly I'm getting a shred of recognition for what I do. It's a... I don't know. It's funny. It's all quite new so I'm not quite sure what to make of it. It's a bit peculiar.
ZANI - Is it what you imagined it to be like? Do you get a good buzz out of the touring and the TV?
Andy Lewis - If you get a buzz out of being famous and people wanting your autograph then you're doing the wrong job. I get a buzz out of being in a great band, doing great shows and all the rest of it, the posh hotels and the people coming up wanting their picture taken with you, that's all just window dressing. That's just the fall out.
The important thing for me is that this is the best band that I've ever been in. The guy's are just great musicians and the songs are just so good, obviously because their Paul's - they're gonna be good and he's not going to have any old fool pretending to play an instrument. That's the thing that's always been important to me; that's playing your music and doing good shows. And I'm doing that with knobs on now. It's amazing.
ZANI - With all your side projects, producing for Kevin Rowland, being in your own band, recording with Paul Weller, how do you keep them all separate and what are you giving to them separately?
Andy Lewis - I'm the kind of person who will always give 100% to whatever I'm doing always, so I end up absolutely knackered. I'm trying to find an extra month. I'm going to invent one. I think I'm going to call it Nov-tember. I'm always trying to find an extra month. I've got the thing with Kevin Rowland. Spearmint have got an album coming out at the end of the year.
I've got to finish my next album and I've just signed up to work with a girl called Jess Roberts who's doing a solo album for Acid Jazz. She wants me to produce that. It's going to be... I've got so much on, but that's the way I like it. I like being physically exhausted by the end of the day or I feel like I've done nothing.
ZANI - What are you giving to them differently? Are you writing for Weller, do you contribute ideas?
Andy Lewis - I don't know. At the moment we're still trying to work out what songs to do from his back catalogue for the tour. I can't tell you what we're doing because that would just give it away and spoil the surprise. There will be a few surprises but we're still learning all that. I expect... I mean, I'm not going to say that I'm not going to write with him because he will do a new album I'm sure, but it's up to him what he does.
But even without Weller I've got enough to be getting on with. Working with Kevin Rowland is a buzz. I'm learning so much from him. He's a perfectionist, but in a good way. He's giving me an insight into how to write songs properly. He's brilliant.
ZANI - Now you have your third album coming up, are you targeting an audience or writing to a theme?
Andy Lewis - No, I never write to an audience. I'm just lucky to have one that likes what I do. Heaven knows what the next album is going to be like. I have a few songs at the moment that are in the same ball park as the other ones, but at the same time I've also written this piece with a church choir in it. Which funnily enough I started before I got involved with Paul.
It's quite extreme the kinds of music that I like. I never write for an audience. I'm very happy to say that the next album will not be horrible. There won't be any banging House albums coming out. Just a few choir organs and some prog rock.
ZANI - I see you play the cello as well. How many instruments can you play?
Andy Lewis - I don't know. I've got a lot of musical instruments, all of which I can get a tune out of. Does that make me able to play them? I guess so. I'm not an expert. I started off playing the cello as a kid and played in a few classical orchestras but then I put it away in the cupboard. I got it out a few years back and I made the mistake of mentioning it to Weller and now I'm in the strange position of playing in front of 40,000 people.
It does seem to be going down well. We're all multi-talented in the band and we all enjoy playing different things. Weller can play a few things and Steve Cradock is a very versatile fella. I think come the next big UK tour there will be a lot of surprises. Paul is very ambitious and I think the next tour will see some changes.
ZANI - What bands do you like today?
Andy Lewis - There are a few bands that I really like still. The Dogs, despite once working as their roadie. I really got into what they were doing. They're a classic example of a band that, having being given a big cheque from a record company, kinda pissed it up the wall and now they're having to work really hard. Now they're fitting making music around the day jobs that they have and they're up against it and they're hungry for it still and making some bloody great tunes and putting on a stunning show. It's probably better than it was.
I'm trying to think of who else. There's so many bands that you come into contact with on the road that you really don't have time to go and see them. I'm really looking forward to the show we're going to do with the Rifles at the Isle of Wight. That's going to be a good gig. The music's good. I like the Last Shadow Puppets too. Talk about the whole being greater than the sum of their parts. They could turn a whole new generation onto Scott Walker. That can only be a good thing.
ZANI - The main band in question here is the band you're in. How did you join Paul Weller’s band?
Andy Lewis - We were doing that single together last year and then I was asked to play some bass on his album. It went very well and I think he liked the fact that I could play cello too. It all just went from there. He asked "Would I be interested in doing it?" And, I said, "Of course I would!" It's a no brainer.
ZANI – You replaced Damon Minchella and Steve White has gone as well. Has it been a smooth transition?
Andy Lewis - Well when you say a smooth transition, do you mean a smooth transition for who? I mean there's still some Neanderthal people, not putting too fine a point on it, but there are some people who still feel that Steve White has been unjustly sacked or whatever. The fact remains that he's been playing with Paul for a very long time and I guess he wanted to see his kids grow up. And as for Damon Minchella, he's a bloody good player but again time marches on and he had other commitments. And if you want to go and see Whitey play, he's in a fantastic band called Trio Valore. They're making a bloody good show of it and they're shit hot. Everyone's doing their own thing and they're all friendly and getting on, as far as I know. And if people still want Whitey they can console themselves that he plays on "Cold Moments". The possibility is that he could still collaborate with Weller in the future.
I haven't had any grief but the grief that Steve Pilgrim got from some of the people in the audience was shocking. It was like, who are they there to see? Are they there to see Paul or are they there to see Steve White? Alright, Steve White is a fantastic drummer, and it would have been great to play with him, but Steve Pilgrim is no slouch behind the kit. He's brilliant. The only thing that annoys me slightly is that, when I got into Paul Weller, he inspired me to have a very open mind and to welcome change. He reinvented himself with the Style Council, and brought me into a lot of new kinds of music by doing that. So, you'd think that Weller fans would be into reinvention and change, but they're not are they? They like things the way they are, sometimes. What I think is great is the response most people have given us to the new album. I had a tiny part to play in it but I'm really proud of the fact that I was involved with something that was as well received both critically and commercially. Change is a good thing, to me.
Having said that I fully expect to be unemployed next year and for him to have a line-up change. If he gets some new people in to make his next album, then that's fair enough. At the end of the day I'm a fan and I wouldn't like him to get stale. People have got to move.
ZANI - I was only asking about the actual feeling on stage and if there was any telepathy going on. That's opened a whole new barrel of fish.
Andy Lewis - Partly, because we're still learning the songs, we have to look at each other. And we have to be more communicative, but I think because we're trying to communicate more, than it's going to sound better.
ZANI - If I can go back to something you said. You mentioned that on the next tour you thought there might be a mix up with instruments and when you said it I thought that taking Weller off guitar wouldn't go down too well with the fans. You’ve just mentioned the abuse the drummer has received from the audience. Do you think there's a certain limit to what Weller can do? If he came out wearing a tutu, how many of his fans do you think would stay with him?
Andy Lewis - Well, if he came out wearing a tutu, you can bet your life the front row of the audience would all be wearing them at the next gig. He's still got the power to influence people on a very fundamental level. Quite rightly so, the guy's got an amazing amount of charisma. I think if you're into somebody it's because they're good at what they do and you can't keep doing the same thing. If you look at any artist that just starts pushing the buttons; their record sales plummet. They just get their little audience and they stick to it. But if you push the boundaries and take risks then you get bigger audience. Even on the miniature level that I'm doing, I can guarantee that I could sell a few records if I kept on doing the same thing, but I would never sell more than that.
But Weller knows that. He's brought new people onto the album and it's already sold twice as many as "As Is Now", and everybody was going on about what a great album that was. But actually it only had a few great songs on it. It wasn't that good an album. "Come on Let's Go" and "Floor Boards Up", probably three songs out of fourteen isn't a very good hit rate. But the new album, that's blinding material and it's lovely to play it.
ZANI - Are you worried about what you've said about Weller fans?
Andy Lewis - Well, I'm not a public figure and I'm not worried about what I say. Anyone who knows me will know what I'm like. I don't want to sound disparaging of anybody because at the end of the day everybody is entitled to their opinion. In the same way that I am entitled to my opinion. What I like about Weller's audience is that they're incredibly loyal. If you can win over their loyalty, then it's fantastic. But I have found that, if I've said anything in the past and people have misquoted it, it's to imply some sexual innuendo! No one has ever taken anything I've said that seriously before so it's all new to me.
ZANI - I'll finish by asking about your future. Have you got a plan to sell a million records?
Andy Lewis - No. I just plan to keep making records that people will like. I have to keep making records and I have to keep making music otherwise my brain will explode. That's all the noises in my head. I have to get them out. You don't have to live in a huge house to be a musician anymore. You just have to be able to pay the rent and live within your own creativity. As long as I can keep playing records and making music, I'll be happy.
I will say one thing. When you're on stage it was a real shock to hear people shouting "Steve White" and "Bring Back Whitey". What I wanted to say was, "Hang about. Give Steve Pilgrim a chance. He's a bloody good drummer." He's the best drummer I've ever played with. Steve White is a great drummer, but give the new guy a chance. He will surprise you. I don't want to condemn the people who love Whitey, but for God's sake, give a guy a break and enjoy the music. Because I tell you what, it's put some fire into Weller's belly. He's running round like a good 'un now. It's almost like he's half the age that he is. The vibe from Weller now and everybody else is, the last tour that we did is the best tour that Weller's done for many a year. I had an old Weller fan who came up to me a couple of days ago and say "That's the best gig Weller's done since, probably, The Jam." That meant an awful lot to me and to be a part of something like that is wonderful. I'm not trying to have a go at anyone in the audience, but what I'm trying to say is don't have a go at our drummer, ‘cos he's fucking good.