Everything in moderation

If we had another band name, it would be ‘Normal,’” jokes Matt Call, front man for local pop group Lewis. As it is, “We don’t have that whole indie appeal, which makes it tough. We’re not hanging things from our nipples. We’re just four normal guys.”

What is normal? According to this local rock group, it’s what they do best.

In a city where “alt” is the status quo and every band seems to have a gimmick, from vintage fedoras and concertinas to go-go dancers and fake blood, Lewis’ schtick, so to speak, is that they have no gimmick.

“We’re not interesting, but we’re good,” interjects drummer Jarrod Perkins.

Don’t let the four-man group, reminiscent of the 1990s college-rock heyday, and all their self-effacement put you off before you give their debut disc, Failed to Feel (2008), a listen.

The group’s sound is fortified with sweeping vistas, displaced ache and static urgency that suggest the soundtrack to a Zach Braff film or a prime-time Ford commercial. This is the music of long road trips fueled by heartbreak, of artfully neglected bars darkened against sunny afternoons, of city parks in the muddy throes of early spring and of tenderly maintained collections of vintage T-shirts.

Lewis is also, according to Call, “a noncommittal band.” In truth, Call (who admits he’s envisioned himself as a rock-star-in-the-making since his junior-high days) is pretty well invested in the band. In fact, the group’s earlier incarnations included Salt Lake City and San Diego versions. It was in California that Call decided to pursue music full time. However, the “pay to play” policies of clubs, along with other road blocks, saw that dream go unfulfilled.

Call decided to move his family East to Asheville (a “dart-at-the-board experience,” he says) and found that in his new home, though he still holds down a day job, “for the little amount of effort we’ve put in, we’ve done well.”

If Lewis is the product of little effort, that’s because the quartet keeps busy with other obligations. Despite day jobs, Lewis has maintained an Asheville presence for two years, and recently rounded out their sound with the addition of bassist Jeff Hinkle (formerly of Mother Vinegar and Big Block Dodge). Finding time to practice—let alone play gigs—is tricky: Call has three young children and keyboardist Tyler Kneisly is expecting a baby any day now.

“Thus it takes two years to put out a record,” Call jokes. “So unsexy, I know.”

Actually, this group of dads and white-collar workers does sexy convincingly well. Their song “Another Great Day in San Jose” is a slow-driving, hooky number balanced expertly between emotive falsettos, fuzzy guitar, metallic synth and beats just heavy enough to drive home the angst juxtaposed with rare sunlight. “If I go would you know and would you cry if tomorrow I was gone?” asks the chorus. “If you want me around, you’ve got to make a sound, because this time I want you to fight for me.” Lewis’ love-lorn pop is reminiscent of The Cure, only better dressed.

“It’s not happy pop music. We like a lot of ‘80s music,” Perkins says. “It has a dark sound to it.”

Call adds, “It takes elements from the ‘80s and ‘90s and blends with something that’s our own.” And then there’s that component of the influences, which Lewis manages to imbibe and yet not regurgitate.

“Whatever comes out isn’t necessarily my ideal music. There are a lot of bands I love that I can’t sound like,” Call explains.

Perkins continues, “We don’t always play what we listen to. I listen to a lot of Elvis Presley, but we don’t play that. I have a bust of Elvis on my piano. It has seasonal hats.”

For fans who want to hear those influences given the Lewis treatment, Call’s personal MySpace page (www.myspace.com/call1019) offers some insight. There, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” gets a stripped-down, Western-swing makeover, turning the over-played power ballad into something fresh. But don’t expect to hear this at a Lewis show—the rest of the band insists they’ve vetoed such suggestions.

who: Lewis with Sophisticated Chimps and Jeff Zentner
what: Pop rock
where: Stella Blue
when: Saturday, Apr. 5 (9 p.m. $6. Info: 236-2424)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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