Jacksonville-based singer/songwriter Kevin Lee Newberry is the real thing. He plays and records his music– music that recalls the lowest depths of Townes Van Zandt, Mark Kozalek, Neil Young, Lou Barlow/Eric Gaffney, and Daniel Johnston– in obsessive, manic, lo-fi bursts. Cassettes pile up, four-tracks are pushed to the breaking point, guitars splinter, while cameras document a creative spirit that is drunk on the possibilities of song. And maybe, yeah, sometimes just drunk. Live shows, meanwhile, become these exuberant, primal scream singalongs, presided over by a performer who has seen some dark, dark shit, but ain’t going to let it take him down. Newberry has recently found kindred spirits with the Infintesmal Records crew, who released his excellent “Dark Presser” album. Movement Magazine shot
some questions Kevin Lee Newberry’s way and was pleased to find out
that he talks just like he sings: honest, excitable, and passionate.
How long have you been making music? What made you want to make the jump from just listening to music to instead creating your own?
I have been making music since I was real little. I used to write little raps and
things when I was in school. I didn’t actually begin playing an instrument until I was 14 and I didn’t really start writing songs until I was 20. I wanted to be a rock star when I was young. I’d watch all these rockumentaries on the
Who, Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. I thought rock stars were cool. I loved music so much; I didn’t really know anyone that heavy into it though and kids don’t really know about that now.
Tell me about some of the influences on your work.
I listen to so many things. I mean, the obvious choices like Neil Young, but also Black Flag, Leonard Cohen… and life, really. I mean, those artist affected me deeply and gave me guidance but I am set on doing my own thing I don’t try to emulate the sounds of these artists but they mean a lot to me.
There’s so much ground to cover here. Would you run through some of your side projects and bands? (I think the first time that I encountered your music was when you or one of your bandmates sneaked a Helios Eye record into the Main Library’s collection.)
That was me… I thought someone would pick it up and think because it’s in the library it must be good. I don’t know how well that worked. I used to put them in all the magazines too. I have written and performed and recorded with Helios Eye, The Pretty Princess, Falcons of Youth, Paul Is Dead, and Moonies (which I must say is the best band I have ever put together).
“Dark Presser” is your most recent album. Would you tell me about the writing and recording of it?
I’ll tell you this much, it was weighing on me real heavy like the devil himself was tapping my shoulder. I took all my recording gear in a dark, cold, dirty garage and made a record. My records come in spurts. If I don’t get it all on tape while it’s there… you know, while the vibe is tense and everything is real, I will lose it. I am the Dark Presser… I became that guy. I had to live it, man, and it took me into some dark places but I had to go there in order to create this picture. I survived though. I always survive…
How do you generally record your songs? Home four-tracks? Studio? Etc?
I lean toward tape but I’ll record anywhere… I can make a record at home or in a studio. One day I’d like to have a budget to go into a big studio with choirs and strings and what not. But I love home recording… I mean, I come up with the craziest shit at home.
You post a lot of homemade performance videos online, when did you start doing these?
A while back. I figure if people dig my music I will give them new stuff all the time. It’s not all album-worthy but it’s not all bad either so it gets the songs out and they don’t go to waste. It’s free… I love the visual aspect of it. I love how real and personal some of them are. It’s fun.
You maintain a pretty feverish level of creativity. Do you feel a
sense of urgency in getting as much work out as possible? Do songs some to you very quickly?
The songs come easily but the songs come when they feel like it. I cannot force songs out. Songs are in my sleep, dreams, nightmares. Songs haunt me like a ghost. I can’t get away from them. I will do anything to catch that feeling for a song. Half the time I am thinking about writing but once in while I open up and 12 songs pour out… it’s enough to drive you crazy.
Just estimating, how many albums and cassettes do you think you’ve released over the years?
At least 10. Nine of them self-releases, and the “Dark Presser” was my first label release on Infintesmal Records.
Is it difficult at all to balance your family life with your musical life?
No, there’s one and there’s the other, plain and simple. My head may be on a song but I am right here at home. When I need to get that edge for writing I get it… I can tell my wife Cameron that I am going to lock myself in a room and record for 48 hours and she says, “Okay, cool.” Home is where the heart is…
How did you hook up with the Infintesmal people? They seem to be a a pretty supportive group.
Yeah, they have helped me a lot. After Helios Eye broke up I was out of it for about a year. I didn’t go to shows, play shows or anything. I joined After The Bomb, Baby! briefly, but I wasn’t ready to be in a band. It was Nick and Jimi along with my wife who got me back into playing and recording. So after not playing for a whole year, I recorded “Bloody Mary Chanted” in like two days and they put it out. If it weren’t for some folks having my back, depending on me and me depending on them I’d probably flake out.
Besides them, are there any local artists or musicians you feel a
I love Jacksonville. There’s something real grimy in the water that produces
some amazing artists. I like Tuffy a lot, we have kinda been in the same place for a while… been doing it a long time. Those 2416 dudes have a lot of energy, a lot of stuff going on. Danny McGuire aka Jiblit Dupree. Chris Spohn’s 3rd version are real good and The Memphibians are making records and sounding crazy. After The Bomb, Baby!, grabbag, Borromakat, Os Ovni… All those cats have had a profound effect on me.
Do you prefer playing live or recording? I’ve heard some pretty crazy stories about your live shows; is there one that sticks out in your mind?
Recording. And ask me tomorrow it would be live. I love both. Recording is a little more controlled. Live is a lot more drunk. I have had great shows and I have had the worst shows. When things go well and sound good, I’d say live. Playing what I play in bars is real challenging.
What sort of projects are you working on at the moment? What’s coming up next?
About to start a new record this weekend. I am going to check into a motel in Alabama and record some songs I have. I am just looking for some isolation and a vibe hopefully. And recording with The Moonies. I am really enjoying what I have going on for the moment… Playing live…