Matt Roth and Nan Turner of indie-rock band Schwervon! met songwriter/comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis in New York City in the early '90s. Turner, who helped set up one of Lewis' early gigs, recalled his performance didn't suggest a music career in his future, but the potential was there.
"His brother Jack played with him, and Jack was the person who made him carry on with the show, because he was ready to quit three times in the middle," Turner said. [Lewis] was like, 'This is dumb. I don't, I don't, I can't...' And Jack was like, 'Jeff, do it. Just do it.'"
In spite of rocky beginnings, Lewis made good on the promise that Turner saw in him. On top of touring the U.S., Europe and Asia, he has received praise from Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, who called him "the best lyricist working in the U.S. today." Renowned music critic and Consumer Guide columnist Robert Christgau wrote that Lewis could be "a wise-ass scold" but was also "a vulnerable master of the humorously ineffable."
Schwervon! has earned props, too. NPR called the duo's music "rich with character." Nme.com likened it to "the White Stripes if they'd been raised on ... The Wedding Present rather than Blind Willie McTell."
Before heading to Europe, Schwervon! is traveling the U.S. with Lewis, including a stop at The Crux on Thursday, Oct. 24.
In addition to forming Schwervon! with Turner, Roth helped found Olive Juice Music, an independent record label, promotion company and recording studio. From 1999-2011, OJM put on showcases of independent artists and released several albums, including the 2002 compilation Call It What You Want: This is Antifolk, which features tracks by Lewis, Roth, Kimya Dawson of Moldy Peaches and Daniel Johnston.
Roth, Turner and their peers embraced a DIY spirit out of necessity.
"You kind of had to get really creative about getting people's attention," Roth said. "The Internet was very early in its [development]. ... And so, we just put on these group shows to kind of draw attention, and then people did a lot of self-releasing."
Roth ended OJM's distribution efforts and moved with Turner back to his home state of Kansas, but Schwervon! has stayed busy. The band played South By Southwest this year and has toured the U.S. extensively. Roth and Turner both said that wouldn't have been possible had they stayed in NYC.
"An engineer friend of ours said, 'New York is great for creating art. Then, you've got to get out,'" Turner said.