Keep It Honest: An Interview with Adam Lewis

Based in Swansea, Wales, Thee Rakevines have been on my list of go-to underground garage rock bands since March of last year. Drawing on a wide range of musical influences, the band incorporates punk, 90s grunge, psychedelia, and jazz into a unique blend that’s as raw as it is captivating. I recently had a chance to chat with the brains behind the operation, Adam “Adda” Lewis, about his approach to songwriting, a return to playing live, and the eternal question of which guitar to bring to the next gig.

Let’s start with your latest song, “Everything Has Changed.” It’s a bit of a departure for you, as it’s just you and an acoustic guitar, but it’s also in line with the rawness of your other recordings. What’s the story behind that one?

Quite honestly, I’d been drinking brandy and noodling around on the guitar and singing nonsense lyrics. After an hour or so, it emerged as this and I recorded it in one take—on my phone! I then promptly forgot about it and rediscovered it late at night (after more brandy!) shortly before Xmas, and in my drunken state sent it for release, warts and all! It’s as deep as a shallow puddle in all honesty, but I liked the rawness and honesty of it. It’s a moment in time, I guess!

In terms of rawness and honesty, most of your songs have a kind of punk “get in and get out” sensibility in that they’re usually under three minutes long, which is somewhat of a rarity these days. Where does the instinct to keep it short, though not always “sweet,” come from?

I’d say it’s to do with the songs I heard growing up and then again where those songs led me in my youth. I was basically raised on a musical diet of Motown and 60s mod pop (thanks mam and dad!), so the three-minute radio staple was kinda ingrained. Then I got properly into the mod thing, which led onto the freakbeat and psyche thing, from there it was mid 60s garage punk from the USA and I realised that no better music had ever been made than what I heard on the Back from the Grave and Garage Punk Unknown comps. From there it was The Stooges and The MC5. I’ve basically spent my life trying to recreate those tracks—with varying degrees of success! I also buy into a kind of Kerouac-like approach: Write once, record in one take, release. Keep it honest.

I know that one of your big influences is the 1960s proto-punk band The Standells. How did you happen upon them, and how did that encounter with their music influence your future endeavors?

As I’ve said above, it was probably through the musical journey I embarked on as a young teenage mod. I found the Why Pick on Me? album in a back street record shop, bought it on the strength of the cover picture alone… and had my mind blown! The style, attitude, sneer—all there, all perfect! “Mr Nobody” is an absolute classic!! As I say, I’ve been trying to capture that ever since! Unfortunately, my talents are much more limited, but it’s been fun! And last year, Larry Tamblyn of The Standells liked a few of my tweets. Blew my mind all over again! I was like a little kid with excitement!

Am I right that you’ve been making music since the 1990s? What has your musical journey looked like? How has the music world changed from your perspective, and how have you adapted to those changes?

Yes, in the early 1990s, I moved to Leeds and got to know a lad called Jack White who asked me to start a band with him—only problem being I couldn’t play an instrument! He said he’d teach me, showed me a few chords and how to barre and it went from there! To be fair, I’ve never really progressed! Anyway, that ended and the band morphed into a garage punk covers band called The Tombstones, doing the songs we heard on the Pebbles, Garage Punk Unknowns and Back from the Grave comps. We had an absolute blast and it truly was a fantastic time! All ended when I moved back to Wales but that led me in a different direction again with a more alternative type of style with a band called Laughterhouse. We released a mini album (recorded at Mighty Atom Studios in Swansea) and promptly started the slow implosion that led to our breaking up and me taking a (long!) hiatus from making music for anyone but myself!

In terms of what’s changed, I feel that the music “biz” has maybe been democratised somewhat with the rise of—and ease of access to—the streaming services and so on. Unfortunately, the biz has cleverly used this to rip us off to even greater levels than they had previously! I guess everything has changed, but everything has stayed exactly the same!

Yeah, no kidding! In addition to Thee Rakevines, your main gig is playing in These Thrilling Lies. I know that band has been described as a cross between the Doors and the Stooges, but I haven’t been able to find any of their music online. Is that by design, or am I just looking in the wrong places?

These Thrilling Lies is the band I put together with a good friend (Tim, drums) after years (and years!) of vaguely saying we’d do it! We then had Adam come in on bass and Liam on keys. Adam then left to pursue other projects and we brought Ed in on bass! Primarily a live outfit, we do have some stuff out there on the likes of YouTube (videos taken at gigs), but we’re yet to properly record and release anything, though we have firm plans to do so in the new year! That comparison with the Doors and The Stooges was made by someone after a gig—made my night!! We’ve also been told our sound is brutal. I liked that!

These Thrilling Lies

Like other bands, These Thrilling Lies had to take a break from playing live as a result of COVID-19. Was there a silver lining in that break? And what was it like returning to live shows?

Well, the enforced break meant we missed out on supporting the bands Space and The Courettes at The Bunkhouse, a fantastic venue in Swansea! That was a real disappointment at the time but luckily the gig with Space went ahead in 2021—and was a blast! Unfortunately, The Courettes gig remains not played which breaks my heart as they’re one of my favourites among the current crop of garage bands!

If there’s a silver lining it did force me to give myself a shake and start writing some garage punk type stuff again and led to the collective that is Thee Rakevines, so it wasn’t all bad! Getting back to live shows with These Thrilling Lies had been amazing. The appetite for music never went away for performers and audiences alike and you can almost taste the relief that it’s all back. Well, the relief and the sweat—brilliant!! Sadly, we now have some new (and much needed!) public health restrictions in Wales that mean gigs and so on are back on a hiatus. We’d just like to send some love to all the venue’s out there that are struggling right now—x.

The many moods of Adam Lewis!

You mentioned back in September that your wife gave you a Flying-V guitar to celebrate returning to live gigs. That plus your Squier Mustang and Tanglewood Rickenbacker tribute gives you a good selection of different sounds and—importantly—different looks. Do you bring all of your guitars to every gig? If not, how do you decide which to bring? And does your choice of guitar influence your playing?

The Flying V has been something of an in joke with us for many a year! A big hero of mine is Dave Davies of The Kinks and if you’ve seen photos of the way he holds his Flying V, let’s just say he owns it! So yeah, I used it at our first gig back and tried to emulate the always cool Mr. Davies! In terms of the Mustang, I’ve always loved the ethos of just playing what you have, doesn’t matter if it’s a charity shop find or an expensive guitar, and the Mustang was cheap as chips but certainly doesn’t look or sound like it! The Tanglewood Ricky rip off was my first “proper” guitar and I’ve been using it since the early 90s—massive sentimental value! I tend to only take the one guitar to gigs and it tends to be chosen depending on what I’ve been listening to and/or what I’m wearing, and while it may not influence my playing (I’m not that talented!) it does influence the shapes I throw on stage!

Just to geek out on guitars a minute longer, I’ve looked around a bit, but I’ve never been able to find a Tanglewood Rickenbacker clone.* How long have you had yours, and where did you find it?

I bought it at a guitar shop in Leeds in January 1995. It was expensive for me back in the day, but there was no way I could afford a real Rickenbacker at that time and it perfectly captured the look and sound for me—in fact, I still haven’t seen or heard a better copy! It’s still the guitar I use the most and it still sounds great even after so much abuse in my heavy hands! Apparently, Tanglewood stopped selling them after Rickenbacker got involved so I’ve never actually seen another one in the wild. Even better, I occasionally post a pic of it on the Tanglewood Facebook page. It never stays up for long!! I swear they’ve disowned the Tanglewood TW-61, but I’ll keep reminding them of it anyway.

Apparently you’ve passed the music gene on to another generation. Your son plays in a band called String Theory. What’s it like having multiple musicians in one family? How much of an influence do you have on each other?

To be fair, my kids (and my wife!) were the driving force in encouraging me to get back into music with These Thrilling Lies and then to get Thee Rakevines collective off the ground! Cian has provided bass and lead guitar (as well as mixing and stuff, and where he hasn’t, Liam, the keyboard player from These Thrilling Lies, has taken the reins! I’ve also had my daughter, Byddia, provide vox on a few tracks and she’s allowed songs that I could never do justice to to flourish! I think having all of us making music is just fab. There’s always something going on and we definitely influence each other, if only via genuine critique. They’re not scared of telling me when something is crap—most recent release a case in point!

Any big plans for 2022?

Well, we’ve got a few more in the pipeline with Thee Rakevines—massive thanks to Cian, Byddia, Liam and Tetley for contributions so far! And hopefully we’ll be getting some stuff released with These Thrilling Lies! Other than that, I’m just looking forward to hearing some new stuff via the music Twitter community. Heartfelt thanks to everyone on there that’s supported us over the last year including you Marc, The Negatrons, Silva, The La La Lettes, Tommy Clarke and many, many others—too many to mention!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, Adam! I really appreciate it!

Thanks for having me man… Looking forward to some more stuff from you!!

*For non-guitar geeks, Rickenbacker guitars are incredibly expensive and have a pretty distinctive look. George Harrison and John Lennon played Rickenbackers in the early days of the Beatles, as did Roger McGuinn of the Byrds. Tom Petty often played one as well. And I think the company is pretty quick to put a stop to any other companies making guitars with a similar look and sound. 

Tagima Woodstock TW 61: First Impressions

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Elvis Costello playing his signature Fender Jazzmaster.

I’ve been wearing the Elvis Costello glasses (and sometimes even the scarf and hat) for a few years now, so I figured it was about time to add his guitar to my ensemble. The only problem is that the guitar in question (a Fender Jazzmaster) costs more than I can justify spending given my tenuous (some might say “nonexistent”) relationship with the music business. Thus, I went looking for a less expensive alternative, and the good folks at Music Store Live turned me on to the Tagima Woodstock TW 61.

First, a good word about Music Store Live. They’re a great company, they’ll work with you to find gear that suits your needs and your budget, and their customer service is excellent. They were willing to negotiate on the price of the guitar that I purchased, which really won them points in my favor. Then, when the guitar arrived, I noticed that it wasn’t quite exactly what I was expecting (a maple fingerboard instead of a rosewood fingerboard — not the end of the world, but the kind of detail that can get under the skin of a guitar nerd), and they immediately offered me an additional discount due to the misunderstanding. So props to Music Store Live all around. If you’re in the market for a new guitar or gear, check them out!

Now onto the guitar. In a word, I love it. In terms of pure aesthetics, here’s how the Woodstock TW 61 looks next to the Jazzmaster:

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Left: Tagima Woodstock TW 61. Right: Fender Jazzmaster.

For non-guitar folks, one thing that makes the Jazzmaster guitar interesting is the shape of its body (known as “offset” because it’s not symmetrical). Additionally, what makes Fender guitars easy to spot is the shape of the headstock (that part at the top where the tuners are). When other companies market “tribute” (or, if you’re less generous, “knockoff”) versions of Fender guitars, they usually copy the body fairly faithfully and alter the headstock in various ways. For example, one Fender Telecaster tribute I used to own had a headstock that looked like the business-end of a hockey stick, and I hated it. Of course, that was just my subjective gut reaction, and my subjective gut-reaction to the Tagima’s headstock is that it’s sharp and distinctive — a nod to the general shape of a Fender headstock but with a style all its own. Altogether, the Woodstock TW 61 does a great job of capturing the shape and spirit of the Jazzmaster.

In terms of sound and playability, the Woodstock TW 61 is also impressive. I’m always a little nervous when I order a guitar without playing it first, and my two biggest fears regarding the Woodstock TW 61 were that a) it would lack heft and b) the pickups would buzz. But on both counts, it turns out that I had nothing to fear. The guitar’s body is thick and heavy, and the sound is clean.

Additionally, the P-90 pickups have a nice high-end bite that gives the guitar a funky sound. And the Woodstock TW 61 also has a five-position “varitone” tone selector (that white knob on the top left of the guitar’s body in the photo above) that offers a nice variety of timbres from the guitar’s pickups — from syrupy surf music to funky Motown.

The guitar also has good action and feel — again thanks to the folks at Music Store Live who gave it a once-over before shipping it. The strings are nice and close to the fretboard (which I like) without producing any fret buzz.

So, long-story-short, my first impression of the Tagima Woodstock TW 61 is that it’s a good buy, particularly if you’re looking for the Jazzmaster look, feel, and sound on a tight budget.

The Accidental Guitar

I ordered a guitar from eBay the other day, but the guitar that arrived at my door wasn’t the guitar advertised. I’m thinking, though, that the guitar I ended up getting might be better than the one I ordered.

The guitar I ordered was a 6-string Rickenbacker copy made by a company called Cozart, but the guitar that arrived at my door was a 12-string. That’s the guitar that Roger McGuinn of the Byrds made famous with songs like “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Tom Petty used one on “The Waiting” as well. Oh, and a guy named George Harrison used one when he played with a band called the, uh…

Sorry, the name escapes me at the moment.

I should have known something was a little fishy when the notice I got from FedEx regarding the delivery said that the guitar was being shipped by the Fluoro Swimwear Company (which was not the company my money went to). When the guitar arrived, I counted the strings and realized there were six more than I was expecting. And when I checked eBay, I got a message stating that the listing had been removed by the seller.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The good news, though, is that the guitar sounds great. In fact, if anyone out there is looking for an inexpensive Rickenbacker copy, try to get your hands on a Cozart 12-String Honey Burst Semi-Hollow. I paid $175 for the one I got, and I’ve seen others going for around $350 (both prices include shipping). Compared to genuine Rickenbackers, which go for between $1400 and $3000, this is a great deal.

One slightly odd thing about the guitar is that the body is somewhat smaller than I expected. The neck is standard, but the small body makes it feel like a 3/4 scale guitar. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but here’s what it looks like:

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And after a bit of research, I found a picture of this guy from some obscure band in the 60s playing one. The size and scale of the guitar in the picture look comparable to mine.

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Sometime soon, I’ll try to post a recording of what the guitar sounds like. For now, though, I’ll just say that it sounds to my ears exactly like the (very) few Rickenbackers I’ve tried out in music stores, riffing away with no intention of buying, much to the salespeople’s chagrin. And if you stumbled upon this blog post wondering if this guitar is worth the money, it most definitely is.