Sitting across from Harmonica Lewinski in late November, a few days prior to their monthly show, the band was at home.
Interwoven across a twin size bed, three members (Docks Bushen, guitar, Joe Bushen, vocals/guitar, Jeremiah Richards, bass) were sandwiched between Daniel Daniel Eustice, guitar, on their right, and Lindsay Everett, keys, sitting beside them in a room filled with culture created before any of us were born.
They were surrounded by piles of 1970s Life Magazines and cardboard cut outs of ladies, listening to The Rolling Stones on Vinyl and watching El Topo (on mute) on a TV possibly made the same year this outrageous Western came out. Only after we watched a Sorcer create a lion, or something, and they of course, began filming us on a VHS camera, the interview actually began.
We were told we couldn’t ask one question: How did the band get together? We countered. How do you see Harmonica Lewinski breaking up?
After a laugh, and suggesting that it may be an emotional experience over a bottle of wine, they linked it to a running wager the group of friends deemed “the punching game.”
We can’t explain it, but we can say if Harmonica Lewinski was to break up there would be some void in the Rochester scene. They, arguably one of the city’s most infamous bands, have become a house hold name reaching more people who will cite them as a fantastic over the number of people who have actually heard their tunes at all.
The music is worthy of this underground, almost ignorant, love. It’s the kind of lo-fi psychedelic garage rock that could be the soundtrack to any John Waters film or for any table dancing montage of your favorite cult-classic. It’s walking down Monroe circa 1968 in a fur jacket and no pants while getting to see the city’s reaction in grainy black and white. It makes sense.
“If I’m going to write a song for the band, I think of the coolest sounding music I can imagine and try to write a song like that,” Bushen explained.
Though the music has changed across their four releases, from garage rock to surf rock to garage psychedelica blues, Harmonica Lewinski puts out a consistent style of beach music you’d expect with a a city like ours; An East Coast city with sand. You’ve got to be a little dirty and hardened for the questionable times we find ourselves playing in Lake Ontario. It’s fun in the Sun briefly before we hit bitterly cold winters. Some how this drive has created a style; a happy one.
Harmonica Lewinski is known to for high energy dance parties as the band has created a reputation for being the barringer of a good time. The stage is filled props and people come in costume. The audience generally celebrates with the release every listen brings.
Shows for Harmonica Lewinski can be so bizzare, for a first timer it would seem like you didn’t read the invitation, but the band doesn’t plan for these things, or didn’t originally. They said it happened on accident.
For their first show, on Halloween, Bushen found himself with a Godzilla mask a bright green guitar and others with wigs and other ridiculousness. They played in half costumes as their audience heard them in theirs. Precedence was set. Since then, they’ve made this a conscious effort to provide for that time again.
“Playing live is an experience you can only have once,” Richards said. “If people are going to come out to our show, go out to a bar, we’re going to give them a great show and we are. Every time we play we try to make it special, make it memorable.”
This is now done with things like a piñatas, or a man in a gorilla suit, and most commonly, a pair of mannequin legs that, like clock work, get humped before the end of every show.
“Its always a jump off point where some drunk asshole comes and humps the mannequin legs… Its a way for them to get into the music,” Bushen said.
The band clearly doesn’t mind, especially the “drunk asshole” part. It’s about creating new spaces in the bars we frequent. To have fun. Shows for them, most commonly held at Skylark, draw huge crowds. But, even after this reputation, it’s still kind of strange.
Even with their name so common, it’s rather surprising people come out. A side affect of poverty, and perhaps some stonerism is that there has been little personal promotion and low budget merchandising for Harmonica Lewinksi.
All of their albums are on cassette tape, the most recent, Twerk Jerky, being dubbed personally. Their fliers are small and sparce for their shows and commonly made from magazine cut outs of sharks and naked ladies.
They make music videos and small promotions for their shows online, but the videos are generally one two shots of a band mate with a boom box and back lighting with clip of music, or of course, said gorilla. All together it’s a very minimal approach to the entire band, itself.
“Its sort of surprising to us,” Richards said.”We just go to work and hang out and play some songs together, and it turns out good every time.”
Bushen added. “It just happened naturally. I think when we first played just our friends came to see us, and now, I don’t know, all kinds of different people… I think we’ve closed out every show we’ve ever played, even the first one, and people stayed.”
The band has grown from there, but their name still tends to surpass them.
It may be that their first album was titled “Who the fuck is Harmonica Lewinski,” a tid-bit that got written on bathroom stalls across the city. It could be just the catchy name, as well, a play on the former presidential mistress that had everyone talking too. It could be their general cult-classic sound and promotion that has kept people coming out.
But, all it all, it’s probably just them, and a question we could have asked that as we walked into an interview never had to ask: Why is Harmonica Lewinski?
What brings them to do low-budget recordings and sound? What is the attraction to 1970’s alternative DIY promotions? Why do their shows end up having more props and lighting than actual instruments?
That answer just seems to obvious. So, like most interviews, conversation divulged to butt jokes and we parted. Us to go to our local watering hole, and the members of Harmonica Lewinski to go back to watching El Topo, smoking Senecas, playing records and hanging out. What were they not going to do? They probably weren’t going to practice or talk about their next monthly show, just a few days away.