I always read about tormented musicians who spend years in anguish, battling writers' block and depression while creating an album. Those types must be less prominent in LA, because Lewis Pesacov and his friends are impervious to such issues, and collectively they've formed a band, produced, toured, jammed or barbecued with damn near the whole city, or at least everyone in Echo Park and Silver Lake. Rather than taking time off after his tightly crafted indie-hook contributions on Foreign Born's Person To Person, the dual lead guitarist/composer somehow managed to release a globally diverse party jam record with Fool's Gold, mere months later.
This industrious discipline is a driving force for Lewis and Co. as I immediately learned in a conversation with Foreign Born co-founder, Fool's Gold member, and generally busy dude Matt Popieluch back in June. What's perhaps most impressive about Lewis' groups might not be how hard they work, but how easy they make that work look. From the sunny philosophies of Foreign Born to the tribal celebration of Fool's Gold, Lewis is a master of creating complex arrangements to dance to. "It's cool that it sounds effortless," he laughingly told me on his last day before the start of an East Coast tour. "I think that's a good quality. It is [effortless] in a sense, but it also takes a lot of work…maybe it's a California thing."
The relaxed LA attitude is a huge advantage for Fool's Gold, a rotating cast of characters numbering around a dozen who were somehow able to organize a country-wide tour with calm optimism. "It's kind of crazy because every time we tour and do shows, it's kind of a different band," Lewis said. "There's like a solid six of us that are always the same, but then there's like three wildcards usually, which is cool though. It keeps it fresh." And staying fresh is crucial when you're a pack of Californians introducing African rhythms coupled with Hebrew vocals to varying audiences and via varying set lengths. "We definitely stretch out live. We can play long or short based on the allotment that we're given. We can play a song either five minutes or twelve minutes long…it's pretty crazy, I'm not going to lie, but it's awesome. We have the core people, so we're good." But no matter what the circumstances are at any given show, Lewis is adamant about giving each gig everything he's got. He said the group has had lots of success playing barbecues, house parties and local venues, and they strive to recreate the ecstatic vibe of their LA shows every night they play.
They knew their tour on the East Coast would be a challenging experiment, as many audience members wouldn't be familiar with vocalist Luke Top's Hebrew mantras and the Congolese and Ethiopian influences that Lewis channels. Many artists sample foreign styles for credibility and praise, but for Lewis, global styles are second nature. "My father was really into world music so I grew up listening to it a lot, it was just one of those things -- I was always around it. When I was fifteen my dad took me to see Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, he's a Quawwali singer from Pakistan. And so this is like the mystic sect, Sufis are the mystic sect of the Muslim religion. It's incredible music; he's one of the greatest singers of all time. And I kind of didn't want to go, I was fifteen, I was probably more into the Beastie Boys, but my dad made me go and it was the most incredible concert I've ever seen, it was life changing." Lewis vividly and fondly recalled the way Ali Khan and his band could keep everyone in a crowd of 16,000 on their feet. "It [was] like four guys hand clapping, two guys playing harmonium, two guys playing drums and two singers, and they're all sitting there on a rug, very calm, it's like the most passionate music in the world."
While Lewis realizes that many American fans don't speak Hebrew, he aspires to the pure euphoric moments of gigs like Ali Khan's that overcome cultural boundaries. "Singing in a foreign language, there's so much repetition that at some point the words don't even mean anything anymore, and it crosses this cultural, linguistic, religious boundary and everybody was joined in together, it was an amazing experience. I'm pretty sure Fool's Gold is not reaching that point of bliss, but it's something that we shoot for every time we play."
Fool's Gold are well on their way to such transcending moments, as they've already found a way of tweaking and mixing styles older than America, and making them sound accessible to the modern American ear. While Fool's Gold don't play traditional American music, at its core their group embodies an ideal America, one that fully embraces its many subcultures rather than keeping them segregated. In an age when discrimination is still happening at an institutional level (such as my home state of Maine voting against gay marriage), Fool's Gold ignores invisible borders by not only respecting other cultures, but inviting them to the party. The sound of Fool's Gold is one of a community working together -- at one level it's the mini community that comprise the band, but the music also symbolizes a greater community of histories mixing together to create a product more moving than its original parts. As Lewis put it, "That's what our history is: it's a combination of histories."
And the media are taking note of this combination, even if they don't yet fully understand it. While the members of Fool's Gold play music based in African styles drawing from the American, major publications like Rolling Stone are equating Fool's Gold with Vampire Weekend, a group renowned for the introducing slight African influences into their otherwise standard American indie rock. Lewis obviously wasn't thrilled with the comparison, but he did look for the silver lining in it. "It's unfortunate when people pigeonhole acts, it's lazy journalism. But that being said, if Vampire Weekend existing is opening minds of younger kids to listen to music like Fool's Gold, it's amazing, and maybe journalists are doing the right thing. In my mind Fool's Gold, even though it seems accessible is kind of challenging, I mean we are singing in a foreign language. If comparing us to Vampire Weekend is opening kids' minds to our music than that's a fantastic thing. If I was writing a paper on Fool's Gold vs. Vampire Weekend it would be a different story."
Though they may not write for an iconic pop publication like Rolling Stone, native Africans familiar with Fool's Gold's style of music have generally enjoyed the groups' performances according to Lewis, which speaks to the authenticity of Fool's Gold's roots, and negates any misconceptions that the group is just piggybacking a fad, but that's already obvious when you listen to their music. "In our limited experience playing in front of different African people, it's always been positive. You know like, 'I can't believe you're playing my music, it's such an honor.'" Lewis said the group will get more of an experience playing for African crowds this winter, when the group is heading to France where there's a substantial population of Africans living abroad.
Such intense touring and recording for one band is enough, but Lewis and Matt are also very active with Foreign Born. Matt is Foreign Born's lead singer, but takes a supporting role in Fool's Gold, a role reversal that could be a source of friction if larger egos were involved. Lewis recalled the band's college days, when Luke and Matt had a band and he was the keyboard player, emphasizing how over the years, he and his friends have become comfortable stepping forward and stepping back at the right times. "The type of music we're playing in Fool's Gold is really all about being team players. When you have twelve people playing together, it's all about finding your one small little bit and working as part of a bigger machine. People have to realize that everybody plays a role in a community that altogether functions as one organism."
Because two music jobs aren't enough, Lewis helps pay the bills writing music for TV ads. Black Iris, the company Lewis works for, is comprised of a pack of musicians who write commercial themes and in the process get access to better gear and studio time. "We are guys in indie bands. A lot of the music you see in commercials are kind of like indie tracks. So they come to us when they really want something 'authentically indie.' It sounds so funny to say out loud, but they come to us and that's what we do."
Though it doesn't give him as much creative freedom as Fool's Gold, Lewis said he uses the short ads as a way to stay sharp. "Yesterday I was working on a 15 second Discover Card commercial, and within fifteen seconds they want so many things to happen to match the picture. They want it to unfold very quickly. There's three parts to the commercial, with two parts in each one of these three parts and the music should somehow express this. And going from that to playing guitar solos for six minutes [laughs], I feel lucky, it's a balance."
This balance of both concise and extended, laid back yet busy, deep yet dance worthy music is to be celebrated, and it's amazing to think of what Lewis and his friends can accomplish if they continue at this frantic pace. Fortunately, he shows no signs of burning out soon. "I just love making music from project to project. Whether it's like a creepy, eerie piano piece for a commercial or playing in Fool's Gold, I'm just happy that I get to do it."