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Jake Lewis & The Clergy
Published: December 2013
By J.J. Sheffer
Fly Photo by Angela Davis

Jake Lewis just wants to play music. As frequently, and for as many people as possible. Josh Gibbel and Kate Seifarth, his bandmates - known collectively as The Clergy - have the same compulsion.

Lewis met Gibbel and Seifarth after he moved to Lancaster from Tulsa, OK, a year ago. He'd been performing solo but wanted to put a band together since assembling  a makeshift one for his CD release show in May 2012.

"I'd just been touring around, playing solo," Lewis says, "and once you play with a band, there's no better feeling. Playing solo just pales in comparison."

When Lewis played a solo show at Live from the Cellar, an off-the-cuff house concert series Gibbel hosts in downtown Lancaster, the two became friends. When Lewis asked Gibbel to recommend a bass player, he discovered that Gibbel himself played bass. Gibbel was already a fan of Lewis's songs, and they immediately clicked.

"With a lot of musicians, it takes a lot of coaching to get them to do exactly what you want them to do," Lewis says. "With Josh Gibbel, I felt like I couldn't even give him any direction because it was just so perfect."

Within a few days of Gibbel signing on to play bass, Lewis met Seifarth at a party. She had just gotten out of a band and wanted to play drums. Her voice sealed the deal for Lewis.

"As soon as I heard her sing," he says, "I knew she was it."

The trio had been playing together for only a week when they performed their first gig at Lancaster Dispensing Company in January of this year. They've spent the rest of the year playing together as much as possible.

On a recent tour, they found themselves with an afternoon off. They'd earned a feather in their proverbial cap the night before at Boston's legendary folk club, Club Passim, and were due to play in Brooklyn that night. They decided to drive down the coast and see if they could find an afternoon gig.

"We love to play as much as we can," Lewis says, "so if we have a few hours free and we can play a show, we always try to."

They stopped in Newport, RI, walked through the downtown waterfront and ended up playing at the Fastnet Pub for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

"It was magical," Lewis says. "I mean, we were all high off that show." The impromptu performance ranks among Lewis's favorite shows he's ever played.

"We love to tour," he says. "Being out on the road and playing every night…" He pauses and lets out a sigh and a chuckle. "Coming back to the real world afterwards, it feels like life just kind of sucks a little bit for a while."

But they get plenty of opportunity to play when they're home. They keep a full schedule around South Central PA, and recently recorded their first album together, which comes out early this month.

The band decided they didn't want to crowdsource the funding to underwrite recording and production; they wanted it to be more of a gift to their fans, something they could sell as inexpensively as possible. So they set out to record the highest quality album they could make for the lowest price.

When they compared calendars, they found they only had one opportunity for three consecutive days to record.

"That's when we decided, well, if we want to do this, we're going to have to do it live," Lewis says. The band spent two months working on the material and fine-tuning everyone's parts until they were exactly the way they wanted them to be.

"When you track an album, you can build stuff as you go," Lewis explains, noting that additional details and pieces can be added in as the recording process progresses. "When you're recording everything live, you've got to pretty much know exactly what the album is going to be like in the end, and what you want."

They recorded in their rehearsal space in an old cabin (complete with a sliding board to get from the loft to the floor) just outside Lititz. Lewis, Gibbel and Seifarth were joined by Taylor Brandt on fiddle and Anthony Harnish on Wurlitzer and Rhodes organs and harmonium (Brandt and Harnish also join The Clergy for occasional live performances). Everyone headed to the cabin and worked around the clock, recording 14 songs for what turned out to be a 50-minute album in just 36 hours.

"It was nonstop," Lewis says. "I think we got five hours of sleep each night. Kate and I were up until four in the morning doing vocal tracks, and then at 10 a.m., the full band would start recording again."

What makes it even more remarkable is that they stopped at 5 p.m. on Friday to go play a show in Elizabethtown. Once they finished playing, they went straight back to the cabin to pick up where they left off with recording.

"It was just the craziest experience," Lewis says, "but I am more pleased with this album than I've ever been. I'm so excited for it."

At the end of August, they hit the road again for a string of dates in New England and New York City, and returned to both Fastnet Pub and Club Passim. To have already played those clubs at all, let alone twice in such a short time, is a big deal for Lewis. It's validation of the decisions and sacrifices he's made in pursuing a career in music.

"That was a goal of mine when I decided to be a songwriter," he says. "I had made goals for one year, five years and 10 years, and playing Club Passim was my five-year goal." It took him only two.

Lewis and his band mates may be following in the footsteps of some of their heroes, but they're putting in the time, paying their dues, and forging their own path.




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