Huey Lewis & the News was a hit-making machine in the ’80s and early ’90s, with a string of slick pop-rock-soul hits like “I Want a New Drug,” “The Heart of Rock ’n’ Roll,” “The Power of Love,” and “Hip to Be Square.” A new album, a tribute to Stax Records, is slated for this fall. The band performs at the Silver Legacy, 407 N.Virginia St., on Saturday, Aug. 14.
Tell me about the current tour. How’s it going?
Good. We’re doing some new stuff. We’ve been working on a new record, so we’re doing some of the new stuff. We play as good as we ever have. I don’t know why at this ripe old age …
So you’re doing a new album?
We are. It’s a rhythm and blues tribute record. We did kind of a tribute to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Our first engineer, who engineered Picture This and Sports with us is originally a Memphis guy. He was a Stax engineer years ago, and he went back there. So we had the idea of doing a tribute thing, so we got a nice selection of tunes—not the obvious ones, many of which I think people won’t recognize …
So not, like, “Knock on Wood” …
Then we went down to Ardent Studios in Memphis—historic Ardent Studios—and cut the thing pretty much live in three weeks.
When do you plan to put it out?
This fall. Probably November.
Do you have a title yet?
Not quite. Almost.
And it’s all Stax stuff?
It’s 90 percent Stax. There’s a Joe Tex tune on there that technically isn’t a Stax tune. There’s a [Wilson] Pickett thing that was an Atlantic record, but it’s kind of Stax.
We did one Otis Redding tune. We did “Just Another Day,” which is not an obvious one, and we did a couple Johnnie Taylor things, a couple of William Bell songs.
“I Forgot to Be Your Lover”?
Nope … Solomon Burke, a couple of those. A Rufus Thomas tune. … We cut it pretty much live. We had a four piece horn section, and they gave us studio B for the horns, and A for the band, so we cut nine or 10 pieces live.
I think the most recent new thing I’ve heard from you was the theme song for Pineapple Express.
It’s a really fun movie …
Yeah, it was a fun movie.
… and the song fit the vibe of the movie really well.
Yeah, that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want a reggae pot song, they wanted an up tempo thing to take ’em out of there, so … They were nice guys, Seth [Rogen] and Judd Apatow. They’re good guys.
You’ve done some acting in the past. I really like you in Short Cuts.
Thanks. That was a crash course in acting. The best part about Short Cuts is that I got to ride to the location, from L.A. to Bakersfield … I just remembered—I’m in San Diego tonight and [director Robert] Altman’s wife is coming to the show tonight—good thing you just reminded me of that. Anyway, [Altman] drove me to the location, out to Bakersfield … so that was a nice three-hour trip, and we talked the whole time, and he gave me his whole acting philosophy, which was fabulous.
Straight from the source of Robert Altman.
How good is that?
Pretty great. Your big scene in that movie is when you find a dead body while taking a pee. Were you actually taking a pee?
Some guys will do anything for show business.
[Laughs.] I’ll do anything for attention. I’m in show business. I’ll do anything for attention or money, and usually in that order.
Another movie I’m curious about—there’s that scene in American Psycho when he kills a guy while describing your discography. What’s your reaction to that scene?
I’ve never seen the scene. I had to boycott the movie. … They wanted to use a song. The book came out, and [the scene] was in the book, and we read about it, and clearly [author Bret] Easton Ellis was a fan. He was very astute actually—and in the Phil Collins one and the Tina Turner as well—which was kind of fun. So then they asked us if we’ll give them a song for the film, and they told us it was going to be gruesome, but it had Willem Dafoe, and it’s an artistic thing, so, “Sure, of course, no problem.”
Then, on the eve of the release of the movie, they contact my manager—I’m on the road—and they say they want to do a soundtrack. He says, “What do you mean?” and they send him a sample CD that has our tune, I think a Phil Collins tune, and a bunch of source music.
My manager called me … and said, “What do you think? They want to do a soundtrack.”
“Did they ever mention that before?”
I said, “What’s the deal with it?”
He says, “Well, it’s not a very good record. It’s only got us, another song, and a bunch of source music, and actually it’s kind of unfair to ask our fans to buy this thing just for one track.”
So I said, “Why don’t we politely decline?”
He said, “OK. We’ll do it. … No thanks.” Boom.
Then, on the eve of the release of the movie, they issued a press release to everybody in the world that said Huey Lewis is pulling his tune from the soundtrack because he’d seen the film and it was too violent. Which was bullshit. I’d never even seen the film. So I boycotted the picture, unfortunately.
Well, it’s a funny scene.
Yeah, I know, I’ve heard all about it.
It’s a really good use of your music in a movie …
And I got paid.
I was born in 1980. When I was 5 years old, Back to the Future was the big movie, so my favorite song in the world from about age 5 to 7, was “Power of Love.”
Far out. You were born in 1980? Goddamn. How do you feel? You’re 30 years old, huh?
30 years old, yeah.
What’s it like to be 30 years old? Well, I know. My kid’s 26.
It’s pretty cool. I’m getting married in a week. We’ll play “Power of Love” at the reception.
Thanks. That’ll be good.
For a lot of people my age, your music is really synonymous with that time period. Does that ever feel like a burden or is it kind of exciting that when people think of the mid ’80s, they immediately think of you?
It’s interesting. You know, there’s such a thing as ’80s bands, and although most of our success was in the ’80s, I don’t consider ourselves to be an ’80s band. We were sort of anachronistic then. We were old-fashioned then. … Most of us come from jazz parents and stuff, and we started just pre-MTV, so it was an audio thing for us. I mean, we don’t have any tattoos. I don’t have any tattoos. I don’t think anybody has a tattoo. If we’d started four years later, if I thought it would have made any difference, I’d get tattooed head to foot. It was just an audio thing for us.
It was all about audio, and then MTV came along. We did one video that they hired this fashion guy to do, and they had us in rouge makeup, and all this stuff, pastel colors, for “Do You Believe in Love.” I thought it was cringe-worthy when I saw it. It was that bad. Being that we were producing our own records at the time, I said, “Well, screw it, we might as well do our own videos from now on, what the heck.” So then we directed, or certainly conceived, or in many cases co-directed our videos, so we were able to control them and determine what our quote-unquote image was going to be.
Well, the era when MTV actually played music videos was only like 15 years, and I feel like your videos were iconic videos of that era.
Yeah, probably because of the timing more than anything else. Our view was that it was a shame to have to retell the story in a video when you’d already written it in a song. My idea was to zig if the song zags, or zag if the song zigs, and avoid a literal translation. And we did most of our videos outside in San Francisco, because we’re from San Francisco, and that would establish—we’d let the seagulls do the work, let the seagulls chew the scenery. And that’s what we did. We did Portero Hill, all four sides of Portero Hill.
While I was getting ready for you to call, I just watched the video for “I Want a New Drug.” It holds up pretty well. I miss those ’80s babes.
That gal is Signy Coleman, who was on … The Young and the Restless, she ended up being a real big star.
Have you done a new drug lately? One that won’t make you nervous?
No, I’m going the other way, man. [Laughs.] I’m not as young as I used to be. You got to look after yourself. You’ll see. It’ll happen to you too.