posted 2012-12-18 18:42:05

The Harmonica Lewinskies

Born of infidelity, creating harmony 

Apneet Kaur

Features Editor


The Lewinskies. Photo courtesy of etalentshowcase.com.
Legend has is the band members of the Harmonica Lewinskies were born of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, therefore putting to rest the former president’s line, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” for good. At least, that’s the story drummer Oliver Fetter is sticking to about the origins of the group. Guitarists and singers Dan McClane, English, ‘13 and William Simpson, ‘12, stick to this alibi as well, claiming they’ve known each other since birth.

History aside, the Harmonica Lewinskies consist of ten young men. Their sound can be described as “big band,” with a nod to jazz groups of the past. The full lineup of members includes Robert Bottega, Simpson and McClane on guitar and vocals; Zebedee Row on bass; Devin Calderin on keyboard; Fetter on drums; Jake Warren, Chris Lucca and Hendry Kandel on saxophone; and Marco Sanchez on trombone. The Lewinskies are multi-instrumentalists, who utilize each other’s talents in a way that best fits each particular piece. Instrumentation often changes from song to song, keeping the audience on its toes. The band’s website describes their sound as “a modernization of the spirit of the American South [with] a strict helping of delta blues revival and a heavy diet in rock and roll.”

Although the wind instrumentalists joined the band later, Fetter says, “Everyone that has contributed at one point or another is considered a Lewinsky in my mind.” A sense of brotherhood is visible in the group’s live shows. They play with sensitivity and accompany each other on various instruments in a way that only a tight knit group can display.

The band’s shows feel more like an invitation to hang at a jam session than an actual stage performance. In the down time between songs there is chitter chatter provided by the outspoken McClane, and interludes from other members. During a performance at Piano’s on Nov. 17, he did the splits while someone yelled back, “You’re an English major!” There isn’t a single dull moment, as the Lewinskies absolutely take command of the stage with their theatrics and in-your-face sound. Syncopated rhythms are highlighted with horn hits, and vocals can turn from melodious to screaming in an instant.

Inspiration for the group’s sound comes from many sources. Fetter says his biggest influences are “Wilco, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Disco Biscuits, Louis Armstrong, Phish and Nirvana,” just to name a few. With members using models of sound from such a broad range of genres, it’s no wonder the Lewinskies can’t be boxed into one musical category. Simpson adds, “I draw inspiration from these guys, their sense of humor, our friends, our city and all the things I love and hate about life.”

At rehearsal, songs form in a variety of ways. “Usually someone comes with a small idea, a chorus, a riff, a lyrical theme, and we bounce stuff off each other,” says Simpson. “Very often, lyrics come from conversation or jokes among ourselves and we start obsessing over the idea of composing such a song so we don’t stop working at it till it’s done.” McClane adds, “When something works, it tends to seem very natural and instinctual.”

Rehearsals are much like shows in terms of energy levels, but there is more experimentation and sectional practice, says McClane. Fetter adds that, “The horns [are] figuring out their parts while drums and bass mess around and then there is always Dan making some obnoxious noise in the corner.” However, the constant playful and joking interactions within the group are just a part of their personality. The reason this up and coming band is gaining fans and gigs left and right is because of their work ethic and dedication to the music.

Octopus Wall Street, the band’s first album, was released last July. Recorded in Brooklyn at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, the band pressed CD copies and released it on bandcamp.com, iTunes, Spotify and Amazon. The record consists of upbeat tracks with driving rhythms. All but one song, “Tabitha King,” start with a solo guitar, with sounds being layered on as the tunes continue. The groove swings heavily, and the back-up vocals are rich with sung lines and shouts.

With experience touring parts of the East Coast, and Octopus Wall Street and an EP entitled Oval Orifice already under their belt, the band is currently recording a new demo. Fetter hopes to have a Lewinskies music video in the works soon, and McClane has submitted the band to the South by Southwest Festival. According to McClane, what keeps the group’s desire to make music is “the fear of having to work at a nine-to-five job, the fear of learning any basic skills, and the desire to be immortal.” Their goal is to continue making music and head out for a tour during the summer of 2013.

Highlighting different members for different songs and taking turns with being the lead singer on each track is what sets the Lewinskies apart from other cookie cutter performers who stick to one thing. The Lewinskies are trailblazing their own path with a sound that’s too big to ignore, and enough personality to charm entire crowds show after show.

All information about the band’s shows, music and booking can be found at http://theharmonicalewinskies.com.