Arwen Lewis, the daughter of Moby Grape’s Peter Lewis premieres the cover of her father’s classic “Sittin’ By The Window” with a warm, sunny arrangement that casts beams of light on Arwen’s voice. The games of life played out and on are expressed in a form that continues the 1967 San Francisco summer of love, expanded consciousness, and earthy folk-stemmed progressions where the lyrics and notes wander like the mind’s constant stream of thoughts and observances. From her album Arwen that combines covers from Moby Grape’s eponymous album from ’67, Wow/Grape Jam, and Moby Grape ’69; Lewis takes on the characters, subjects, and lyrics and provides a new perspective and modern female folk approach that introduces a modern holistic element to these 60s LP pop standards.
“Sittin’ By The Window” encapsulates the feel of a mellow day spent watching events and life unfold in a manner that entertains inner thought musings simultaneously. The arrangement echoes the experiences observed from sunrise to sunset, where Arwen evokes the narrative of an absent other whose presence (and/or lack thereof) is portrayed in an analogy like weather trends and rain cycles that keeps the imagination and heart reeling. Her cover creates a sense of time’s passage, coupling and counting the chronological distances, measurements, and similes that work as vehicles that simultaneous provide a sense of kindred comfort as well as the pangs of a pensive solitude all at the same time. Lewis vocals are untouched, providing a natural cadence that calls upon loves lost like weather gone past in a way that moves convection patterns recalled and acknowledge from the sill that looks out into the wide expanses of the world. Following the listen to the Moby Grape cover, read our interviews with both Arwen and Peter Lewis after the jump.
Describe for us the first time you heard the self-titled Moby Grape album.
Well, I’m not sure if I recall the first time I heard Moby Grape’s first album. Their music was something that was background music for me during my childhood and adolescence, something that was played occasionally at home or in the car on road trips, along with other music from artists like The Byrds or Bob Dylan. By chance, the only distinct memory I have of listening to Moby Grape then, is hearing the song “Changes” in the car, I was with my family driving down the 101 freeway.
However, I do recall when I really started listening to Moby Grape’s music. I was a teenager, and a friend of mine had actually been playing a CD of Moby Grape’s hits that my father had given him, and it was my friend who re-introduced their music to me. After that Moby Grape became another one of my favorite bands. I felt like the band and their music was a hidden gem, and I had never really listened to anything quite like it. I was fascinated by their orchestration of raw instruments, their eclectic group of songs, and the five unique band-members who each offered their own one-of-a-kind artistry.
Being so close in relation, when did you decide that you were going to cover the entire 1967 album?
Well, I didn’t exactly cover the entire first album. On my album Arwen, there are eight songs from the first Moby Grape album, two songs from the second album Wow, and two from their third album Moby Grape ’69.
The idea to do an album of classic Moby Grape songs came from the producer of this project, John DeNicola. My father and I had sent John some material that we had been recording, and included in that was a song by Skip Spence, “Indifference,” and Bob Mosley’s “It’s a Beautiful Day Today.” John, being a long-time Moby Grape fan, enjoyed what we had done with the songs, and suggested we make and album of Moby Grape classics, with my voice on lead vocals. He, my father, and I felt like it would be a unique and fresh approach to the music to have one female voice interpret a group of songs from Moby Grape’s eclectic group of five male songwriters.
What sorts of challenges and personal breakthroughs did you discover along the way?
Since I am a young woman interpreting a group of songs written by a group of men who lived in a different world than where I live now, in the beginning of this project, I thought a lot about how I would maintain the authenticity of the original material, while simultaneously portraying a modern and feminine perspective.
A little ways into the project, and after introducing myself to a new and eclectic group of performers and songwriters—like Tim Hardin, Billie Holiday, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Hank Williams etc—I noticed something that all of these artists have in common: they are all unique individuals who use music to tell stories. Weather they wrote their own material or interpreted someone else’s work, their performances stay true to the songs’ character while delivering the music with a unique sound.
After a fair amount of thought, I realized the best way to approach these songs was to stay true to the music and the characters in each song and to view myself as a muse for the music and stories. By approaching it this way, I feel that the authenticity to Moby Grape’s music has been maintained in my recordings, while expressing a modern female approach from allowing my voice to just deliver the songs.
What brought you to apply this understated rustic folk lens interpretation of these songs?
I like to think of using my voice as an instrument, something that does a dance with the guitars, bass, drums, background vocals, strings…the ‘understated rustic folk lens’ that my vocal offers on songs like “Sittin’ By The Window” or “It’s A Beautiful Day Today,” is something that we all felt worked with the music when we were recording.
What other recordings and adventures are next for Arwen Lewis?
At the moment my father and I have been recording original material that both he and I have written separately and together. Songs that feature my voice on lead vocals, and my father and I on guitars for now, but we are still in the beginning stages of another album. I’m envisioning playing some piano on my next album, and some bass guitar too, maybe even the blues harp. So far this next group of songs is a collection of Jazz, Blues, Classic Country, Folk, Psychedelic Rock, and Rock and Roll.
As far as live performances are concerned, I’m looking forward to performing my album Arwen live, as well my father and I continuing our acoustic shows, where he and I tell stories, and play and sing some of our favorite songs, originals and covers.
Arwen’s father Peter Lewis of the legendary band Moby Grape talked to us as well:
Thoughts on how Arwen’s interpretation of Moby Grape’s 1967 self-titled, and
how do you think her sentimental folk renderings transformed the album?
Emotionally speaking, Arwen got as close to the original recording as possible, being a female singer.
What have you been listening to lately that you enjoy?
Lately, I’ve been listening to Kenny Rankin and Miles Davis.
Thoughts on the enduring legacy of Moby Grape?
I don’t know exactly how to answer this, I am too subjective about it. Moby Grape is an identity for me, and I am still writing songs.