Huey Lewis is used to doing things his own way — well, mostly.
He put a three-piece horn section in his backing band when that wasn’t necessarily a popular direction to go. He took up permanent residence on a ranch in Montana, of all places, three decades ago and has remained there. (“More cheese, less rats,” he explained. “I like the outdoors, so more critters, less people — that’s fine with me.”) And now, when he could be content to leave his musical legacy in the hands of his greatest hits, he discloses, “Actually, surprisingly, we’re gonna have a record out,” even as he recognizes that the current state of the industry means it’s probably financially unwise to pursue such a project.
The one instance where he made a concession to convention, he acknowledged, was with his 1983 megahit album “Sports.” Making commercial accessibility a priority back then was not only a necessity for career longevity, but a means to ensure he’d never have to make commercial accessibility a priority again if he didn’t want to.
“We knew we needed a hit, we didn’t know we were gonna have six of ’em! You know what I mean?” Lewis told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview. “And once it hit, we made a deal with ourselves and said, ‘That’s it for commercial. Let’s only do things for creative reasons from now on.’ And we’ve pretty much done that. We really have. We haven’t done ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ didn’t do ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ you know?”
And there have been “three or four” such offers.
Since he’s not busying himself with the likes of “reality” TV, though, he has time to play about 75 concerts a year. Huey Lewis and The News will be performing at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Huey Lewis and The News
With Jamie Kent
When • Thursday, 8 p.m.
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $45-$125; ArtTix
Oh, and he also has time, then, to work on new music, and to make a new album if he wants to.
Why? Well, because creative reasons.
“Exactly. Only. Period,” he said.
“You asked, ‘Why even make a record?’ I’ll tell you why — you’re a storyteller,” Lewis continued. “This is pop music, popular music — it’s not classical, or jazz, where you just look at someone’s virtuosity, this is a participatory art. So your job, as the sort of ringleader of all this, is to call attention to whatever it is that’s going on at that moment right there. That’s it. You’re the ringleader of that night’s party. So, as such, you’re the storyteller. And as a storyteller, you need a new story every now and then. You just do. I mean, nobody really cares, but as long as we throw three songs in there that are new, we live for those three. That’s cool.”
The new album will be the group’s first since 2010’s “Soulsville,” a covers collection done in tribute to Stax Records. It’ll be their first studio album of new, original material since 2001’s “Plan B.”
Beyond that, much remains up in the air for now.
“I don’t know how many songs it’ll have on it. It’ll have eight, it will have eight. Will it have nine? Maybe. I don’t want to dilute it too much — it’s tough to write,” Lewis said. “But we have seven or so things that we’re wild about, so that’s exciting.”
And when might the public hear it?
“Well, we have one song, one song is included in the movie ‘Animal Crackers,’ which is an animated film, which looks like it’s due for release in January or February, something like that. And we can’t release our record ’til after that comes out. But I’m gonna say April, May, something like that,” he said. “With the movie, and with our song coming out, followed by the record, and, by the way, we’re in development for a musical, ‘Heart of Rock ’N’ Roll’ the musical, based on Huey Lewis and The News, the music, we should be right back on top by June or July!”
Lewis can’t help but laugh at the self-deprecating idea that a band whose heyday was 35-ish years ago could suddenly re-emerge to again conquer the scene.
He’s got still more jokes handy when asked how the new stuff compares sonically to what came before.
“Are you ready for this? It’s really, really good!” he exclaims with a laugh, winking at the trope that no artist will ever admit to doing substandard work, before following up by doing exactly that. “I say that, because … since our last original record, ‘Plan B,’ we wrote about five songs and they’re, frankly, not very good. We forced them. … Songs, they either come to you or they don’t. It’s so hard. So, finally, we have a bunch of stuff that I think is great. I literally think it’s some of our best work. Now, will it be our most popular? Probably not.”
Well, that’s honest.
Speaking of which, he entices/warns fans who may be in attendance at the Eccles show that some of the new material will be in the setlist.
“We’ll probably play at least two, maybe three. Maybe four — three probably,” he said. “People don’t wanna hear the new stuff. They wanna hear what they wanna hear.”
So, then, what else will they hear?
“Plenty of hits, plenty of hits,” Lewis said. “We, fortunately, have 17 top-10 hits, so I don’t have to play them all, which is great. We play enough so people recognize it. And sometimes they go home and they think, ‘Oh, s---! They never played “Stuck With You”!’ or whatever. But that’s about it. I don’t think they’d miss it.”
And even if they do, well, he’s gonna do things his way anyway, remember?