Jenny Lewis Has Seen Herself on The Golden Girls Dubbed In Hungarian
Jenny Lewis has been in our good graces for a while now. She writes songs that make people feel nice. She wore a micro-dress to Coachella 2005 which made its way into almost every major article written on the festival that year. She even earned her very own place in our Vice Guide To Girls alphabet (“Thank you for giving us Jenny Lewis. She sings real purdy and has nice hair. Love, Girls”) For these seemingly too-good-to-be-true characters, there always exists a certain risk in meeting them in the flesh. Either they'll disappoint you with their human qualities, or they'll come off as so likeable and cool that you'll be reduced to giggles and mild sweating, trotting around Shepherd's Bush like a grinning idiot. It certainly didn't help matters that she started things off by chatting about how shitty internships can be, and finished by telling me giving me a general pep talk about life and living in a new city. Not to put too fine a point on it, Jenny Lewis is a gem.
Acid Tongue, Lewis' second solo release, is saturated in the soulful authenticity that informed Rilo Kiley, and it's a progression that is both organic and accessible. Though, in the words of my friend Vince, it's still a mystery how such a big voice comes out of something so small.
V: How many times have you been out to London?
JL: Countless. And I always stay at the K West.
V: Yeah Roxie [from Rough Trade] was telling me that for some reason American artists always want to stay here.
JL: Yeah, well I think it's because when you spend your year on the road, being able to come back to a familiar place is really important. And the bar stays open really late here. And the hallways are really long and creepy. Something about the place strikes as a little debaucherous.
V: Bars close at weird times in London. Or maybe I'm thinking specifically of pubs.
JL: Yeah I think they all used to close quite early and then something was passed. Because when I first started touring over here, the only drinks you could have were at a hotel...the...I'm blanking on it...but it was like the rock and roll hotel before the K West became the rock and roll hotel. But they'd have these
rooms with like six or eights beds and if you didn't have a lot of money you could stay at this place, and the bar was open really really late. There was a story about a guy in a band who leapt from like the second story in this hotel and fell and like ruptured his spleen, and still played the show.
V: Oh my God.
JL: And Jonathan Rice climbed into bed there, woke up the next morning, felt something on his leg, reached down and there was like blood and he pulled the sheets back
and realized that there was a broken pint glass in the sheets.
V: That's reminding me of Glasgow, quite generally. I went to school in Scotland. You always hear of that sort of thing happening in hostels. They had to pass that glass-pint glass law because of the pint- glass violence.
JL: Yeah, you know the Glasgow kiss [mimes a headbutt]. And you know what the Glasgow smile is? [mimes face-cutting]
JL: I know.
V:Have you been to Scotland?
JL: I have, we just played in Glasgow actually. And Jonathan, who's in my band, is from there, his family's there, so when we play like twenty aunts and uncles come out.
V: Where were you, the ABC?
JL: The QMU [Queen Margaret Union].
V: Oh last time I was there I saw Regina Spektor. That's a cool venue. So for readers who don't know, you're from Las Vegas?
JL: Born in Las Vegas, yes. I'm really from the Valley.
V: Do you have any relatives still in Nevada.
JL: Um, no. I mean Vegas is a strange place. People go there to work, or to lose their fortune, or find their fortune that they'll never actually get.
V: And I think in the UK it's even more kind of glamourized in a strange way. People from these tiny villages will save for months to be able to get a flight out to this weird desert wasteland.
JL: Well it's so corporate. It's like Knottsberry Farm for adults. Or Coyote Ugly on display for all to vomit upon.
V: And then you were a child actor. Or did some acting as a child.
JL: Yeah, I was a "child actor."
V: That's how you'd classify it.
JL: Yeah I think so.
V: And Wikipedia told me this morning that you were in a series with Lucille Ball.
JL: Yeah, when I was quite young. I was about eleven years old. All I really remember that the show was poorly received and was cancelled after just a few episodes. And I was crying, and it was over. And she hadn't been incredibly warm to me the entire time, it was kind of a tough love scenario where if I hadn't learned my lines she would call me on it, that sort of thing. But she found me sort of crying in the corner and she took me on her lap and told me it would be OK.
JL: Yeah it was sweet.
V: And then your fellow band [Rilo Kiley] member Blake Sennett was on Salute Your Shorts --
JL: Which I've never seen!
V: Really? See I found that out this morning and I thought if I ever meet him I'd probably poop my pants.
JL: I always get really defensive if people yell "Pinksy" while we're playing. I mean he gets harassed more than I do. I guess it's just a generational thing. I missed that generation of like, Nickelodeon. But people love that freaking show.
V: Yeah, and my hazy memory of it is that he wasn't even in a load of episodes. His character left after a while. That's funny. Did you meet in the context of acting?
JL: No we were introduced by a friend of ours, a girl called Tara Subkoff, who actually started the clothing line Imitation of Christ [co-directed by Chloe Sevigny and previously modelled by Scarlet Johansson]. But she introduced us knowing that we both played music separately, thinking that we might get along. And we actually didn't get along at all. We fought immediately, but we managed to write a couple of songs between us.
V: I want to talk about the years 2003 and 2004. It sounds like that was a big year. And correct me if I'm wrong but you did the vocals for The Postal Service in 2003 [on their debut album Give Up].
JL: I don't know, was it?
V: Yeah, I think 2003 or 2004, and More Adventurous definitely came out in 2004. And it seems to me that around that time you got a lot of women were showing up on the sort of 'indie scene'. You had Ladytron, The Sounds, The Donnas and you getting a lot of publicity. Did you feel going into it that it was a largely male field?
JL: You know I tend to not think in that way, but I feel like almost every field is kind of male-dominated. I mean I'm not one to burn a bra, but I guess I always tried to 'keep up with the boys' a little bit. But in 2004 we were just playing and writing songs which were dear to us, and the whole thing kind of happened around us.
V: With Acid Tongue, you're getting a lot of people saying that it has this distinct sound to it that's more folk-ey and soul-ey than previous albums.
V: But I find that interesting because all of the elements of that style really are there in the previous albums, fairly consistently.
JL: I feel the same way. It [Acid Tongue] is not too far off from early Rilo Kiley. Even on More Adventurous there's a song called 'I Never' and that was very much like that. I think people need to come up with a way to describe things -- they need a story and they need a tag line. And the only real difference with this record is that I recorded a lot of it live which I'd never really done before, so it freed me up a lot vocally.
V: I was going to ask about that. Did you need to train in any different way for live recording?
JL: No, I'd been on the road with Rilo Kiley, and that particular tour was the hardest one I had ever done vocally. The songs on Under the Blacklight were just really hard to physically sing, and we created a set that had songs like 'Does He Love You', so my chops were well polished. And I went into the studio and really just sang my heart out.
V: Have you ever had any vocal blunders on stage?
JL: Oh you know there are always a couple of missed notes. But I come from show-people, so even if I mess up I tend to act like it never happened. And people tend not to notice if you really commit to the mistake. But on my record there are actually a couple little flubs that I decided to keep. Or I had to rather because it was all live. I didn't want to go in and chop it up.
V: And you collaborated with Zooey Deschanel ?
JL: A couple of the tracks actually.
V: I was going to say, there's one where it's very clearly her with you, but others where it's much more subtle, which is really nice. But I thought that was interesting because you both [after the release of Acid Tongue and She and Him's debut album Volume 1] got characterised in that same way, as a calculatedly moving toward folk.
JL: She's got an amazing voice, and she's an amazing performer. And I just try to reach out to other female musicians as much as I can. I think it's really important to support other girls and appreciate what they do and try to work with them. Like working with the Watson Twins was so great to be able to just have that energy, and so I wanted to extend that to Zooey. And my friend Vanessa Corbala, who also sings a lot with Zooey on the record, she's in this band called Whispertown 2000. That's my best friend's band and she writes the songs and they're amazing, and I just wanted to extend whatever I had to my friends so that they could be a part of it.
V: You and Zooey have sort of similar backgrounds with the acting preceding the singing.
JL: Although she still is sort of crushing it as an actress, whereas I'm not sure if I'm a good actress. I think that's what separates us.
V: Do you have any sort of desire to go back to acting?
JL: It's been a really long time. Ten years I think. I don't know, I sort of can't visualize it, and again I'm not sure if I have the skills to not embarrass myself. Right now music consumes my life and I can't imagine putting that aside to pursue something else.
V: Are you working on anything new now or are you just focusing all your energy on Acid Tongue?
JL: I'm focusing on this because I did so much in such a short period of time. I put out Rabbit Fur Coat in 2006, Under the Blacklight in 2007 and then this one. So I've put out a record a year and I've written a tonne of songs which didn't get on those records, so right now I feel sort of creatively tired. I'm not writing a lot right now. I feel like I need to go on a trip. Not a psychadelic one. But you know, a lone journey where I go and figure some shit out.
V: It seems sort of bittersweet that you get to travel so much but I'm guessing you're sort of preoccupied when you do.
JL: I enjoy it in the sense that when you play in a city you get to meet the people who work at the clubs, and you get to have these really special moments. But I'm typically drunk when that happens because it's usually after the show. But yeah I guess it would be nice to, you know, take a stroll through Hyde Park.
V: What has been your favourite city to play in, globally?
JL: Los Angeles. The homecoming shows are always great. But Glasgow is also great, the people are so cool there.
V: Yeah to harp on about Scotland again, I always find it really interesting how metropolitan Glasgow is. Parts of it remind me of San Francisco or LA or Boston. But then you have Edinburgh which is like this fairy wonderland and is completely medieval, but still manages to have its own musical scene.
JL: It's so beautiful there. It's breath-taking. Have you ever been on those haunted tours?
V: I haven't, but I knew some girls at university who lived right above the spot where the guy jumps out from behind the grave at the end of the midnight tours. So every single night at midnight there were these like blood-curdling screams. I think it took them a few nights to figure out what it was.
JL: Oh no! I went with Pierre from Rilo Kiley, and it was really, really scary! I think I'd just seen Hostel. But then during this one part where they blow out a candle while you're standing there in the dark in this ancient place where terrible things have supposedly happened --I don't know if someone came up behind me and flicked my ear, if it was like a plant or what, but it was the most terrifying moment of my life. Because it really felt like someone flicked my ear.
V: Yeah I've heard that. Half of the people leave and think it was kind of cheesy and fun, and half of the people have genuinely terrifying experiences. My friend Glen's sister had a panic attack, I think.
JL: I haven't had any supernatural experiences in my life, I don't think. But that was the closest thing, in Edinburgh.
V: Apparently it's the most haunted city in the world, but when I was there I was always living in these modern flats.
JL: You gotta get yourself a castle, girl.
V: I know! Have you toured in the EU and outside the UK?
JL: Never Prague. Never Belarus. I'd like to play in Belarus. They have a dance competition that they syndicate across Europe, and if you're up late enough and you have jetlag and you turn on the telly you might stumble upon one of these strange competitions where these little girls are lip-synching to techno.
V: I went to Prague recently and it's a really cool city, but whenever you're in a relatively low-profie part of the EU, the TV is the weirdest and best part. That's half the fun of being there. Even if it's just like watching Grey's Anatomy in German.
JL: I've actually seen myself dubbed over on the Golden Girls in Hungarian.
V: Oh my God. That's got to be one of those moments in life that you'll cherish forever.
JL: You sort of think to yourself, Who am I? What a strange life.
V: Was there a time in your career when you were starting to get recognition that you wanted to divorce the acting and musician chapters of your life?
JL: Well I was embarrassed initially. Because at that point I had been playing music for a long time and I had written so many songs that it felt separate. But I think now I've come to terms with it a little bit, because it's a unique part of my life, not many people have had the experiences I've had and met the people I've met. And I think in this strange way it informed my song-writing, which is really a unique perspective to have.
V: It's interesting because like we were saying about the generational gap, these shows like Golden Girls are having these sort of semi-ironic come-backs, and it's given you a ton of street cred!
JL: That's my life! That's my strange life. And I don't remember a lot of it. I started when I was very young. But when I see myself back then it truly seems like a different person.
V: You said your parents were in show business as well?
JL: They were musicians. They had a band together in Las Vegas where I was born. My mother went into labour on stage at the Sands. But music was what we did, and acting just became a very practical extension of that because they were struggling musicians and really poor, and when you live in Los Angeles and your kid is a little weird it's a sure-fire meal-ticket.
V: Were they protective of you knowing what the industry was like?
JL: I think it was more legit than anything they'd been a part of, so I think they were sort of starstruck by the whole thing. And I was just an unruly child and they just put trust in that.
V: Well I need to take some pictures of you now.
JL: Can we have the veggie burger in them?