Jenny Lewis Is Back

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Jenny Lewis has always been a prolific storyteller, and On the Line—her fourth studio album, out tomorrow by Warner Bros.—is a true testament to that. The former chid star and Rilo Kiley singer’s writing chops are on full display throughout the 11-track LP, her first solo album since the release of her critically acclaimed album The Voyager in 2014. Laced with Lewis’ unique, L.A.-style grit and infused with the star-studded backing of music legends like Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, The Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, Don Was, and Beck, On the Line is shimmery, melodic gold. It’s worth noting that much of the production was done by frequent collaborator Ryan Adams, though Lewis declined to comment further on the recent allegations against him.

Lewis pegs On the Line as a rebound record, “and not just in the romantic sense,” she tells CR, alluding to the recent death of her mother, who also inspired her album cover. She also describes is as a “play,” a continuation of sorts from her past few albums. Still, On the Line sees a slower, more emotional version of Lewis—not any less raw, just slightly more visceral. A product of the mid-aughts indie-rock explosion (she’ll open for Death Cab For Cutie later this year), the 43-year-old Las Vegas native says that at its core, On the Line is a story about “recovering, falling down, and getting back up again.” Below, the songstress opens up to CR about her most personal album yet.

On the Line, your first solo album in five years, is being released tomorrow. How are you feeling right now?
“I’m excited. It’s been a long process with this album. I started writing for it four or five years ago, and there were many bumps in the road along the way. It took a whole community of people to help me finish it. It went through many incarnations, and I worked really hard on it for a really long time. I feel relieved that it’s done.”

How is On the Line different from The Voyager and Acid Tongue and some of your other past albums?
“It’s a continuation of all of the work that I’ve done. In that sense, it’s not different at all. I’m telling at story that started about 25 years ago, and the albums reflect that. My collaborators along the way have informed the sound, but lyrically, the story has been somewhat the same. And it’s followed me throughout my life—as a teenager, in my 20s and 30s, and now in my 40s. I really feel like it’s a volume in a series.”

What’s the story about?
“It’s about me, of course. How I see the world and relationships and being a woman and growing and learning and accepting and grieving and loving. I think it’s the spiritual half of an artist.”

You have quite a few contributions from fellow artists on this album. In particular, how did the Ringo Starr collaboration come about?
“It was magic. I don’t know exactly. I put together a band for the record, starting with Jim Keltner, Benmont Tench, Don Was. I believe Don reached out to Ringo, and I think the idea was that Jim and Ringo would play double drums together like they had many years previously at The Concert for Bangladesh. The excitement was this idea of double drumming, and then Ringo ended up playing by himself on ‚Heads Gonna Roll,‘ the first song on the album. That was just one of those magical moments. I mean, I would never think to ask Ringo Starr to play my music, but it was truly one of the most exciting moments of my life, being in the room with him and playing and singing live with his drumming. A dream come true.”

Are there any specific tracks on the album that you’re especially excited about or hope resonate with listeners?
“I really think of the album as a play. It tells a story front to back. I think it begins as a breakup record, but it really is more of a rebound record—and not necessarily in the romantic sense. It’s hard to isolate a track. However, the center of the record, the emotional center, is the song called ‚Dogwood,‘ which is a live vocal and piano track. I think it really encapsulates the feeling of the record. It’s my favorite one.”

You released “Heads Gonna Roll” on Valentine’s Day. Was that deliberate?
“Well, initially, I wanted to release the whole record on Valentine’s Day, but we couldn’t get our shit together in time. I thought it would be cool to release kind of like a breakup-rebound record on Valentine’s Day. And I had all this merch in mind, like those little candies, but with different phrases. Instead of ‚I love you,‘ ‚F*ck you.‘ You can imagine. Anyway, it had to be a single, and ‚Heads Gonna Roll‘ opens the record for a reason. Coincidentally, it dropped on Valentine’s Day. But it chronicles relationships. That’s vague—I know.”

Can you talk about the meaning behind “Red Bull & Hennessy”? Is it a metaphor or is that your go-to drink order?
“Oh, god no. I’m so sorry I’ve put that into the consciousness as a cocktail recipe. Really, it’s a metaphor for a feeling. It’s evocative of a feeling. When you think of yourself on Red Bull, you’re just kind of wiry. I think people are trying to make a cocktails with that and I don’t condone that, but if you do, use the ingredients sparingly.”

You’re embarking on tour next week. Any cities you’re particularly excited about?
“I go everywhere always. That’s just part of the gig. I’m a gypsy. I mean, there’s certain places I like less than others, but I find my beat in every town. There’s always a coffeeshop to visit, a vintage store, a yoga class if I’m feeling up for it. You’ll find me in any city wandering the streets solo. Now that this whole scooter thing has happened, which I haven’t really indulged in yet, you might see me scooting along, heading toward the nearest Salvation Army. I actually had a dream I was on one of those scooters last night. I just remembered. I have mixed feelings about those scooters. I think they’re interesting, but also people just drop them on the side of the road willy nilly. It’s dangerous. What’s wrong with people?”

Can you speak on the visual aspect of this album? How do you hope the message of On the Line translates onto the stage?
“I’m putting together some DIY lights for the show, which I’ve never been able to do. I’ve never had lights. I could never afford to do lights because you have to travel with a lighting person. It’s really expensive; you need a truck. I feel like there’s all these LED things at party shops that somehow we could incorporate into the live show. So, if it ends up being, like, a giant lava lamp, so be it. Imagine I go to Spencer’s at the mall and buy the whole floor?”

Why is now the right time to incorporate lighting into your show?
“Well, it makes your job a little easier up there. When you see a big rock show with lights, that helps tell the story. But when you’re a DIY indie rocker, you kind of just have to tell the whole story with your guitar and your lungs. The tone is only in the music, which is great. I can put on a show—I have for years without the help of that kind of production, but I like the idea of creating a mood that feels kind of like a play, like the record. I’m kind of upping my costume situation a little bit, too. Although, I do the rainbow suits and that’s hard to top, but I do want to present a more refined, dressier version of myself.”

What kind of style are you going for on tour?
“Human disco ball.”

Speaking of fashion, you recently attended Rodarte’s Fall/Winter 2019 show in L.A. What other designers or brands are you excited about right now?
“I love the new Gucci. Whatever Gucci’s been doing for the last three years, I’m completely on board. I just bought a pair of little loafers on eBay. I don’t tend to buy designer retail—I can’t bring myself to do it—so all of my designer stuff is used on eBay. I have an amazing pair of Saint Laurent snake ankle boots that I bought used. I’ve been wearing them every day for about three years. I got to wear some of the new Gucci pieces for a shoot I did recently. I think they’re weirdly in the palette of my album cover.”

Can you speak on the aesthetic of the cover for On the Line?
“It’s the same crop as my last album, The Voyager. It’s basically the same photo, but I’m wearing something that reflects the new music and how I feel now. It’s a reference to my mother, who was a performer in Las Vegas and wore a very similar costume on stage in the ‘70s. My birthmark is exactly the same as hers. It’s sort of the center of the photo—the jumpsuit is like a window for this little mole. It’s a nod to my mom and her costumes, which she somehow convinced Bob Mackie to design. So, it’s a Bob Mackie wink and a loving shout-out to my mother, who passed away in 2017. The album cover is for her. Let your freak flag fly!”

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