Jenny Lewis has been charming the L.A. music scene since her days in Rilo Kiley. With her most recent solo album, The Voyager, she has found her strongest voice. KCRW invited 200 fans to a taping of Morning Becomes Eclectic at Bob Clearmountain’s Apogee Studios with Lewis as the guest and KCRW DJ Gary Calamar as host. If you weren’t one of the chosen few, you can still see the show and interview.
In the six years since her last solo album, Acid Tongue, Lewis told Calamar that she did some acupuncture in Tarzana and dipped her toe into film scoring.
“Writing a song, I think I understand how to do that at this point. Scoring a movie, not so much. It’s a lot of trial and error. Less is more,” Lewis said of her work with Jonathan Rice on Song One, a drama starring Anne Hathaway, Mary Steenburgen, and English folk musician Johnny Flynn. “It was great to write from a male perspective. He’s very sensitive.”
Life has rolled on for Lewis, and The Voyager doesn’t shy away from those struggles. The album’s first single, “Just One of the Guys,” revolves around her mindfulness of her biological clock and skepticism of maternal expectations. It does so with wry humor, self-awareness, and perhaps even resignation, a heavy mix all wrapped up in a sunny Californian sound. Few artists can achieve that balance the way Lewis does. Many trace that back to Laurel Canyon influences such as Fleetwood Mac and Linda Rondstadt.
“I am a fan of the Mac Attack,” Lewis says. “Linda Rondstadt, though—my mom had all her records. I used to listen to her all the time and stare at the vinyl because, well, Linda, what a babe.”
After living in Silver Lake for years and watching the neighborhood change, Lewis eventually moved to Laurel Canyon. “I wanted to live out in the woods,” she says. “And so I communed with nature, from the inside looking out. Thanks, Netflix.”
Laurel Canyon’s music scene doesn’t exist the way it did in the 1970s, but Lewis says, “The spirit of Laurel Canyon is still alive.” That spirit needed a little prodding to help her finish The Voyager, though.
“In my non-denominational way, I prayed for a spirit guide. I looked out on the Canyon and said, ‘Please send me someone to help me finish this record,’” she says. And Ryan Adams appeared though he wasn’t what she expected. “But he provided a safe environment where it was just about the songs and the music and the band. I don’t think he would take credit for that. I think he’d be like, ‘Oh, it wasn’t like a therapy session or anything. We just cut some tracks.’ But he was really important in that year in my life.”
His methods included making Lewis listen to Creed. “He sat me down midway and said, ‘Lewis, I have something I want you to hear.’ He has an incredible hi-fi situation at [his studio] Pax Am and he just started blasting Creed. One song. OK. My ears start bleeding. Five songs in, I’m like, ‘What is this method?’ He still hasn’t explained it, but I think I sort of got it. I think.”
The idea for The Voyager Wine came, she says, after a bout of insomnia. Her friend and fellow songwriter Jesse Harris recommended natural wine and referred her to Jill Bernheimer, owner of Hollywood wine shop Domaine L.A.
“Like a doctor, Jill fixed me up real good,” she says. She began to think this would be a fun, collaborative way to promote the new record. Lewis got a kick out of a review that called The Voyager Wine “quaffable.”
“There’s that quote from Sideways: ‘Quaffable, but not transcendent,’” Lewis says with a laugh. “But our wine is quite transcendent. It’s The Voyager.”
Jenny Lewis played:
Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley song)
Just One of the Guys
The Moneymaker (Rilo Kiley song)
She’s Not Me
Jenny Lewis and Ryan Adams will perform together at the Fox Theater Pomona on Dec. 11 and The Masonic in San Diego on Dec. 14.