First Person: Jenny Lewis | KCET
First Person: Jenny Lewis
Singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis performs a set of upbeat and sophisticated songs on Artbound Presents Studio A, interweaving energetic indie rock infused with subtle country and and pop style.
Discover more about Jenny Lewis in her own words.
On her connection to the Valley
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. I grew up in Van Nuys, off of Van Nuys Boulevard. Throughout my songwriting career it's always been a reference point. That's where I spent my formative years. That's where I watched the L.A. riots on television when I was a teenager. That's where I bought my first hip-hop record at the music shop down the street. That's where I had my first kiss. So I always reference where I am from and at this point in my life, after having gone through a long break between records and some personal struggles I returned to the place where I grew up to heal in a way. I'd drive around my old neighborhood and it sort of helped me remember where I came from and how far I have come since then. In your 30s, certain things appear and your suddenly faced with mortality and your own purpose in this life. I think a lot of these big questions struck me. I did actually get hypnotized in the valley.
On her song "The Voyager"
I wanted to end the album, the title track, "The Voyager" is the final song on the album and I wanted to leave it very open ended. The song sort of ends up out in the cosmos in a way. Despite the struggles in the song it is very positive and almost mystical at the end of the record but throughout I am a Voyager. I am on a path and I am able to write about it when I can.
On Corey Haim introducing her to hip hop
Corey Haim, who was a friend of mine, rest in peace Corey Haim, gave me the cassette tape. This was my introduction to hip-hop, which began my love and obsession with words and poetry. I took what I could from those records, I got an acoustic guitar and wrote a bunch of raps over the chords to "Desperado" which were the first chords that I learned.
Although I was a suburban kid from the valley, some of the things within the NWA records I was listening to I couldn't exactly relate, but it was my music. My mother's records, who I had grown up listening to, those were her records, this was something that belonged to me. It sparked something in me, it made me realize I had something to say. I could have ended up like MC Lyte, a female rapper. I had one experience free-styling at a little club in Hollywood called the Gaslight and Biz Markie was doing a night there and somehow the mic got passed to me and I was free-styling and Biz Markie was there. I thought this is the beginning and the end of my hip-hop career and I stuck to the acoustic guitar.
On discovering indie rock
I was 10 when Corey gave me that tape and I was 13 when I wrote my first song and I was a huge hip-hop fan for many years and then I discovered indie rock, that guided me on my creative path, that seemed like something I could do. It was low-key enough where I could start a band with my friend and write songs and play in basements. It seemed very accessible that kind of music, anyone can play indie rock, it's for anyone.
On the subjects of her songs
I have always written about myself but I have always enjoyed created characters as well. Often times people think those characters are ripped from the pages of my diary which I don't have. Certainly the feelings come from me but some of the characters are completely made up. That gives me a little freedom as a writer to explore that I would not necessarily relate back to my own life.
On the narrative of the album
It sort of chronicles a difficult period. I wanted to get it all out there at the top of the record and move past it. The songs that are after that are little chapters, Post-meltdown in a way. It's like slowly coming to terms with what happens in the first verse of that song.
On her music videos
We definitely flipped it but that was something in the back of my mind. I wanted the women in the video, I wanted them clothed, I wanted them in suits, I wanted them barefoot and grounded. I wanted to give everyone the freedom to present their female character and their male character but it was really important for me to present a group of women that was comfortable enough with their own sexuality to wear men's suits and not having to rely on whatever else, which is fine. I've gone through moments of my life where I wear exclusively hot pants. Considering the power of the women that are in my video I wanted to present them in a really badass way.
I think it's something that you think about when you're a women period. But a professional woman in her thirties, it's something that I wanted to discuss, I don't know if it had ever been talked about it in that way in a song before, I wanted it to be a little light as well. It's not a dark statement, it's just an acknowledgement of how it is. I don't have children and that's cool for now and maybe I will and that will be fine too. It's OK to make that choice for yourself.
On The Unique Pressures Of Female Musicians
It's one of the many things that I think about. My point in the song is that it doesn't really matter. Whatever you choose it's cool, I think that we wouldn't be having this conversation if I were a man. I think the kind of pressure for women to achieve in their thirties and once they are near fourty I think certain doors close. It's all sort of a bigger picture thing with that. I am thirty-eight and this record, it's been such an amazing experience making it and touring it and I feel like I am just getting started but I think people might write me off because I am knocking on fourty. But it's ridiculous, it's totally absurd that dudes don't have to answer these same questions.
On Her Take On Feminism
I am absolutely a feminist but I grew up being just one of the guys, I was a tom-boy. In my life i tried to express feminism through my other relationships with other women and repairing the relationship with my own mother and extending employment to women in my band. Trying to be a better friend, a better listener so I tried to embody that kind of feminism and action. I struggle with it but...
On Her Ideas On The Subject Of Recording
I do but not exclusively. I am not a Luddite, I am not married to one way of making anything. I feel like you can make a great studio recording where you isolate the snare and the kick and you do it like Fleetwood Mac style. Or you can capturate a live moment with a group of musicians. Both are perfectly valid, I tend to relax a little bit when I am singing and playing live, I am not over-thinking it so there is something that comes from that that. It is really spontaneous and sort of magical in a way, when your not too over your head about stuff. I am open, i'd make a record on a Iphone and in Sound City out in Van Nuys on a beautiful Neve board, it doesn't matter to me how it's going down. What is happening and what are you putting down?
On The Influence Of Producers On The Voyager
Ryan Adams and his partner Mike Viola produced the bulk of the record and I had actually recorded a couple versions of things over the years while I was trying to figure out what I was doing and I went in to Ryan's studio Pax-Am and we re-cut everything. The entire record was re-cut in under two weeks. That was very exciting, they rescued a bunch of songs that were kind of dead to me. Once, I had a moment to sit with it I realized some of the things I had been working on before that also made sense within the record. I produced a couple and Beck produced one of the songs which arived at the last possible moment while I was mixing. I thought I was gonna use the version from Pax-Am and then Beck sent "Just One Of The Guys" and it was like, "Oh wow this really needs to be the one on the record".
On The Differences Between Music Formats
This is the difference between digital and analog and tape. It really doesn't matter, he sent the digital files at the last moment to my mixer and at that point we knew it had to be on the record whereas with Ryan we recorded to tape, we had to transport the tapes, put them on the tape machine, import them, it's just a different process.
On Her Disinterest In Channeling A Specific Artist
I just like what I like and I write according to the song. So I have always kind of experimented with genres. With Rilo Kiley there is an electronic song, country song and a rock song. So I just write for the song and try to find the voice that best tells the story. So I am never referencing anything specifcally, that's not how I work. I don't walk into the studio and say, " I want to sound like The Cure meets Bonnie Raitt" that would be cool but I just write the song and let the people surrounding me figure out how to get it down.
On Her Hopes For The Future
Well I'm just in it. I'm just in the songs, I'm thinking about the next batch of songs. The story, I hope it continues. I hope I am given the opportunity to keep telling the story, which is really just one long song. It's just the story of my life in a way.
On Her Production During The Gap Between Albums
It was a long time between solo records. I did a ton of stuff in the interim. I scored two movies, wrote a bunch of songs for random things and kept plugging away at the music not knowing where it was going or why it was going anywhere. I just kind of kept going and then I had "the Voyager" at the end of the six years.
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