[Life Is Beautiful 2014]

The Life Is Beautiful interview: Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis on Las Vegas: “It’s where I’m from. I have that working-class show-business blood coursing through my veins.”
Autumn De Wilde

Your parents lived in Vegas and used to perform at the Sands. I read that your mom went into labor onstage there. Is that true? Best first question ever. Yeah, my mom says that she went into labor onstage at the Sands in the lounge where they played. I was born at the women’s hospital—I don’t know if that’s still around. I was born in the same hospital as Ryan Ross from Panic! At the Disco.

When did you move away? I was quite young. Three years old, maybe. My parents got divorced, and we moved to the San Fernando Valley. … My first memory ever is of my baby sitter at the time—we were living at this apartment building with a swimming pool in the middle and she was a female Elvis impersonator called Ellis.

Do you like playing here? I do. And you know, there wasn’t a great venue in Vegas for a long time. It was like, you’re playing in a casino, which is cool, but I feel like in the last 10 years some new spots have popped up. Like playing at the Cosmopolitan. Jonathan Rice and I made a record called Jenny and Johnny and we wanted to play the lounge at the Cosmo ’cause that’s what my parents did. So it was a very conscious effort to play in the lounge, old-school style.

Jenny Lewis

You mention Las Vegas in the Rabbit Fur Coat song “Rise up With Fists.” Does this city symbolize something specific to you? It’s where I’m from. I have that working-class show-business blood coursing through my veins. That is the inception of my journey as a creative person—it happened in Las Vegas. That’s where my parents met. They were both auditioning for a band, they fell in love and made music together. They made me. And let me just tell you that my hair looks so good out in the desert, it’s unbelievable. It’s like perfectly not frizzy. (laughs)

Jenny Lewis performs with the Postal Service at the Cosmopolitan in April 2013.

Jenny Lewis performs with the Postal Service at the Cosmopolitan in April 2013.

You played Hannah in the 1989 film Troop Beverly Hills. Do you remember anything vividly from that experience? Do you keep in touch with any of the cast members? I have seen a couple of the girls over the years. Once in an exercise class I saw Kellie Martin, I was like “Omigod, Troop Beverly Hills!” But you know, I haven’t kept in touch with them, and the memories are vague. But it’s amazing how that movie has endured and how people love it. Generations of women love that movie, and some boys too. (laughs)

Anne Hathaway, Kristen Stewart, Kristin Wiig and Brie Larson all star in the gender-bending music video you directed for “Just One of the Guys.” How did that come together? I’m friends with Annie and Brie. I hang out with them all the time. I just emailed everyone and they were immediately down. They were so cool, and they flew in to come and hang out with me for a day. Everyone was so open and funny. I was really surprised at how funny those women were when they got into these track suits with those mustaches. It was really fun to be a part of.

Two of the Haim sisters, who played Life Is Beautiful last year, played with you on a previous tour. What was that like? Danielle played on guitar in my band for the Acid Tongue tour. She was in my band, and then Este played with me as well a little bit later on. I did a bunch of shows with Danielle. It was her first tour ever. [She’s] such a sweetheart and such a badass, and I’m so very proud of them. They’re my friends. You know, we’re all Valley girls. Whenever I have a party or jam or whatever at my house, they’re always there, ’cause they’re really close by.

Tell me about the rainbow pantsuit. It’s on your album cover, in the video and you wear it onstage. I wanted to offset some of the darker themes on the record with colorful imagery, and in some ways, upbeat sounding music. But my friend Adam Siegel was a graffiti artist in the ’90s, and he painted on that suit for me. I work with this woman Autumn de Wilde, who’s taken all my album cover photos, so it was a big think tank on that rainbow suit.

The Voyager is a little bit poppier and has more ’80s undertones than your previous solo albums. Was that your intention, or did that come out more when you started working with Ryan Adams and Beck? It’s their production. I think Ryan loves ’80s, chimey-sounding guitars. I love Teenage Fanclub and Johnny Marr, so I think that feel comes from his guitar sound. But that’s the cool thing about collaborating; you really get someone and all of their influences.

I read that you wrote “She’s Not Me” after reading Keith Richards’ autobiography. How did that song evolve? In his book, Life, he talks a lot about this open tuning that he became quite famous for. So I tuned my guitar to this Keith tuning and started writing the music to “She’s Not Me.” And it got sort of buried in my hard drive. Jonathan [Rice] was like “Where’s that thing you were writing when you read that book?” And then we kind of brought it back from the dead. But Keith is just one of my favorite guys of all time, top three favorite guitar players. His are my favorite Stones songs. I’m more in the Stones camp than the Beatles camp.

Will we hear some Rilo Kiley songs at Life Is Beautiful? Yes, for sure. It always depends on how long my set is, how much I can fit in from the past and the present and the future, but for sure. It’s pretty up for grabs at this point. I think the more people get to know The Voyager songs, the more I want to play them. There’s just a lot to pull from. There’s so many songs from so many different records that sometimes I forget about them.

The last song on The Voyager ends with the line, “If you want to get to heaven, get out of this world.” How do you suggest people “get out of this world?” What do you mean by that? I think in some ways, it’s a reference to the cosmos or meditation or escape through whatever means—being more connected, a sort of spiritual assent in a way. I was reading a lot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, and I think it informed some of that stuff. I was sort of pondering those big questions, like, where do you go?

The question. Yeah, exactly. The number one big one.

Life Is Beautiful 2014: Jenny Lewis Friday, 8:10 p.m., Western Stage

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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