When working on a creative project, artists tend to have a light bulb moment. For Jenny Lewis, the breakthrough song that cemented the direction of her fourth solo album, On the Line, was “Dogwood,” a haunting piano ballad about someone mired in a crushing argument. She also cites the torch song “Heads Gonna Roll,” a woozy, string-plucked number ripe with the knowledge that adventures have consequences.
“The feeling is ‘Dogwood,’ but the story is ‘Heads Gonna Roll,’ and that’s why I put [the latter song] first,” she clarifies during a recent chat with the Weekly. “Because it’s like, ‘All right, this is where we’re at.’”
On the Line is very much an album about trying to achieve emotional equilibrium. It boasts songs driven by sophisticated rock ’n’ roll instrumentation—plush organ, keening electric guitar and bass, tasteful percussion—that unfold with languid precision. Naturally, as Lewis plays these newer cuts live, she’s gleaning insights into her own evolution as a performer.
“There are a lot of ballads, and there are a lot of tempos that really take their time,” she says. “I find it easier to rock, because you’re creating all this energy and sound. But it’s very mature to be able to groove and take your time and not rush through it. I’m really trying to be present in the moment and let the songs be what they are.
“Which some nights I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I wish this was f*cking faster,’” she continues. “And then I have so many songs, you know—a hundred songs or whatever to chose from. So every night I’m like, ‘How do I make this rock ’n’ roll fit with the past as well?’”
During the first round of touring, this has translated to a night skewing toward On the Line, with a few select Rilo Kiley chestnuts sprinkled in. “What if I did, like, a full emo concert?” Lewis laughs. “You know, I could go back to when I was 20. But I don’t always want to do that. Not that I don’t appreciate the younger artist version of yourself. You know? That’s you. That’s your writerly voice. That’s the process. But some nights I’m like, ‘Ooh, that’s a little embarrassing.’”
Lewis was born in Las Vegas—her parents performed together in a band called Love’s Way, and her mother famously performed in a lounge at the old Sands while pregnant with Lewis—but left the city when she was very young. Recently, however, she has been more reflective about the connection between her past and present selves, mainly because she’s frequently discussed how the dissolution of her long-term relationship and the death of her mother influenced her latest album. Has this period of introspection given her new insights into her Vegas ties?
“More will be revealed—which I think is the lesson in general,” she says. “Vegas represents where I come from, and showbiz to a certain degree. And creativity, music that leads to love, and children.
“When my father was passing, he was in this state, you know; you go to this place in between worlds,” she continues. “And he was right there in Las Vegas, on Las Vegas Boulevard—like, telling us. He was back in the ’70s in Las Vegas. And it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever experienced. It’s this mythical, beautiful place for me.”
JENNY LEWIS with Frankie Reyes. May 10, 7:30 p.m., $25-$40. House of Blues, 702-632-7600.