- 19 Apr 19
Indie-rock legend Jenny Lewis talks grief, sexism in the music industry and recruiting Ringo Starr for her stunning new album, On The Line.
She may have the laidback LA vibe down to a tee, but as her new album attests, Jenny Lewis is nobody’s fool. The former child actress has spent most of the last 20 years embedding her musings on mortality into irresistible indie-rock songs – both as a solo artist, and as a member of Rilo Kiley, The Postal Service and Nice As Fuck.
Jenny’s latest solo album, On The Line, is a dazzling, genre-defying follow-up to 2014’s The Voyager, and sees her calling on an absurdly legendary backing band, including the likes of Ringo Starr, Beck, Don Was and Benmont Tench.
“Ringo was just lovely,” she tells me, radiating effortless Southern California warmth even from her hotel room in overcast London. “He’s just an easy person to be around – so open and cool. I’d love to hang out with him more. I wonder if he texts. Do people over 60 text?”
Her offbeat charm comes across both on and off the record – during the course of our conversation, her confessions jump from her “crush on Bernie [Sanders]”, to her favourite pastime: “two-stepping with seniors” in the honky-tonk bars of Nashville.
Although her playful wit is safely intact on the new album, both the break-up of a long-term relationship and her mother’s death had a poignant bearing on the finished product.
“Hard to write, hard to live – which came first?” Jenny says of ‘Little White Dove’, a gorgeous track that explores her troubled relationship with her mother. “Grief has its own timeline. Some days I feel okay, and some days I don’t want to talk about it. But most days, my mom is hanging out. I just hope she’s not furious with me!”
Throughout the years, Jenny’s songwriting has readily addressed her struggles with mental health. Her classic Rilo Kiley track, ‘A Better Son/Daughter’, offers a compelling and deeply authentic look at depression, from the inside out.
“It’s been a potent issue throughout my life,” Jenny says. “In the last couple of years, people have started talking more openly about it, but mental health care and access has always been a problem in the States.
“Thematically it’s part of our lives, so it seems worthy of a long poem written on a barf bag – which is how I wrote ‘A Better Son/Daughter’,” she laughs.
In recent months, several female musicians have accused Ryan Adams, who has production credits on On The Line, of emotional abuse and sexual misconduct. Jenny took to Twitter to publicly distance herself from the producer and musician in the wake of the allegations, expressing her “solidarity with the women who have come forward.”
Does she see the systemic sexism in the music industry changing any time soon?
“It’s happening, because we’re talking about it. I was at an industry gathering last night, and I found myself surrounded by women who work in the business. We had such a great conversation about gender politics. I sense a shift, and it feels remarkable.
“I feel more connected with other women now too,” she continues. “One of the important parts of feminism is repairing relationships with other women, and learning to support one another. For me, it really began with my relationship with my mother, and reconciling that.”
Jenny’s songs have always been sprinkled with references to recreational drug use, and On The Line, with its casual mentions of amphetamines and psychedelic Fuji apples, is no different. As such, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that she’s very supportive of legalising marijuana.
“Ultimately, when you make things less taboo, you create a safer situation for everyone. People are going to use drugs, no matter what – it’s just a matter of how they access them. But we’ve seen very positive results in California.
“There’s almost too much marijuana in California now,” she jokes. “I’m like, ‘Oh God, let’s put this thing back in the closet! I’m too fucking stoned!’”
Although she faces a busy few months of touring in support of On The Line, including a stop at Dublin’s Button Factory in July, Jenny tells me that she’s just taking life one day at a time for now.
“I don’t really plan too far ahead. These days I just make coffee, take a shower, pick out a weird outfit, get stoned and show up. It keeps it loose, you know? I don’t want to take this shit too seriously.”
Jenny Lewis plays the Button Factory in Dublin on July 29. Her new album, On The Line, is out now.