Lewis also addresses Jell-O and the perils of a custom airbrushed suit

By Alex Heigl
Updated June 24, 2014 04:15 PM
Everett; Getty

You may know Jenny Lewis from a few places. She had a nearly 20-year career in Hollywood, with roles in cult classics Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard before abruptly pivoting into music with adored indie band Rilo Kiley.

Lewis has also turned in critically acclaimed collaborations with the Watson Twins and her partner Jonathan Rice as part of Jenny & Johnny. She’s releasing her third solo album, The Voyager, on July 29, and is touring extensively in support of it. We talked to Lewis on the heels of her performance at New York City’s Governor’s Ball about touring, the new record, and Troop Beverly Hills.

You’ve got a busy tour schedule this summer.
Yeah, it’s all happening. I had a little break for a while, and that break is over.

What’s your favorite part of touring?
I guess I really like waking up in a different city every day and having new food to eat.

What about your least favorite part?
I don’t really have a least favorite part, I’m kind of designed to be on the road.

I’ve asked a lot of musicians that question, and the answer that comes up most frequently is usually “Port-a-Potties.”
I’m not a fan, but, you know, I wouldn’t stop doing my job because of them. It’s worth it in the end.

Who were some of your favorite acts at Governors Ball?
I didn’t see anyone play! It’s so funny, when you’re going to a festival to play, there’s very little opportunity to actually get around, and it always seems like the bands I wanna see are playing at the same time I’m playing.

Can we talk about that amazing suit you’ve been wearing to performances? I, uh, I love it. More than anything.

[Laughs] Thank you. I love it as well. It’s really awesome to have something to wear to help you get into the character of the record, and so I’ll be wearing that suit as often as I can. I don’t know if I’m allowed to take it to the dry cleaners, though, so there may be a limit to how many times I can wear it.

My friend Adam Seagull designed it with my friend Autumn De Wilde and her stylist Shirley Kurata. The four of us collaborate on all of my album covers, and we’ve done a bunch of music videos together as well. I really wanted to wear a suit for this album – I wanted something a bit more androgynous than what I had previously worn. And Adam had been painting on a couple of suits – he’s an airbrush artist – and so we discussed the color palette I kind of wanted it to be like, graffiti Gram Parsons, like those famous Nudie suits he wore, but kind of through a ’90s prism, so it has a little hip-hop in there, because that’s what I grew up listening to.

It’s like Nashville by way of Lisa Frank.
Exactly! It’s like Lisa Frank barfed all over me, basically.

It’s interesting that you talk about this album wanting to feel androgynous, because the line that’s been getting all the attention [from “Just One of the Guys”] is “When I look at myself, all I can see / I’m just another lady without a baby.” That’s a very interesting line.
It’s a very direct line, and I think it’s speaking to a lot of women in their thirties. The song’s only been out for a couple of weeks, but women have come up to me on the street with that line in mind. I think it really struck a nerve.

You worked with Ryan Adams and Beck on this album. What was it like working with each of them – how did their approaches differ?
They are such different artists, obviously. I’m such a fan of both of them, and their approach is totally different – at least it was for me. I went into these sessions very willing to be produced, because I needed help, I was really stuck creatively, and they both helped me out tremendously.

Ryan was just full of energy, really sort of difficult to pin down in the studio – he was all about the spontaneity, working quickly and capturing the essence of live music. What I recorded at Ryan’s was live to tape, and the band had two or three opportunities to get the song, and if there were mistakes, there were mistakes. We weren’t allowed to go back and fix them.

Beck’s process was a little more methodical. We played all of the instruments on “Just One of The Guys,” so it was just a different way of recording, but very wonderful. We talked a lot about music, and hung out a lot, and I hung out with the kids, who are awesome.

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What was it like working on Comedy Bang Bang?
Oh, it was so scary. I was so scared. I mean, I haven’t been an actress for a long time – over 15 years – so I was a bit rusty. And I’ve never really done comedy before, so it was something that Scott Aukerman had to coax out of me. And not only did I have to do the comedy bits, but I had to compose the music in and out of the bits on the spot. So nothing was prepared, and they were just like, “Ok, write something for us.” So I had to improvise musically as well as comedically. Is that a word?

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Sure. Is that something you could see yourself returning to?
Oh, I don’t know. I can’t say that it felt very natural to me. I mean, being on a set felt very natural to me, because I grew up working on films and TV, but I really prefer to be behind the scenes. And I just actually directed my first video, and that felt a bit more comfortable to me.

Troop Beverly Hills turned 25 this year. What’s your favorite memory from that film?
Oh man, that was so long ago! I truly can’t remember it at all. I was 12! I mean, I’m so proud at this point in my life that I was in that movie. I went through a long period where I was embarrassed about it, when I first started my band, I didn’t want anyone to mention my past, because I felt I had really shifted careers, like I’d retired, purposefully, from acting. But now I’m so thrilled that I was a part of something that has endured the test of time. People really love that film.

The Internet Movie Database says your first acting gig was a Jell-O commercial, so I have to ask: What’s your preferred variety of Jell-O?
[Laughs] Do they make health food Jell-O? Honestly, I have’t had Jell-O in a really long time. All I did when I was working on that commercial was watch the Jell-O wiggle.

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