Jenny Lewis: The Girl in the Band

This frontwoman for indie-rock quartet Rilo Kiley writes brainy, moving lullabies about that complex little thing called love--then sings them straight from her gut. Kelly Bare gets the 28-year-old Lewis talking about the life behind her music.

Have you ever sent someone a message in a song?

Yeah. I don't think they listened. I'll tell you about another side of it. Blake [Sennett, co-writer and guitarist] and I started the band, and then we started dating, and then we broke up about three years ago. So sometimes I'll be very angry with him and I'll write something about him, and then bring it to the practice space. And we're all arranging the song, and suddenly the line will come up that's intended to just hurt him. And I'll have to kind of mumble it at first so he doesn't hear it. But then ultimately he figures it out, and then later asks me about it: "Was that, by any chance...?" And I might even lie at that point and say, "Well, no, it's not."

So you guys are still working stuff out.

Exactly. ...There have been incidents of things being thrown, and screaming, and I hopped out of the van once on a toll road on an East Coast tour. "I'm outta here! Forget you, man!" But we've weathered it. ...Now we're both dating other people, and we actually invite our boyfriends/girlfriends on the bus, and so we all get to hang out in really close quarters. It's a testament to how we're evolving.

If that [history] weren't there, would you be writing the kind of music you're writing?

No, I don't think so. ...It's like having a child, this band. It's our poor, dysfunctional child that had to endure mommy and daddy getting divorced. At some point, we'll probably have to send it away to boarding school.

Do you think songwriting goes better when things are going well, or when they're going poorly, romantically?

From my experience, poorly. But I don't want necessarily to live by that. Maybe that is the thing that happens in your early and mid-twenties anyway. It's the time for experimentation and figuring out who you want to be with. Do you want to be with someone who's supportive and patient and great, or maybe be with someone who's a little more exciting and causes you a bit more heartache? ...

Your late twenties is an interesting place to be, weighing the importance of career, the importance of relationships, the importance of family.

Are there people in your life who you think are making it work, finding that balance?

Certainly. Our bass player, Pierre [de Reeder], is a great example. He's an amazing father; he has a three-year-old daughter and he has balanced being on the road with having a family and a lovely girlfriend. I look at them sometimes and I envy it in a sense. But at the same time I think it's a different situation for a father. ...My mom kind of sacrificed her dream and her artistic goals for children. I feel that I owe it to her, almost, to be career-focused and allow myself to experience that. ...

It must be very difficult for teenage girls in creating their identities when they're given someone like Jessica Simpson as, I guess, a role model? I don't even know. I get mortally depressed when I thumb through a magazine and get to "five great ways to enhance your orgasm!" I was just watching Laguna Beach before you called. Poor girls. Poor, poor girls.

Do you have any guilty favorite love songs that take you back to being a teenager?

I don't normally listen to the radio, but the other day I was flipping through the stations and that song from Dirty Dancing, "She's Like the Wind," came on. Oh man, cool song. I wanted to be her [Jennifer Grey as Baby].

You grew up in Las Vegas. Have you ever been inside a quickie wedding chapel?

Yes, I have. My friends got married there--they are just friends; it was part of a bet. I'm not recommending this. Don't just marry someone because someone says "I'll give you a thousand dollars if you guys go and get married within the next 24 hours." I believe they're still married. It was kind of an interesting moment in thinking about marriage, the "sanctity of marriage," and how absurd it is that gay couples can't be acknowledged in that way.

Do you believe in marriage? Can you see yourself getting married?

I believe in it as a tangible gathering for your friends and family to acknowledge your relationship. I didn't go to my prom, and I regret that a little bit. If I didn't get married, I think I would forever imagine myself in a wedding dress.

You sing about the "slow fade of love"? Do you think lasting love is this idea that we're all chasing in vain?

I think love is lasting, no matter what, but relationships are really difficult. ...I think it's important to find ways to keep things healthy and exciting. I don't know if I've accomplished that '- I haven't been in very many long relationships '- but I hope that it's possible.

Rilo Kiley's most recent album is More Adventurous. Lewis's first solo album will be out later this year. You can find out more about the band at their web site.

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