“Baby, I’m bad news,” Jenny Lewis sang on “Portions for Foxes,” a track from her guitar-pop group Rilo Kiley’s 2004 album, More Adventurous. Recently, Lewis’s news has been decidedly better: Adventurous, the Los Angeles-based quartet’s third album, earned the best reviews of its eight-year career, and last fall Rilo Kiley opened a string of shows for the megapopular English band Coldplay. This month, Lewis (a former child actress who appeared alongside Shelley Long in 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills) releases her first solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, a mellow, slightly country-fried take on Rilo’s tuneful LA groove. We shared lunch with her on New York’s Lower East Side and asked her where the CD came from.
So why make a solo album? I actually didn’t really plan on it. It just was suddenly upon me and seemed appropriate. I had started writing a bunch of songs as we were recording More Adventurous, and I knew that it would be a really long time before I could record them with Rilo Kiley.
Who did you ask to play on it? Jason Boesel, who also plays in Rilo Kiley, is one of my best friends and someone who I consistently play new songs for. So it was kind of a no-brainer to have him play drums, and he was really enthusiastic about it. And then Jason’s roommate and best friend, Michael Runion — who’s one of my other best friends and Rilo Kiley’s guitar tech — I asked him to play bass. For most of the songs, it was just the three of us in our practice space messing around.
Was making the album a lot different than making a Rilo Kiley album, even though you were working with some of the same musicians? Yeah, very different. I mean, being in a band for eight years, it’s very loaded: [Rilo guitarist] Blake [Sennett] and I have been writing together for 10 years; we used to go out with each other. It can be very productive, and it’s a really rewarding experience to know people so well and to make music with them. But there was nothing at stake with this. I didn’t really plan on putting it out until it was finished, and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to. It was more just about making music with my friends.
How did your writing differ? I wanted to create something that was really stripped down, something where I played guitar and sang at the same time and did it one or two times. Certainly, I think some of the songs on Rabbit Fur Coat could’ve made their way onto the next Rilo Kiley record.
More Adventurous jumped around quite a bit between different styles, but Rabbit Fur Coat seems more of a piece. Sometimes I think about More Adventurous as like being in an airplane and looking down on California and seeing a bunch of swimming pools. As opposed to this one, which might be a lake, you know? It was more about the songs; some of the themes are similar throughout. And I wanted to make a record that you don’t know when it was made — it could be a modern record because of some of the references, but it sounds kind of timeless, too.
Are you planning to play Rilo Kiley songs on your solo tour supporting this record? I’ve thought about that a little bit. I don’t think so. I think I’ve been playing those songs on the road for a really long time, and I might want to play some new stuff in addition to the songs that are on my record. If I write something that day or week or month, I might want to try that out, rather than going back to these songs that I know I’ll play again with the band.