"You know, I don't have a day job, so I have to do something to feel productive, or I'll just feel like a big loser up on a hill," says Jenny Lewis. She's being modest, of course—she's now juggling multiple careers with apparent ease. It's safe to say Lewis won't ever have a day job again, but she isn't resting on laurels yet. "I don't feel that I've 'arrived,'" she insists, "and I don't feel like I've made a record yet on my own that I'm completely proud of. I feel like I'm just on a path, and hopefully I'll arrive at what it is that I do. I experiment a lot, and I've always done that, even in Rilo Kiley. I think I've always done whatever the fuck I want, from the beginning. Certainly there has been a lot of hard work, but within the creative aspect of making music, I've always kind of followed the moment."
There's a lot of moment-following on Lewis's latest, Acid Tongue, an alternately precise and ramshackle record that dips into country, soul, and blues-rock with plenty of verve if little sense of risk. More than anything, it feels like a series of pastiches; opener "Black Sand" should by all rights be a show tune, while "The Next Messiah" strings together three disparate song fragments into a medley. "That's the most exciting one to play on the road," she says. "It feels really different from when I toured for Rabbit Fur Coat—there was nothing that gritty and up-tempo.
"I think second tours on any record are always more fun," continues Lewis, who did a brief tour on the heels of Acid Tongue's release last year. "As a performer, I treat every night like it's a play, and I take certain cues that allow me to free up vocally. I always want to be a little more spontaneous, but there's just something about the repetition that inspires me. It's weird. It really allows me to get to new places every night if I know where the set is going."
Jenny Lewis is well within her third phase of her career as a performer, although the lines have been a little blurry. Phase One was child star—you probably wouldn't have remembered the redheaded girl from The Wizard or Troop Beverly Hills had it not been for Phase Two: frontwoman of Rilo Kiley. In the late '90s and early '00s, Lewis and fellow child star Blake Sennett released a series of incisive, hook-laden albums, earning them devoted fans who responded to the songs' incredibly lucid lyrics and Lewis's point-blank delivery. Rilo Kiley captured many listeners' frustrations of being unfulfilled despite having youth, looks, smarts, and talent to spare.
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly where Lewis's Phase Three began, but I'd place it at her appearance on the Postal Service's "We Will Become Silhouettes," even though Rilo Kiley delivered two further albums since then. Her backing-vocal contributions on Give Up marked that moment where everybody heard Lewis's voice; she further established herself outside of Rilo Kiley with a 2006 collaboration with the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, a solo record in all but name. It exhibited a softening of Lewis's sound, being essentially a postmodern country record with a soothing, nostalgic hue.
After this current tour, Lewis says her immediate future is a little uncertain, as is the long-term prospect of Rilo Kiley. "It's not off the table, but we're not necessarily sitting down to dinner together right now with each other," she explains. "But we are actually working on a collection of B-sides and rarities, songs that have just been sitting on our computers for the last 10 years, stuff that people haven't heard. I've been doing so much over the past couple years: I've put out a record every year, and I've done at least two tours with each record. So for the first time in a very long time, I don't have anything planned. I've got a handful of new songs I'm working on, and I'll probably throw a couple of those into the set, as well as some old Rilo Kiley songs I've written over the years, just to see how they sound in a different context... But shit, man, I don't even know what I'm going to do. It's so easy to feel so exhausted by the whole process of putting out records, and touring them relentlessly, that I think I might benefit from a little breather."