The New Cue #90 November 15: Jenny Lewis

15 November, 2021

Good morning!

This is your regular Monday morning (free!) edition of The New Cue. Today, we’ve got the excellent Jenny Lewis talking Harry Styles, Beck and her dog Bobby Rhubarb to get your week rolling.

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Enjoy the edition,

Ted, Niall and Chris

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Start The Week With… Jenny Lewis (& Bobby Rhubarb)

A successful TV and film child actress, Jenny Lewis made her name musically while fronting well-heeled LA alt-rockers Rilo Kiley from the late 1990s until they unravelled after their excellent final album, Under The Blacklight, in 2007. She’s made a range of music subsequently, both collaboratively with the likes of her former partner Jonathan Rice as Jenny & John - amongst others - and under her own steam. Her fourth solo album, 2019’s On The Line, was a brilliant record that combined confessional lyrics about her wild upbringing with indie-rock grooves and a bucketful of great poppy hooks. Earlier this month, she released a brand new single that keeps the standard up. Puppy And A Truck is about the two things that kept her sane during a long lockdown on her own, the track’s breezy Americana a sign that a relocation to Nashville has rubbed off on her songwriting. She’s currently midway through an extensive tour in the US supporting pop superstar Harry Styles. Niall checked in as the touring party had a little pitstop in Montana.

Would you like to listen to a 20-track Jenny Lewis taster as you read, or perhaps after? G’wan…

Hello Jenny!
Hey, Niall, how are you?

I’m good. How are you?
Oh, thank you for moving our call up an hour. We just got into Mountain Time. We’re in Billings, Montana, and we're leaving in a couple of hours and I want to go out and get a burger for lunch after our call.

No worries. What time is it there?
It is noon, exactly. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Billings before. But when you have a show in the Midwest and then your next show is on the West Coast, there’s like three days of travelling through the upper part of the US, which is so beautiful this time of year. It’s just so crisp and gorgeous.

It must be weird when you come and tour the UK and all the cities are about an hour apart.
Yeah, it is. Actually on this tour, we’re on a Beat The Street bus, which is a UK-slash-German-based company and our driver is from the UK. So it feels very British, despite the fact that we’re in Montana right now.

What's the best tour bus you’ve ever had?
This one hands down, Beat The Street. Best bus driver, best bus. We’re travelling with my dog Bobby Rhubarb, who is 10 months old. And we're doing these arena shows which, once you’re in or under the building with the bus, you’re kind of stuck. So it’s impossible for me to go outside and walk the dog so our bus driver John, my production manager Chopper and my tour manager Brandt, they have become Bobby’s three dads. They walk her regularly while I’m getting ready for the show and on stage. But aside from that, she’s been the best part of this tour. Everyone is so grateful that she’s here because we're in a crazy bubble where we're not seeing any friends, we’re not going out, we’re not eating inside, we’re keeping it super Covid compliant. So the puppy is like the only kind of respite for us.

What's Bobby’s tour bus etiquette like, is she well behaved?
Oh, she’s great. And she’s getting her sea legs. When we started out, it was a little dicey, just getting on the bus. You don’t realise how this lifestyle is insane. To live in a truck, a bus with 10 other people and all night long through your sleep the bus is moving and it’s noisy, but we just acclimate to it. I’ve been doing it for 20 years, so I’m used to it. But when you see a little precious puppy reacting to the noise, it was kind of scary at first, but now she’s a total road dog. She runs up the stairs on the bus, she sleeps in the back with me. She knows everyone on Harry’s crew. The crew knows Bobby better than they know me.

Does she watch the show?
We brought her out for Puppy And A Truck a couple times because it's her song. When I wrote the song, she was sitting with me on the couch. She’s the only one that heard the song before I cut it and so we brought her out and she could hear my voice echoing through the arena. But the decibel level of the screaming from the audience from Harry’s fans is a little bit much for a puppy, so I have to get her little puppy headphones, and then maybe we can bring her out at some point.

How's the tour been going?
It’s been awesome. It’s exceeded my expectations. I was really concerned about the protocol but it’s been totally safe. And the fans are wearing masks, and everyone’s showing proof of vaccinations and negative tests. It’s been as safe as I think you can do this at this moment in time so I feel so grateful to be a part of this thing that’s actually happening. Because when we started it, I thought well, at any moment, it could go away. And Harry is so generous and sweet. I’ve just become a super fan on this tour and playing for his audience every night has been truly amazing. It’s almost like, because it’s so restricted, there’s no press in the press pit, there’s no one backstage, it feels very 90s in a way, it feels almost like DIY, even though these shows are the biggest shows I've ever played. It’s like very pure because there's no distraction. We’re just there playing the show and then watching the show and then we leave and that's it.

What’s Harry Styles like?
I mean, he’s just so cool. He’s just the sweetest and watching him every night interact with his fans, he just gives so much, I’m really learning so much every night just watching him play and we’re doing the shows in the round. I haven't experienced anything like this on this level - the sound system, the video screens, the cameras, in the round in these incredible rooms. Just learning how to perform 360 has been really fun.

What’s the main benefits of being the support act rather than the headliner?
Well, for me, I get to do my 40 minutes and then go smoke a joint in the dressing room.

Haha. What’s on your rider?
Casamigos [tequila], Reposado [also tequila], various cheeses and meats - we’re a sandwich-making crew. We’ve got some fancy grass-fed beef jerky. We’re doing pretty good.

Take me back to when you wrote Puppy And A Truck.
It was something I had been thinking about because I really did get a truck in March. And I got Bobby in February. And it really improved the quality of my life in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. I was at home, I was solo for the lockdown and Beck reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a part of a songwriting workshop, where a bunch of writers wrote a song a day for seven days and then emailed it to the group. Beck would give us loose themes to write about but the first song was just freeform and the first song I wrote for this writer’s workshop was Puppy And A Truck and I sent it to the group.

What was the feedback like?
Pretty good, pretty good feedback. And I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about the workshop... it’s sort of like Fight Club. Obviously, the first rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. But it was a pretty amazing group of artists and so to get that initial feedback was really awesome. And then throughout the week Beck would throw out ideas, like ‘write a song with all clichés’, ‘write a song with one-four-five as the form’, ‘write a song with lyrics you find elsewhere’ and so we riffed on these ideas everyday and I ended up writing half of a record with these little assignments. It freed me up out of my own writing pattern.

Are you allowed to name any of the other artists involved or would that get you chucked out of the crew?
I don’t know, I should probably check first. But it was a pretty solid crew!

Did you struggle with any of the assignments?
Um, no. And I submitted all the songs, because some people dropped off and they only did four of the seven or someone would pop up for a day and then you wouldn’t hear from them again. So I managed to do all of the assignments. I found the cliché one pretty daunting at first, but then I just decided to write a song with all the most popular country music tropes.

And so the song is called Love Feel, which are the two most popular words in country music songs, love and feel. It’s funny. So I have a song that basically just goes through all of like the country tropes, and it’s just so fun.

That’s great. What prompted you to buy a truck and get a puppy?
Well, first of all, I moved to Nashville a couple years ago, and I had been renting trucks throughout and I rented a Chevy truck. Driving a truck is so fun, I had never driven a truck before. It seemed appropriate, moving to Tennessee and getting a truck and I was just not in a great spot. I feel like everyone experienced their version of what they needed to deal with during the pandemic, if they were in a relationship, those relationships went through phases, people stayed together and doubled down or they broke up. I happened to do it solo, which was really intense. I had been speaking with my friend Serengeti who lives in Chicago and we had done a couple of remote songs over the pandemic, a couple of things I’d made on my phone, and I sent to him. He got a dog during the pandemic and we chatted a lot throughout and he was like, ‘Hey, there's, there's another litter coming if you want a puppy, I'll bring you a puppy from Chicago’. And I was like, ‘alright, let's pull the trigger’. So he drove in a blizzard from Chicago with Bobby Rhubarb, who was eight weeks old, showed up at my door in Nashville. It was completely winter time and he gave me Bobby Rhubarb, who has changed my life in such amazing ways.

What’s the best and worst thing about living in Nashville?
Um, well, really it's all great. You know, it was a little dicey during some of the quarantine times, because Broadway, where all the honky tonks are, Broadway was just ripping, no masks. And so a couple of times, I would just drive down there in my truck with the windows up with the puppy in the car and just look out at people, like at Kid Rock’s club, you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, they're raging in there, it's a fucking pandemic, this is insane!’. But aside from that, it's awesome. I grew up in LA, the big city. I went to New York when I turned 40 and lived there for a year and a half and that was just not my speed. I needed to dial it down a little bit. Nashville is just perfect, I love it.

Is there anywhere else on your wish list of places that you would like to live?
You know, I wouldn’t mind getting a little spot on the beach somewhere, maybe Florida? Jamaica would be fun. I don’t know when Keith went to Jamaica but when I think of all the places I've been, I think that’s one of my favourite spots.

Thanks Jenny. Before I let you go, one more question: who is the best smelling celebrity you've ever met?
Best smelling. Wow. Very good question. I have to say Lucille Ball. I played her granddaughter on a TV show. I was very young, but one of my distinct memories of her is just hugging her and just taking a whiff of... it may have been Coco Chanel perfume, Chanel Number Five, but I can still remember it and whenever I smell that it just brings back, it's so evocative.

Great answer. Thanks for your time, enjoy your burger!
Thank you so much. Bye!


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