Reviews

The Execution of All Things

Author: Barbara Matthews
08/07/2003 | Venus | www.venuszine.com | Feature
Jenny Lewis might just be my new favorite woman in rocknroll. This indie-pop-rock powerhouse has a lot to be proud of and yet there isn't a pretentious bone in her body.

Firstly, there's her main project, Rilo Kiley, a Los Angeles–based foursome that's about to become your new favorite band on Omaha's Saddle Creek label. And then there's the Postal Service, that charming electro-pop outfit that's been played out of speakers everywhere from Urban Outfitters to your local supermarket (Lewis contributes vocals on the Postal Service's debut album, Give Up ).

It's hard to escape Jenny Lewis these days (not that you'd want to), but it's going to be nearly impossible in the coming months.

Her summer 2003 tour took her and Rilo Kiley across the United States, hitting one sold-out venue after another, and she will soon visit Europe with the Postal Service. Then there's a new Rilo Kiley album to write, friends and family to be with, and picking out perfectly coordinated vintage outfits for the stage. Somehow, Jenny found a few minutes to answer my questions in a recent phone interview.

You're on tour right now - what city are you in?
We're on our way to Pittsburgh.

I'm in New York, I'll see you perform this weekend.
Cool! We're really excited about that show too. That's at the Bowery Ballroom, a really great place to play. It's among my favorites to see bands play. Irving Plaza is pretty amazing as well.

They haven't had a lot of good shows lately, so I haven't gone. They've gone really corporate rock.
Really? That must be the Clear Channel connection. They do a lot of shows there and I know that they get more of the corporate stuff.

I don't know much of the history of Rilo Kiley. Can you tell me how you got together?
Blake [Sennett] and myself, we started playing acoustic together, many years ago. Then we decided to work with Pierre [de Reeder], who went to high school with Blake. He came in and started playing bass and we did a little recording as well. And then we met our first drummer, Dave. About a year ago, we met our new drummer, Jason [Boesel]. We've been playing for five or six years.

Why did you guys go to Omaha, and how did Saddle Creek Records come into the picture?
We were on tour with Superchunk about two years ago and the Good Life, a Saddle Creek band - we were an opening act on the tour. We became friends with the band, especially Tim Kasher, who's also in Cursive. We had a long drive from Seattle to Iowa, and Tim suggested that on the way to Iowa we stop by Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, and check out the studio where Mike Mogis does all of his recording. We had been talking about making a new record and we wanted to do it in a studio with a producer, because our first album was recorded at home in Blake's living room. We met Mike and saw the studio and that was the beginning of that relationship. We decided to do our album there. We spent about six weeks in Nebraska, becoming friends with everyone.

I was going to ask you how you get along with everyone on your label, it seems very communal. It seems like you're all friends.
It's pretty amazing. The chances of walking into a massive group of
people and liking everyone are kind of slim. It seems like everyone's been
so open and warm and really, really great with us. We've made so many new friends. We played in Omaha about five months ago and that was probably the best show of the tour. It's like a second home for us - it rivals Los Angeles. Sometimes, it's even better. This show was better than L.A. - there was such an incredible welcoming vibe.

I also wanted to ask you about the Postal Service, your other project, how did you get involved in that?
Rilo Kiley, we put out our first record on Barsuk, which also put out all of Death Cab for Cutie's records. We'd never actually seen them play or toured with them or met them. And we were in Lincoln, recording our record and I got a phone call at 9 a.m. from Ben Gibbard of Death Cab. I guess he'd gotten my telephone number from the guy who runs the label in Seattle and he just asked me if I wanted to be a part of this electronic side project. Being a big Death Cab fan, I, of course, was pretty excited to do so. So I said, "Yeah, sure, that's great! And he said "OK, so I'll send you a CD-R of some of the things you'll be doing and then when you get back into town, I am going to come down to L.A.. and we're gonna do some recording." We finished The Execution of All Things and I went back home and met Jimmy [Tamborello] and Ben for the first time. We immediately started recording the next day. It just turned out to be pretty great. Yet another situation where you're thrown into something with people that you don't know and then you end up making really good friends.

It definitely did, I love the record. It turned out really great.
Thanks! It's so fun to be a part of that. It's such a nice departure from rock music in general. It's different sounds and different intentions. Kind of fun all around.

I've notice that the Postal Service have gotten more mainstream success than Death Cab for Cutie or Rilo Kiley ever have. How do you feel about that?
I don't think it surprises any of us. I think they intended to make an ultra-poppy record. I think they went into it with those intentions. I mean, when you hear the record, there's no denying that it's gonna appeal to a lot of people. I think it's just unexpected, in a sense, just that it has become so successful. We're really excited to try and fit it in with our schedules. Our main priorities are our other bands. We'll see what happens in the future.

What's it like to be a girl in the boy's club that is indie rock today?
Wow, no one has asked me that question yet.

Do you think you're at an advantage or at a disadvantage being one of the few girls?
I think as with any profession, in certain positions there are less women.
Less executives, less women who run studios in California. I don't think that our music is gender specific - I hope that it transcends that. You definitely feel it when you go out on tour and play with all these bands - there are fewer women than men. But the appealing thing about Omaha is that there are some pretty kick-ass women out there, that play everything and that balance out the scale of things. Azure Ray and all the girls that play with Bright Eyes. I don't really feel it all that much because it seems like we've always toured with bands that have girls in them.

How does the L.A. indie scene compare to New York's and Omaha's?
We've never been a part of the scene in Los Angeles, necessarily. That's another thing that's really appealing about Omaha. There are these bands that put out records, tour together and play on each other's recordings as well. In L.A. I think we were never cool enough - we never had a really warm welcome. We were always playing shows with the touring bands that were coming through town. But I mean, there are bands that play together and there's a Silverlake scene that is doing well right now. We are on tour eight months out of the year, so the time at home is not spent at rock clubs.

It seems like Saddle Creek bands have relentless tour habits. Do you like that?
Yeah, I like it. I feel really lucky to be able to take our music across the country and hang out with my friends in different cities. Keeping it up for years and years, I don't know if that's possible. It can be exhausting - the pace of touring is often difficult. Especially when you're driving eight hours and then playing a show. But I think it's great and we're all enjoying it.

What are your future plans, musically?
Rilo Kiley is making a new record in November with Mike Mogis in Nebraska. Blak has a record that will come out sometime next year. His solo record is really awesome. The Postal Service is touring in January of next year and that will be our last U.S. tour, probably. Rilo Kiley is going to go out again when the record comes out in the spring. It's going to be a busy year and a half, but we're all looking forward to it.


Three days later, Rilo Kiley won over New York City with their sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom. Jenny and her bandmates joined M. Ward onstage as "Gang of Four" and basically became their own opening band. The crowd wouldn't let Rilo Kiley offstage without two encores, something that doesn't happen all too often, and when it does, only at shows of true rock giants. But I am beginning to think that Jenny Lewis, with her multi-instrumental skills, her clever lyrics and charming personality will be planted solid at the helm of indie rock for many years to come.