Q&A: Juliette Lewis pushes to the limit with new band

Fri Jul 31, 2009 6:21pm EDT
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By Luke Baumgarten

NEW YORK (Billboard) - An actress of startling range, Juliette Lewis has released an EP and two albums since 2003 with her band the Licks.

Citing a desire to strike out in new directions, Lewis disbanded the group in 2009, forming the New Romantiques soon after. The resulting album, "Terra Incognita," produced by The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, is exhilarating and exhausting -- spacey, Latin-tinged, tribal, grungy, droney, occasionally bluesy and even, just for a second, a little country. The sonic variance, though, is anchored by Lewis' gravelly, brazen yowl, which sounds like Patti Smith one minute and Kim Deal the next. Billboard caught up with Lewis by phone when she was in central Italy in the middle of a European tour.

Billboard: Where are you right now?

Juliette Lewis: Napoli. I've never been here. It's a time-table Rubik's Cube lining up press, but touring's great ... It's an endurance test on the senses. Yesterday was a 12-hour airport extravaganza. It was like serving prison time, but my band and I are so goofy, and we joke around and it's fine. We did it all on four hours' sleep -- but it's so great: You get onstage, you push yourself to the limit.

Billboard: The first noticeable thing about "Terra Incognita" is that it covers an incredible amount of sonic ground.

Lewis: It's a smorgasbord. It's filled with sonic contrast, and the sonic contrast represents human and my contradictions. I always call myself an emotionalist. I feel. When I wrote this album I felt disillusioned and optimistic. I felt innocent and vulnerable as much as I felt cynical and strong.

That's my emotional context, so the sonic contrast of (the record) fit. The heavy bottom -- the drum sounds are so f---ing meaty -- anchors it, and the guitar textures accentuate the story. Omar was the perfect producer for that.

Billboard: Rodriguez-Lopez has said he's meticulous and hard to work with. What was your experience like?   Continued...

<p>Actress and singer Juliette Lewis performs with her band at the time "Juliette and the Licks" during the Exit music festival in the northern Serbian town of Novi Sad July 12, 2008. REUTERS/Marko Djurica</p>