Trying to list all of Jenny Lewis’ creative output over the decades can be mind-boggling.
But the irony of “Wasted Youth,” the second single from the new album On the Line, is not lost on her. Lewis teased the single back in February by retweeting a Corn Pops commercial from the ’80s starring her pre-Troop Beverly Hills self. For her, it’s about perspective.
“It all informs the art,” says Lewis in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “Life happens, and then I look around the room to see who’s there to play music with. The songs just happen, and I keep writing and stick them into wherever I am at the time.”
On the Line is Lewis’ fourth solo record and 12th or so overall, depending on how you count. Even with five years, thousands of miles, a Nice-AF side project, and a Netflix Bill Murray Christmas special between them, Voyager and On the Line share a sense of visual continuity that brings the linear narrative to light.
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“For the album cover, I reupped with Autumn [de Wilde],” Lewis says. “We didn’t even have a plan to cop the Voyager album cover. It just happened, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, we just book-ended this era.’”
On the Line is a testament to exemplary storytelling. Lewis’ portrayals carry the weight of tragic literature protagonists from J.D. Salinger or Flannery O’Connor.
And yet, Lewis is defined by her humor as much as her gravitas. She introduced On the Line with a three-hour, mostly improvised telethon led by Tim Heidecker, benefiting L.A.’s Downtown Women’s Center. The chaotic event, featuring Beck, Vanessa Bayer, St. Vincent, and others, was a delightfully unorthodox way to debut a timeless piece of art.
“I’m a big Tim & Eric fan,” Lewis says. “When you make an album, all this other art comes into play, and I wasn’t excited about making a traditional music video. So, [I thought], how do you create something new that’s entertaining and this kind of comedy that I really fucking love? Tim is a genius. Everyone that was there was just flying by the seat of their pants ... except Jeff Goldblum.”
The theatrics don’t stop there. For the On the Line Tour, Lewis’ stage setup extends the album’s imagery of classical showmanship. With a heart-shaped podium, a crystal phone for dialing up the universe, and a piano worthy of Elton John, Lewis is giving crowds a night for the ages.
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“I come from a DIY background,” Lewis says. “Things that make big shows amazing were never accessible throughout my career, aside from The Postal Service. After doing the Rabbit Fur Coat 10th anniversary tour, which was very theatrical, I really enjoy creating that mood. It was really important to me to add that element and make it more of an experience.”
Furthermore, Lewis’s setlist surveys her expansive collection of work, crossing the decades over which she’s pioneered the indie rock genre. From the raw and wide-eyed beauty of her Rilo Kiley material to the ageless perfection of her latest masterwork, she carries every note like the last one she’ll give.
“I think nostalgia is so important for people,” Lewis says. “I want to create a joyful experience. It’s a little bit of a blue-balls scenario if I don’t include a bit of the whole story. There’s something scary about leaving the past behind. But as I move forward, some stick around, and [I’m] able to do it in a way that’s a little different and a little more mature.”
Jenny Lewis is scheduled to perform on Monday, September 30, at The Van Buren. Tickets are $30 via Ticketweb.