Juliette Lewis Is a Daredevil Superhero On Stage

The world needs more wild children.

You know the type, right? Free spirits who actually do things. Powerful women and men who, when pushed, push back, and tend to keep pushing the boundaries placed in front of them because they have no
choice but to keep on pushing.

Juliette Lewis is such a person. A pusher, for sure, of all things good and crazy and feisty and rockin’. It’s old hat to say something along the lines of “Oh, she’s one of those actors who wants to be a musician,” but the truth of the matter with Lewis is this: She is a very good actress who also happens to be a very good rock singer. To say she commands her stage is an understatement.

Recently, Lewis has taken to wearing stage garb based on the famous jumpsuit of the 1970s’ most notorious stunt man, and her reasoning behind it is typical Lewis: brash and unapologetic.
“I strive to be a blend of a superhero, David Lee Roth, wrestler, a dancer … and then, yes, people like Evel Knievel who defy, no, go against the odds. Whatever gets you in the room, no matter what, you will never be bored at one of my shows,” says Lewis with no small amount of bravado in her voice.

As an actor, Lewis, 43, is known for taking chances, and is probably most famous for her breakout role in Cape Fear (1991 remake) and as Mallory Knox, the total badass homicidal maniac from Natural Born Killers (1994). Based on her slew of edgy performances over the years, it was no surprise that she would take on the role of fronting a rock ’n’ roll band after she turned 30 in 2003.

What may have surprised fans of Lewis’ acting, though, was how powerful her voice and stage presence is, and continues to become.

As a vocalist, Lewis is much more than just Mallory Knox with a mic in her hand. There are shreds of Janis Joplin in her voice, along with some Courtney Love attitude, and hints of Jim Morrison’s poetic lyrics. In the current incarnation of her band, Lewis could not be more pleased with her bandmates.

“It’s taken me this long to manifest my dream band. It all starts with your rhythm section. This band, it all starts with Juan Alderete, my bass player. He creates a sonic force. For my music, he’s invaluable. He’s really inspired me to be more courageous and that means, do my solo stuff,” says Lewis.

In addition to Alderete, who made a name for himself in the music business playing with Mars Volta, Lewis’ new band features drummer Elmo Lovano, who has taken over the drumming duties from Lewis’ boyfriend, Brad Wilk (Rage Against the Machine), and guitar players John Michael Anderson (lead guitar/keyboards/band director) and Joey LaRocca (rhythm guitar and member of punk band the Briggs).

For Lewis, music allows her to reach a higher calling than even acting does.

“I do a lot of stuff in the moment with the crowd. I like the freedom to do that, but we also have a really dialed set that I’m excited about,” she says, pausing to find the right words. “The set list is algebra. It has a flow to it. We come out of the gate swinging, then we get into a nice little dance party, and then I rip your heart out. We all squeeze it together.

“I look at bands like Radiohead and Beck with a huge catalog, and I think, ‘How the fuck do they make a set?’ Because I’m not working for anybody, all I have to answer to is my muse and the energy of the audience and where I want to take them,” Lewis says.

Juliette Lewis is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, September 7, at Livewire in Scottsdale.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon