Update 11/5/14: KCRW has shared their recording of Jenny Lewis’s Apogee Session on Morning Becomes Eclectic. Listen to the whole thing here!
Donning a sleek black satin pantsuit that looked, enviably, like Batman‘s best Sunday casual-wear, Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley, and a child actress before that (as the story goes), took the stage at Bob Clearmountain’s Apogee studio and beamed for the brief moment before she broke into the classic Rilo Kiley jam “Silver Lining.” Her voice was amber, her rainbow-cloud themed acoustic guitar sounded as bright as it looked, her band was in lockstep every moment. Lewis seemed more than just comfortable; she seemed confident, happy.
Its been six years since Lewis released her last solo album, Acid Tongue, and in that time, the songwriter endured the kind of setbacks that make optimism seem laughable. Her band of 13 years broke up, she suffered from nagging insomnia, and her father passed away–all sobering, disquieting experiences that require the most infuriating therapy, time. But after moving to Laurel Canyon, dabbling with acupuncture (she rolled her eyes at herself), drinking a bit of natural wine, and slowly beginning to sit down to write songs, “even if they were shit,” she gradually convalesced. Now we have the creative upshot of all this, The Voyager, an album full of self-evaluation hidden amongst gleaming folk and ardent rock tracks.
Beginning the set with a vintage track felt like an appreciative hat tip toward her history, but also decidedly purifying and baptismal. And then in an instant she snapped into the present playing her self-aware, but not wholly self-conscious statement of song, “Just One Of The Guys”, a standout cut from her new album. The song completely filled the intimate studio space, with its shallow standing room and rustic, dome-like wooden roof. Behind the audience was the control room, where legendary producer Bob Clearmountain was mixing the performance.
After playing through “Head Underwater” and “Slippery Slopes”, during which the audience was rapt and warmed, the evening’s host Gary Calamar sat down with Lewis to discuss everything from how Laurel Canyon and its storied musical history has influenced her songwriting to finding a mentor in Ryan Adams, who produced The Voyager.
Turns out Adams had some left field advice for the night’s performer when recording her latest album: “Lewis, I’ve got something you have to hear.” Adams then proceeded to play her Creed. How Scott Stapp’s unmistakable croak influenced Lewis’s new material or mental well being isn’t exactly clear, but what is, on the other hand, is that she was able to approach songwriting more holistically and get out of her own head. She explained that not everything she writes works, but she has become much better at picking and choosing the moments that do.
The highlights from the second half of her set included the butt-thumpingly raucous rendition of “Next Messiah” and an encore performance of the disaffected, poignant “Acid Tongue”, which like, if you don’t have to hold back tears when you hear that song then you are not a real human. Her band gathered behind her like a choral family and provided rich harmony, collectively elevating their frontwoman. Even though she was in a tight studio space, for those final moments of her performance, she soared.
You can catch a live recording of the performance on Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW on Monday, November 3. If you listen hard enough, you can hear me and Rachel Heine almost cry when the performance was over.
All photography by Jeremiah Garcia.