For someone who’s dated Jake Gyllenhaal, appeared in several Hollywood films and fronts a band with a new record out on a Warner Bros. imprint, Rilo Kiley singer Jenny Lewis is pretty grounded. In fact, she’s so grounded she’s practically subterranean.
But when you realize that her relationship with Gyllenhaal is over, her cinematic résumé includes clunkers like “Troop Beverly Hills” and “The Wizard,” and Rilo Kiley’s new home at Warner Bros. has caused diehard fans to brand them sellouts, maybe you can understand her outlook on things.
“I’m always skeptical about everything. I guess it’s just part of my personality,” she said. “I honestly don’t know how well our album will do. My expectations are very low, personally.”
Rilo Kiley’s new album, More Adventurous, is a lot like their two previous releases, 2001’s Take Offs and Landings and 2002’s The Execution of All Things: There’s plenty of countrified guitars, poppy horns and sad, sappy love songs. But it’s also the biggest, brightest, shiniest offering of their career. And not coincidentally, it’s also the first Rilo record to push Lewis’ sonorous voice to the forefront.
“In the independent world, a strong voice isn’t necessarily praised. The focus is on the lyrics,” Lewis said. “The fact is, I can sing, and this is what I’m capable of. This record represents how comfortable I am with my voice. I feel proud that I’ve gotten to a point where I’m no longer inhibited.”
That Lewis’ voice is the main attraction on More Adventurous has become a point of division among Rilo Kiley fans. On previous albums, vocal duties were split between Lewis and guitarist Blake Sennett. On the new record, Sennett sings on just one track. And this overload of Lewis — combined with the album’s big, glossy sound — is seen by some fans as a definite sign of major-label money and major-label meddling.
“We made this record with Saddle Creek [the label that released The Execution of All Things] in mind. We were going along as we always had,” Lewis sighed. “We just decided we wanted to have the choice to go to a major label. And I think I was least comfortable with the transition. Within the band, I was the most resistant.”
Lewis is obviously skeptical about the major-label deal — it’s in her nature — but she’s also somewhat excited by the opportunities it provides for the band. And it’s one of the reasons she chose to name the new album More Adventurous.
“It’s about allowing ourselves to be a little bit less precious about our music,” she said. “It’s great playing for hipsters, but it’s also nice to be able to reach people beyond that. Maybe someone’s mom, or someone’s sister away at college, or dudes at tennis camp, or some kid in Germany. I want them to have access to our music.”
The other reason for the album’s title has to do with the aforementioned Gyllenhaal. There are no less than four songs on the record detailing deteriorating relationships and heartbreak. On the title track, Lewis sings, “I read with every broken heart, we should become more adventurous.” And other songs are littered with mentions of infidelity, mistrust and self-loathing. It’s clear that Lewis had her fair share of bad breakups over the years.
“A lot of the album is my outlook on matters of the heart. After getting brutalized, it’s possible to go inward and be a little destructive. But at the same time it’s going to become possible to be a little bit more adventurous with love,” she said. “You allow yourself to open up a bit. We should do that, but do we? Maybe if you say it a couple times on tour, you’ll end up believing it. But I don’t. Not yet, anyway.”
So considering the things that weigh on Jenny Lewis every day, it’s easy to see why she’s a bit self-effacing. But she can’t do anything about the heartbreak — only time cures that. And the same is true about Rilo Kiley’s disenfranchised fans. There’s nothing Lewis can say or do that will appease them all, and hopefully time will heal all wounds. But that doesn’t mean their attitudes still don’t annoy her from time to time.
“Someone said to me, ’I’m really disappointed because you’re not cursing on the new record, and you’re not really screaming either.’ And what am I going to say to that?” Lewis laughed. “I don’t consider myself a screamer. Who is a true female screamer? Maybe those girls in Kittie. So I guess our next record will have to sound just like Kittie, and every song will have the word ’f—’ in it.”