Juliette Lewis may be best known for her acting ("Natural Born Killers," "Old School"), but with the recent release of her band's first full-length album, she's auditioning for a different role entirely. Juliette & the Licks' You're Speaking My Language might actually be better described as her full dress rehearsal, an album bursting with guitar-heavy garage-punk that requires no translation.
That, says Lewis, is the point of the record's title. "I just love this rabble-rousing spirit that rock and roll can bring, so I thought that Speaking My Language is just all of us saying we're speaking the same thing and uniting people."
The album follows the 2004 EP ... Like a Bolt of Lightening (see "Juliette Lewis Has Something To Say ... With Licks"), and the glam garage rock Lewis and her bandmates crank out on both bears little resemblance to other actor/musician efforts — Dogstar and 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, we're looking at you.
Backing up Lewis are her Licks: Todd Morse (guitar), Kemble Walters (guitar), Paul Ill (bass) and Jason Morris (drums). Musically, Lewis lists influences ranging from Lucinda Williams' songwriting to Grace Jones' performance art, Iggy Pop's rebel energy and Karen O's status as "our female Bowie."
It's the ability to "bring it live" that Lewis admires in other musicians and strives for with her band. Much of Juliette & the Licks' musical growth is due to the two years of live touring that they did before putting the full album together, and the band's rapid recording process feeds into that spirit of spontaneity.
The entire album was done in a month, with 10 days of preproduction — a luxury compared to the week they had to put down the tracks for the EP. Given the Licks' limited resources, the DIY mentality isn't just a put-on. They used friends' rehearsal space and self-produced the album, an experience that brought out both fear and pride for Lewis. "I've got so much to prove," she explained. "It's so important to do it at a grassroots level: finding your audience, having control creatively and protecting our sound and what I want it to represent."
Following this grassroots formula, earlier videos on the Licks' Web site were shot by a filmmaker friend and Lewis' brother. The clips included live footage, snippets of the band playing dive clubs and at the Warped Tour.
The video for new track "You're Speaking My Language" is a larger production. Filmed in England with director Mike Smith (Coldplay, Futureheads), the clip was pretty true to life for Lewis. "It's going to be real straight up about us being the underdogs coming to play a show," she said. "Crappy club people throwing judgment at us, thinking we're going to suck and all this stuff we face — and us just giving it everything and not giving a sh--."
Back from a run of shows in Europe, Juliette & the Licks are currently making the rounds here at home. They are set to pop over to Japan for the Fuji Rock Festival in July and will head to England for both the Reading Festival and the Leeds Festival in August.
Lewis describes the band's live shows as filled with heavy guitar and a blend of songs from the EP and the full album — even incorporating some ballads in the middle. The set list is a science for the band, a key element to a performance that they are always trying to perfect. "I'm always trying to develop more onstage and just come to the table with confidence," Lewis explained. "I think confidence breeds so much good musicianship and [leads to] putting on a good show."
The confidence angle seems to be working for Lewis. "I'm unstoppable," she insisted. "My band is unstoppable. There's that sentiment in the air about 'actor-turned-rocker,' but for me it's a big yawn because I know how tight my band is, and I know what we mean. I know how much heart is in it and that we're gonna keep on keepin' on."
Because she doesn't want to give only half to anything, Lewis has scaled back on acting, though she does have two films due this year. In "Aurora Borealis," Lewis co-stars with Joshua Jackson and Donald Sutherland, and the Quentin Tarantino production "Daltry Calhoun" teams her up with Johnny Knoxville. Lewis only has one other film set to shoot this year, "Catch and Release," playing a role she describes as the "other woman" opposite Jennifer Garner and Timothy Olyphant.