Rilo Kiley: A Band With An Open Marriage

Group encourages solo work — two side-project LPs are due in January.

SANTA MONICA, California — While side projects have been known to cause friction in bands, the opposite is true for Rilo Kiley.

“We’re kind of workaholics, on some level,” guitarist Blake Sennet joked recently. “There’s so much downtime in a band, and you only get to put out 10 songs every two years or whatever, so things trickle into other areas.”

On their last two tours, Rilo Kiley traveled with a recording studio on their bus so multi-instrumentalists Sennet and Jason Boesel could record the second album from their side project, the Elected. Meanwhile, singer Jenny Lewis has been in and out of studios working on her solo debut for Team Love Records, an offshoot of Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst’s Saddle Creek label.

“It’s called Rabbit Fur Coat, and I’m going to [credit it to] Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins,” the singer said. “We’re friends with these twins from Louisville, Kentucky, and they sang with me on a lot of songs — a bunch of harmonizing, a bunch of classic-sounding songs.”

Indie rocker M. Ward produced half of the album, while Oberst, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard (who also worked with Lewis on the Postal Service’s Give Up) and Maroon 5′s James Valentine and Mickey Madden also make guest appearances.

“It’s a giant melting pot of the people that I’ve met over the last couple years,” Lewis said. “I think the production is a lot more pointedly stripped-down [than Rilo Kiley]. I kind of wanted to let the songs just exist and let the voices tell the story, rather than the guitar and production. I kind of wanted the songs to just kind of float around.”

Rabbit Fur Coat is due in January, around the same time as the Elected’s as-yet-untitled release.

“I think [the Elected LP] calls back to a lot more classic stuff, like the Band and early Grateful Dead — before they started selling hemp pants at their shows,” Sennett said of the latter. “And there’s a lot of lush harmonies and four-part saxophone sections. I’m excited about it.”

In the meantime, Rilo Kiley are continuing to promote their breakthrough album, More Adventurous. Although now more than a year old, the record continues to pick up steam thanks to Rilo’s opening slot on Coldplay’s Twisted Logic Tour (see “Rilo Kiley Freaked Out By Stuffed Animals, Coldplay’s Food” ).

“We’re pretty thrown off by it in a way, but really excited,” Lewis said. “We’re used to playing in front of our fans only.”

“[Coldplay] are really good at what they do, which is writing songs that don’t really leave your brain after you hear them,” Sennett added. “Maybe some of their genius will rub off on us.”

Rilo Kiley are also set to release the next single from More Adventurous, the salty ballad “I Never.”

“I was playing it for [my best friend] and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I should even bring it to Rilo Kiley, I don’t know if it’s necessarily appropriate,’ ” Lewis recalled. “But she convinced me to do so. It’s just kind of a soulful, honest ballad.”

The Kileys are known for their quirky videos, and are hoping to work with one of their filmmaker friends. (Lewis is also an actress with several movies on her resume, including “Pleasantville.”) “We had this one idea, [but] logistically it might be a) humiliating and b) impossible to do, but hopefully we can pursue it on some level,” Lewis said, refusing to elaborate so as not to “ruin the surprise.”

And not too far off in the distance is a new Rilo Kiley album. The band is already playing some of the new material live, including a love song to Los Angeles called “Let Me Back In,” an as-yet-untitled “Talking Headsy reggae ballad that is so sad” and a third called “Pull Me in Tighter.”

“I originally recorded [the latter] for the solo record, and I wasn’t really confident with the way it turned out and I thought that the Kiley — as we refer to our band — would service it a lot better,” Lewis said.

“Now I think those other areas are trickling back into Rilo Kiley,” Sennett added, referring to his earlier point about side projects. “Like, there are Elected demos that will probably turn into Rilo Kiley songs and Jenny Lewis solo songs that already have turned into Rilo Kiley songs. So perhaps it’s just circular, and the titles help us organize them.”