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Rilo Kiley : The Hollywood Connection

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: October 15, 2002

Rilo Kiley
w/ Arlo, Kind of Like Spitting
Saturday, Oct. 19
9 p.m.
Sokol Underground

13th & Martha

More Rilo? Read the Sept. 22, 2004, Lazy-i interview with Jason Boesel.

Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis has a sweet, fractured voice that sounds friendly, inquisitive and genuinely interested even in the face of inane questions about her past.

When grilled in E! True Hollywood Story fashion about her showbiz past, Lewis, who fronts the newest Saddle Creek Records' band with fellow ex-child actor Blake Sennett (of Nickelodeon's 'Salute Your Shorts' fame), couldn't be happier to comply.

"It's a part of who I am," she said via cell phone from inside a van headed to San Francisco where the band was slated to play a gig that night. "I'm not proud of my work as a child actor, but I'm open to talk about it."

The former actress counts roles in movies like the Shelley Long vehicle "Troop Beverly Hills" and the bad-girl epic "Foxfire" (which featured future Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie) alongside appearances on TV fodder such as "Growing Pains," "Rosanne," and the short-lived 1986 sitcom "Life With Lucy."

The Lucy questions resulted in snickers. "No one's asked me about working with Lucy before," Lewis said about the sitcom where she played Lucille Ball's granddaughter. Yes, Lucy was a bit rough around the edges, and yes, she constantly smoked cigarettes on the set. "She would pull her face back with tape, sort of like a cheap face-lift." Ah, now that's just the kind of Hollywood-insider gossip readers crave.




In the end, I confessed to having never seen Lewis on the big or little screen. "You're not missing much," she said. These days, Lewis wants to be known as a singer/songwriter, not as a burgeoning starlet. She began writing music with Sennett eight years ago, eventually forming a band that played around the Southern California area.

Their first CD was the critically acclaimed Take Offs and Landings, released in September 2001 by Seattle's Barsuk Records. Featuring Lewis, Sennett, bassist Pierre de Reeder and drummer Dave Rock (who has since been replaced by Jason Boesel), the home-made recording fit nicely next to music by label mates Death Cab for Cutie, who often shared the stage with the band.

It wasn't until they were out touring Take Offs… that the Los Angeles natives began a relationship with Saddle Creek Records.

"We met Tim Kasher (Cursive, The Good Life) at a show in San Francisco's Great American Music Hall," Lewis said. "We were headed to Iowa for a gig and he invited us to join their caravan as they traveled cross-country."

During the sojourn, Kasher and company gave Rilo Kiley a tour of Lincoln's Presto! Studios, the recording home of Saddle Creek Records' artists under the direction of Mike and A.J. Mogis.

The Saddle Creek sound wasn't a mystery to Lewis. "We had bought a copy of Bright Eyes' Fevers and Mirrors a year before, so we were already fans of the music," Lewis said. "We decided to record our next CD at Presto! and work with Saddle Creek because of the creative freedom we knew they'd offer."

The product is The Execution of All Things, Rilo Kiley's just-released Saddle Creek debut, produced, mixed and recorded by Mike Mogis and featuring guest appearances by a handful of Saddle Creek regulars including Kasher and Cursive band mate cellist Gretta Cohn, The Good Life's Ryan Fox, and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Jiha Lee. Not to mention Mogis' multi-instrumental touches on pedal steel, vibraphone, banjo and glockenspiel.

It was the first time the band had worked with a producer, let alone recorded in a formal studio setting. "We had an incredible time," Lewis said. "I think it went smoothly because we did so much preparation before we entered the studio. I remember staying up all night recording synth and guitar parts."

The CD's collection of hook-filled pop songs stands out like a signal flair among Saddle Creeks' catalog of stark-gray, introspective acts such as Kasher's and Oberst's projects, Azure Ray and Mayday -- artists who value confessions over hooks.


Rilo Kiley -- The Execution of All Things

"She would pull her face back with tape, sort of like a cheap face-lift."



Rilo Kiley enjoy life on the road.

"Another amazing thing about Omaha is that you've got some girls there with some real playing chops."


As a performer, Lewis comes from the Jenny Toomey / Aimee Mann school of perky, personal singer/songwriters whose sweet, mature voices emote honesty without shortchanging the rock. Rilo Kiley songs are confident-yet-cynical pop tunes draped oh-so-slightly in melancholy and longing.

The CD's title track, with its precise back-beat drums, rattling guitars, ringing solos and Lewis' comfortable, throaty soprano, is the perfect indie pop song that could single-handedly save commercial radio, if commercial radio wanted to be saved. It's the ultimate first track to any good mix-tape.

Just as catchy is the CD opener, "The Good That Won't Come Out," a cathartic bouncer that allows Lewis to soar above the bass, chiming chords and Mogis' serene pedal-steel, singing a Generation Y mantra about futility:

Let's get together and talk about the modern age
All of our friends were gathered there with their pets just talking shit
About how we're all so upset about the disappearing ground
As we watch it melt.

Sure, it sounds as gloomy as any other Creek song; the difference is that this one begs you to sing along.

The tour that brings Rilo Kiley to Omaha's Sokol Underground Saturday, Oct. 19, is the band's sixth in the past year. "It's definitely gotten better the more we've gone out and played," Lewis said. "The first time out there were maybe three kids there. The next time 20 showed up. It just continues to build."

Recently, Lewis stood stage-side during a Bright Eyes concert in San Francisco. The event -- both onstage and off -- was inspiring. "Another amazing thing about Omaha is that you've got some girls there with some real playing chops," she said. "I went into the ladies' room before the show and there was Jiha warming up on flute. Watching the girls on stage that night made me feel like I should go out and learn piano."

When Rilo Kiley plays the Nov. 2 College Music Journal showcase in New York alongside Bright Eyes, Cursive, Now It's Overhead, Azure Ray, Desaparecidos and The Good Life, Lewis said it'll be like a big group hug, with performers taking turns backing each other on stage.

"I know Mike (Mogis) will play with us and Jiha will play the flute on a song," she said. "A lot of those people will play. It'll be pretty remarkable. I'm getting excited thinking about it. I feel really grateful to all of these awesome people and musicians."

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Published in The Omaha Weekly Oct. 16, 2002. Copyright 2002 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved. Top photo by Sasha Eisenman.