Music Interview: Natural Born Rocker

Your eyes roll back into your head while you heave a heavy sigh. You are joined by a large group in these actions, all provoked by actress Juliette Lewis’ new band, Juliette and the Licks. You join the sceptics in a sneer at her emerging music career, hastily condemning her to the ranks of actors-turned musicians like Keanu Reeves, Jared Leto and Russell Crowe, whose bands barely register on the public’s music radar. You accuse Lewis of trying to create some self-exposure to ignite her slow film career. All your judgments are unfounded, because Lewis has a message for all you cynics out there.

“Come see the live show, you got to see it to believe it,” she states. “That’s my mantra because everything else is just assumption and you really don’t have any idea how solid my band is or what an exciting show we put on. I’m really proud of that. And I’m really cocky about the guys in my band. I think we’ve developed such a good chemistry and they’re not slouches. They’ve all been doing this with other bands. For people to get off me for a second and recognize the band, it’s fun. It’s always a revelation when that happens.”

Rounded out by guitarists Todd Morse and Kemble Walters, bassist Paul Ill and drummer Jason Morris, Juliette and the Licks deserve all the recognition they get. With their EP Like a Bolt of Lighting and full-length album You’re Speaking My Language in tow, the band exudes pure, unadulterated rock’n’roll energy, capturing the raw sound and intensity of such female-fronted bands such as The Pretenders, Blondie and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Lewis’ motivation to start the band was to unleash this energy to awaken and invigorate listeners. According to the band’s website, she states her music serves as an antidote to the rampant fear, self-doubt and apathy in society. She cites America’s war on terror and drug culture as sources of societal problems.

“You have to sell everybody that there’s terror everywhere, there’s a constant threat so that you have to be in fear and let Big Daddy take care of the problem for you,” explains Lewis. “That’s a frightening scenario. It’s one I never bought. You also have drug companies, again, selling you, if you have one little ache or pain or emotional problem, [a] little pill so that you’ll be nice and sedated and even-keeled. That’s another thing I opposed ’cause I’m one that stands up for feeling everything and using that energy in a positive way.”

This stance explains Lewis’ desire to control all aspects of her musical career, from finding the right musicians to writing lyrics to producing the records herself. Self-producing meant she could make the albums sound like a live show.

“I have a lot to prove and we’re just establishing ourselves,” Lewis says. “I wanted people to really feel us as a band. I didn’t want to hide behind anything polished or overproduced or anything like that. I didn’t want to work with a producer for that reason. I just wanted us to sound like us. For the next record I want to play with sounds and really play with the idea of being a recording studio, but this one I wanted to be organic. I was inspired by people like The Pretenders, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which all have a kind of no-frills production, and it’s just about the songs.”

With her celebrity Lewis could have released her band’s album on a major label, but like many other acts trying to make it in the industry, she chose to work with independent labels.

“We just released the album with [Fiddler Records] and the EP and that’s it,” she explains. “We’re now just completely free agents. They are friends with Todd, my guitar player. Jay [Parkin], who runs Fiddler, is a friend of his, so I was just like, ‘Hey, do you want to put our record out?’ But in the UK we have another independent label called Hassle Records and they’re awesome. They have just a really great team and so I will definitely be going the independent route in the future.”

Lewis’ future will still include acting. In fact, she has several projects underway, but right now she’s concentrating on a career allowing her to have artistic control and a connection with fans.

“I love it more than anything to come through town with a band, put on a fun show that exhilarates people and then talk to people afterwards,” she admits. “It’s this connection I really, really love and it’s what you don’t get in film. Film is much more secluded and it’s a solitary experience. I love the community of music.”

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