Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins
Jenny Lewis is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, CA. Most days (and nights) you can find Jenny Lewis singing and playing with Rilo Kiley, a quartet whose third album, 2004’s More Adventurous, has charmed and delighted fans and peers worldwide. 2005 alone saw Rilo Kiley garner accolades from heroes (Elvis Costello), magazine covers by the fistful, and a spot opening for Coldplay on their recent sold-out arena tour. But in the tiny moments between the stage and the studio, after the photo shoots but before the bars, Jenny spends time by herself, daydreaming and strumming on her acoustic guitar. And the sound of that time alone is Rabbit Fur Coat, Jenny’s first solo album.
“There’s a need to keep writing even after you finish a record,” says Jenny about the downtime that followed the occasionally tumultuous recording of More Adventurous, “but it’s taken me some years to feel confident writing alone. Now I realize the privacy behooves my songwriting. I was more relaxed and worked on these songs at my leisure.” Still, even with a bevy of “private” songs cluttering up the corners of her brain (“they were slightly more sedate, more word-focused”), Jenny had no plans to release or even record the lot of them. It took a Bright Eye-d friend to convince her otherwise. “I didn’t even consider making a solo record until Conor asked me a couple of years ago,” she laughs. “He said he was starting a label, Team Love, and he’d love for me to make a record for it.”
In keeping with the loose origins of the project, recording was also a catch-as-catch-can affair, done in between press and performance obligations for Rilo Kiley. After laying down a number of songs with old friend and co-conspirator Mike Mogis in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, Jenny flew herself to Portland to work with M.Ward, a collaboration that bore instant fruit. “When I flew to Portland all I had of “Happy” was a verse,” she explains. “As soon as I got there Matt came over to my hotel room and I played it for him and it just sort of happened – the chorus just came out. The whole process was quick and casual.”
Modeled after the great “white soul” classics of the past – particularly Laura Nyro and Labelle’s seminal Gonna Take a Miracle – Rabbit Fur Coat finds Jenny reaching out to her farflung assortment of wildly talented friends (including co-producer M.Ward, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Maroon 5’s James Valentine and Mickey Madden, and label boss Oberst) while simultaneously coming into her own as an individual performer and storyteller. “That album was always in the back of my mind: if I could just make something that captured the feeling of that record.” Enter the Watson Twins, a set of Kentucky-born sisters with an other-wordly gift to harmonize. “I met the girls through Blake in L.A.,” she explains. “I’m just so impressed with their instincts as singers and their relationship to my songs. They were very serious about them.”
On the galloping “Big Guns” and the smoldering “Rise Up With Fists!” the Watson Twins tease out the soulful corners of Jenny’s confessional narratives, steering strong story/songs about religion, forgiveness, and the nature of art into the weedy and dense grounds of a gothic, southern estate. Indeed, this atmosphere of dixie-fried mystery pervades the disc, heightening and haunting Jenny’s nuanced compositions.