Jenny Lewis Profile for Her New Album, ‘On the Line’

Jenny Lewis Profile for Her New Album, ‘On the Line’

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Photo: Kelia Anne

“I feel like I’m living the Laurel Canyon version of the movie Big,” Jenny Lewis says, as she fires up her pinball machine and puts on a hot pink trucker cap that reads “BEST FRIENDS” in black lettering.

The comparison to the 1988 Tom Hanks film — in which a seventh-grader wakes up one day in the body of a 30-year-old man — feels apt when it comes to her décor. Her house, affectionately nicknamed “Mint Chip” for its brown and green exterior, has a full drum kit and a pink girl’s bike (a recent eBay purchase) set up in the entryway to the living room. She’s projecting The Adventures of Mark Twain, an obscure claymation fantasy film from the ’80s, onto a blank white wall. Across from the pinball machine, in her guest room, hangs a oversized promotional cutout for The Wizard, featuring Lewis’s beaming 13-year-old face next to Fred Savage — her thick, red bangs unchanged in the 30 years since the movie came out.

The distinct vibe of kids’ clubhouse–meets–bachelorette pad is most pronounced on her bedroom walls, which a friend recently convinced Lewis to paint a pale, blush pink. The 43-year-old singer-songwriter was so pleased with the color — Benjamin Moore Teacup Rose 2170-50 — that she plans to use it as her stage backdrop when she hits the road this spring to promote On the Line, her fourth solo album.

Lewis has spent decades in the public eye, or at least in its peripheral vision. Her child-actor days gave way to a musical career in 1998, when she formed the band Rilo Kiley alongside fellow former child actor (and then-boyfriend) Blake Sennett. The couple broke up, but the band stayed together, making a handful of moody, memorable records. As Rilo Kiley’s front woman, she sang with an assertive candor, revealing her deepest vulnerabilities around sex and heartbreak and familial relationships through soaring, irresistible power-pop choruses. Her personal style, comprised of vintage baby-doll dresses and an array of rompers, landed on the enviable side of mid-aughts twee. She reclaimed elements of a male-dominated rock scene and made them accessible for openhearted young women. Lewis released her first solo album, the country-tinged Rabbit Fur Coat, in 2006, giving her credibility with millennial indie fans as a stand-alone artist.

Her influence from that era is best summed up by the actress Kristen Stewart, a paragon of blasé self-presentation, who told James Corden that Lewis was the one celebrity she was most nervous to meet. “I couldn’t breathe,” Stewart said of her now-friend. “I literally just completely caved in front of her.” Lewis is touched by this sort of sentiment from early fans, women who heard her music, she says, “just at the perfect age.” It’s an intense fandom, if limited to a certain demographic.

“I get recognized at Whole Foods,” she concedes. “A lot.”

Lewis has always maintained an outward image of alluring self-sufficiency, repeatedly reinventing herself — from child star to alternative front woman to thriving solo act. Now, the indie rocker is figuring out what this new version of independence looks like. Inside her charmed house, underneath her cheerful exterior, she’s working through a heavier chapter in life. That bedroom paint color, the one that she likes so much that she’s hauling it with her across the country, was introduced after her boyfriend of 12 years, musician Johnathan Rice*, moved out. Shortly after her breakup, she was dealt another seismic blow: Her long-estranged mother, who frequently appeared in Lewis’s songs, died of liver cancer.

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Photo: Kelia Anne

As far as cathartic albums go, On the Line is pretty upbeat. It has a more robust and straightforward rock sound than her previous work, but still hews to her signature style of combining gentle melodies and syrupy, shining vocals with accounts of darkness and desperation, all topped off with a reckless shrug. The new songs are thrillingly unfettered. On one track, she sings about getting “wired on Red Bull and Hennessy,” on another, she sits “in a black Corvette, getting head in the shadows.” Today we’re in for a far more…

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