Jenny Lewis: just a phone call away

Jenny Lewis goes solo, keeps friends close

Nothing finer than Jenny Lewis in a diner.

Nothing finer than Jenny Lewis in a diner.

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Jenny Lewis performs on Wednesday, April 15, 6:30 p.m.; $22.50. Empire, 1417 R Street.

Confucius once wrote, “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”

Jenny Lewis, who boasts a career path decorated with accomplishments most only undertake in dreams, lives her life by this mantra. Currently promoting her recent solo album, Acid Tongue, Lewis is touring her way from Australia and across California on the proverbial road to Coachella, the big-time festival in Southern California.

“We were on an airplane yesterday with two rival rugby teams. They were growling at each other,” Lewis recounts, laughing, during an interview last week.

Lewis is the lead singer of Rilo Kiley, but her career actually began when she was 3 years old and starred in a Jell-O commercial. And her Hollywood calling spanned over 15 years, with highlights including roles in The Wizard with Fred Savage, Foxfire with Angelina Jolie, Pleasantville with Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, and the ’80s classic Troop Beverly Hills.

But if you ask her about these experiences, she claims she was too young to remember any of it.

So it goes. The acting side of her career went on permanent hiatus in 2001 after Don’s Plum, but recently Lewis was asked to contribute a song to the Disney animated film Bolt. And when the song was finished, the filmmakers also asked her to do a line for the movie.

“It was one line. It was something like, ‘We’ve gotta boom, Mike!’” Lewis explains. “It’s funny. You go in and you just kind of say the line in a recording studio, and you say the line maybe 25 times in different ways.

“It was pretty exciting to see myself as this strange animated brunette.”

Like an ensemble film, Lewis’ latest album is a special collaborative effort that came to life while she and friends were living in Laurel Canyon, Calif., at bandmate Jonathan Wilson’s house.

“I wouldn’t say that it was the sole inspiration, but it definitely opened up some of the player possibilities,” she says of recording at a home with pals. “I met a bunch of people up at his house, and we’re neighbors … so there is definitely that kind of spirit going on on the record.”

Lewis says the musicians on the album brought a unique spirit to the songs, in part because she was recording essentially with two different band configurations. “Some of the songs were left over from the tours I did for Rabbit Fur Coat … so I wanted to record those in almost a live setting,” Lewis explains. “And then some of the other songs were written during the last Rilo Kiley album, Under the Blacklight, and some were tried there, and some kinda ended up on my record and a couple I just wrote in the studio while we were working.”

A star-studded collection of guests also shows up to help out with the album. M. Ward and actress Zooey Deschanel, a.k.a. the band She & Him, along with superstud Elvis Costello, make appearances on the record.

But in some ways, there’s just one guest musician that stands out: Lewis’ father, Eddie Gordon, who plays harmonica on the track “Jack Killed Mom.” Gordon, a former member of Johnny Puleo’s Harmonica Gang, a popular novelty act in the late ’50s and early ’60s, and Lewis have played together “in the studio, but never live,” Lewis shares.

“But I would love to play with him in a live context,” she adds.

So what does the future hold for this ginger-haired darling of the indie-rock world? In addition to her current tour, her band Rilo Kiley is currently compiling an album of B-sides and rarities. “It’s really exciting. We have been friends and playing music for so long, so we had to dust off the ol’ hard drive,” Lewis says.

The other project Lewis wants to work on is the follow-up to 2003’s Postal Service album Give Up, but has yet to receive word from anyone. “I am always in the wings waiting for Ben [Gibbard] and Jimmy [Tamborello] to start working on a new Postal Service record,” Lewis adds. “I know very little about it, but I am just a phone call away.”