Before her band debuts at Fuji Rock, the Natural Born Killers
actress says other Hollywood stars-cum-rockers simply havent
tried hard enough
|After one show,
a man said, That was like watching an exorcism
Recent forays into rock by Hollywood stars
havent been inspiring. Russell Crowe has generated more
publicity throwing telephones at hapless hotel clerks than
from his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. And Keanu Reeves is at
least honest when he tells the press that his group Dogstar
So expectations were low and cynicism high when Juliette Lewis
formed Juliette & The Licks in 2003. I love it,
the actress/rocker laughs down the line from her LA hairdresser.
I think its hilarious. Ive faced obstacles
and adversity my entire life. It feeds my defiance; its
all I know. If it was easy for me, it would be so boring.
With a bruising tour schedule in support of this springs
debut album, Youre Speaking My Language, and only one
movie this year, Lewis isnt approaching this as a pleasant
diversion from acting. Its my creative emancipation,
she explains. The thing with the music is that everything
about it is from me. From the lyrical content to the album
cover to the flyers, T-shirtseverything goes through
me. So it requires a lot, and Im not one to half-ass
If Juliette & The Licks arent an actors vanity
project (well, not entirely anyway), neither are they of the
actor hires producer, studio musicians, and releases
solo album variety. The band came together the way most
do: through friends, family and word of mouth. Lewis met her
lead guitarist, Todd Morse, through her sister, and the rest
of the band was assembled in a chain reaction.
The results on Youre Speaking My Language sit comfortably
with the neo-garage movement of the 00s. The musical
references are not to 90s grunge or rap-metal, but to
the primeval 60s three-chord garage rock of The Animals,
Iggy Pop and that bra-burning feminist proto-punk of the 70s
I liked rock when it was revolutionary, Lewis
says. I like trying to move and uplift people. And I
find that music is a visceral and unifying experience, and
as a band thats what were trying to dorelease
Lewis decries the climate of doubt, apathy and fear that she
says characterizes post-9/11 America. Its so Big
Brother right now in America with the fucking Patriot Act,
she says. The government, news media and medical industries
have created an unholy trinity in which you sell fear
and then youve got your anesthetizing happy pill.
Her goal is to provide a chemical-free antidote. Rock
n roll music is about uplifting and getting people
to recognize their own voice. I feel like being angry or exhilarated
are more productive energies than being defeated.
This kind of energy bursts forth from the get-go of the title
track and from socio-political tirades like American
Boy Vol. II, in which she lashes out in her gritty rasp
at George W. Bush. But Lewis also knows how to slow things
down and get reflective, as on the piano ballad Long
Road Out of Here. Its really about the death
of my friend, she says, expanding on the theme. Its
a heavy, wrenching song...I write melody and lyrics and direct
the overall sound of the music. If I want the guitar solo
to sound more angry or abstract, I say that. You can speak
in emotional terms. Thats the fun thing with music.
While this is Lewis first band, her childhood and young
adulthood were filled with the sounds of artists like Jimi
Hendrix and Janis Joplin through Tom Petty and the Pretenders,
early rap, and 80s electro outfits such as Depeche Mode.
Before forming her group, she worked with star producer Linda
Perry, but wound up choosing a different route. That
was like two years ago. But then I decided I didnt want
to be a solo artist with a producerI wanted to develop
music from a live show and through a whole band.
It will be interesting to see what the audience at the Fuji
Rock Festival makes of Lewis. Will they care? Or will they
be indifferent, as the audience was to another Hollywood bad
girl, Courtney Love, in her own FRF appearance last summer?
Either way, months of touring rock dives in North America
and Europe (After one show, a man said, That was
like watching an exorcism, she recalls) only seem
to have toughened Lewis physically and fueled her determination.
I think the other guys are no longer around because
they didnt persist, she concludes in a quick riposte
to the inevitable comparison to fellow Hollywood actor-rockers.
I feel like Im unstoppable.
Youre Speaking My Language
is out on Fiddler Records. Juliette & The Licks play the
Fuji Rock Festival on July 30 & 31. See concert listings
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com