Whether playing a delightfully demented, gun-happy natural born killer or manipulating mic cables into lassos as a sultry blues-esque songstress, actress/musician Juliette Lewis is the definition of a performer in all aspects of the word.
Lewis is a superhero of sorts. She switches from actress to her alter ego: a stage diving, sweaty dancing machine as the vocalist/front-woman for her band, The New Romantiques—which she formed after parting ways with The Licks in 2009. Lewis and her musical entourage have been living the jet set life for the past year, globetrotting from country to country to promote the band’s new album, Terra Incognita.
It’s the fourth record under the artist’s multi-functional utility belt, preceded by …Like A Bolt Of Lightning (2004), You’re Speaking My Language (2005), and Four On The Floor (2006). Now back on the western hemisphere, Lewis is preparing to kick more melodious ass when the band’s tour brings them to the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on Aug. 21.
So, you’ve recently came back to the U.S. from your world tour. How was it and did you have some memorable moments?
I’ve been doing this for six years, so we tend to go to the same places as we did with my earlier band, The Licks. So what’s always exciting is putting together a new set list and playing new songs. I’m really excited about this band because the groove is different. We’re a real plaid back bunch, so it’s a real pleasure living together and then going to new places.
We’ve been to old places, but Austria I like a lot. It’s awfully pretty. We had a wild night in Poland that was strange. [laughs] We played some festivals. We played a festival in Serbia…no, Sylvania…I forget where it was, but with Muse, who I toured with before. Usually going on these tours is fun because you see old bands that you’ve crossed paths with. So you get to do a bit of everything. You get to do these festivals and then all these club shows. I think always for me, I never take it for granted. So I’m always just happy when people show up and there’s a lively audience, big or small. I’m just thrilled.
I follow you on Facebook, and one of the things about the tour is that fans are able to virtually follow you on the Web with the site because you’re constantly updating your status and adding pictures. You even add personal stuff like when you’re sick and pictures of you coloring your hair blue.
[laughs] It’s this new world. I do draw a line, you know, from like personal, personal stuff, and I don’t spew things that are hateful. I’m not into that, so it’s usually just little, silly things, like, “The lady in our dressing room baked us a cake,” you know what I mean? I guess I like to give the people a little insight to touring because ultimately they’re who you’re making music for. At the end of the day, your audience is what sustains you. It’s your lust for life that sustains you, but it’s also this connection you create because if you had no one to sing the songs for, you’d just be singing in the living room, you know what I mean?
For me, this whole journey is about the live show experience. That’s one of the things I relish about it, is this communal connection with music. You can create a community, and you can create a sense of togetherness. It is essential to use the Internet in this day and age. You know something funny and ironic? That I’ve never used this medium as just an actor, and I wouldn’t even be on there just as an actress because I’m a collaborator in that world and it’s not really my baby, you know, when I have a movie. But my records, those are my love children. [laughs]
How does it feel to be back in the States after being away for a while and still touring to boot? Are there any places you’re excited about performing in?
We love it! When you’re home too long, you get that itch and you can’t wait to go. For me, it’s like the farther, the better. We’ve been to Macedonia, we went to Turkey, and we played with Jane’s Addiction—that was memorable. We’ve been to all these strange places and it became an inspiration for my record actually, Terra Incognita, which is going into unknown territories.
But with that said, there’s also something about coming home and playing in places you’re more rooted in. I’m really excited about this tour because I will play in Canada much more than I ever did before, and Canada just has some great audiences for me. Also, New York always, always is a blast always! Since the beginning of my shows six years ago with my first band, it has always been wild crowds, and I love New York City.
There’s always so much going on in your shows aside from the music, where you’re singing, dancing, and stage diving…
That’s funny, man. Sometimes, it takes the show from a 9 to an 11, depending on the crowd. But no matter what, my whole objective is to move every single person who is in that space, just sort of amplify their hearts and souls. It’s really the exchanging of energy. I’m sort of this exaggerated version of everything I’ve felt in these songs. I get the energy from my drummer, my bassist, my guitar player and the crowd, and also just from being deeply in love with what I’m doing. I’m a little bit ferocious. I’ve been that way my whole life. I feel things really on high, you know? So it’s in my art.
You’re performing lots of songs from the new album, and Terra Incognita features song writing by you that is somewhat personal and based on your experiences.
It’s funny because sometimes the music invites them. I wrote this song on piano called “Female Persecution.” That was like channeling [something] that was completely abstract and strange. I just didn’t edit the words that were coming into my head, and it made me think of witches burning at the stake. You know, women that were accused of being witches way back when, and women throughout history who have been persecuted. So I called it “Female Persecution.” That was a very abstract song.
Then there are fantasy songs, like “Fantasy Bar” that came to me from going out one night in New York. You’re with your friends and everyone’s looking for the perfect bar. They’re like, “No, no, no dude, let’s go to the next place,” and, “No, the next place.” Then it reminded me of L.A. 10 years prior when I used to go out a lot. So I put sort of East Coast/West Coast lyrics in there, but it’s really the characters you meet in this fantasy bar.
It’s been more or less a year since you’ve been with The New Romantiques after splitting ways with The Licks. How has the change been for you both personally and musically?
Oh, it has been huge! I feel like I grew up with The Licks. I feel like that was my high school band in a way. I really learned a lot with these different groups of guys that I had the great fortune to be able to have as long as I did. I had different guitar players and different drummers at different times because not everyone wants to be on the road for five years. This new band is really fun for me because I achieved a few things musically that I have wanted to do. I have a communication with my drummer that I’ve always been looking for, and the sense of spontaneity, and a real easy going, laid back vibe on the road. That makes touring and all the work I do much easier than ever before. We are a pretty stress free band.
How will you further explore your music with The New Romantiques on the next album?
We have a few ideas of using organic sounds and synthetic sounds, so we’ll be playing stuff that’s production based. So I’m looking for a good producer.
So I’ve seen you in the commercial for the upcoming movie The Switch.
I did three movies while I was on a break. I was making my record, and it was in between when I have a tour booked. I’ll be open again in the fall to do movies. I got to do The Switch, where I played Jennifer Aniston’s good friend. It was a very cute movie. Then I did a really dramatic part in Hillary Swank’s movie, called Conviction, where I’m completely despicable, which is great. I even made myself uncomfortable playing her, which is always good. And then I played a pot dealer in this movie Due Date with Robert Downey Jr. Those will both come out this year.
Being that you are both a musician and an actress, these worlds must collide for you.
I think I am finally figuring out how to do it. But in the beginning, yeah because the lifestyles are a bit different. The type of musician I am is the do-it-yourself kind. It’s very small and hands on. Making movies is actually a luxury because I get to take a load off and sort of focus on one thing. With music, you’re dealing with sounds, melodies, and lyrics. With movies, it’s much more linear and cerebral in a way. As a kid, I always knew that I was going to be upon a stage performing and singing. But that’s not to negate drama, because drama has everything to do with it. So I feel all complete now where I get to work in both fields. I’m just missing the stage all my life and writing songs. My only regret is not picking up an instrument earlier. As a kid, I might have been less stubborn, but I might have been more stubborn. I’m not sure.
Yeah, that’s one of my regrets.
Get out! And finishing karate. I took karate, too. By now, I could have been a black belt!