We caught up with the highly revered Juliette Lewis on a freezing cold day working from home. There was a strange sense of excitement in the air for about an hour before the phone call, which may or may not be attributed to the holiday season. (Or our immense love for this woman and all of her talents. Could be that.) My nerves had gotten the best of me, as I explained to my father earlier in the day that Lewis recently released her first collection of songs in years – an incredible EP titled Future Deep – and that seeing her perform live this past summer had really increased my faith in her ridiculous amount of talent.
Check out the fun – but all too quick – conversation we had with Juliette below. We’ve included the EP for you to rock out to for the rest of the year and beyond.
How are you today?
I’m pretty good. Just a few more days until Christmas. I’m not sure. When is it? (laughing) Where are you based out of? I’m in Los Angeles right now.
I am actually in Kansas City, Missouri.
Wow, that’s neat.
So we’re snowed in right now. Is it OK out there? Heard it’s been raining.
Oh yeah. It’s raining and it’s freezing per L.A. weather, which is great. (laughing) It’s good. We needed rain so it’s all good.
Absolutely. Alright, let’s dig in! Your career is super expansive and amazing. Everything you touch turns to gold. So we were wondering, what keeps bringing you back to music?
That’s sweet. When I was a kid, I was always involved in music. So when I was a kid – before the art mediums were segregated to the extent that they are now – I took dance and sang in musicals and created characters and did storytelling. Then, I got successful doing one thing, which was mainly actin gin movies. When I turned around 30, I thought, “Holy shit, you’re 30 and you didn’t do that thing you wanted to do.” And that thing was to make music.
For me, it begins and ends with a live show and the live show experience. I always likened The Licks – my first band – to like, when you have a band out of high school. The music was really energy based, I wrote songs specifically to perform live. It’s not until now that I’m really enjoying the process of making the album. I got into the idea of making rock music as a collective, so I worked on this record [Future Deep] with Brad Schultz – who produced half of it and is a songwriter as well as a member of Cage the Elephant – and Isabella Summers – who is in Florence & The Machine, I did a few songs with her. For Future Deep, I wanted to work with people and write songs that I dug.
What keeps me coming back to music – and any art form – is necessity. I was touring for about five years and wasn’t making movies. What brought me back to acting was the thought that I wasn’t done and I still had more to say. In both mediums, I feel like I still have more to say. So it’s about navigation of those two streams – those two currants – and it’s proved challenging but exciting at the same time.
Fair enough! Your live performance – like you said – is crazy. I knew you made music and I had heard it before, but I didn’t get to see you until Riot Fest Denver this year and you KILLED IT. Your Evel Knievel outfit, your presence. What made you decide to go with that?
I don’t know! (laughing) I like showmanship. But at the same time, there’s no other way I can be on stage. I don’t know how to do a sedate show or a whatever show. Every show I do, it’s like my life depends on it. And it’s the people that bring it out in me because I want to move every single set of eyes I see in the crowd.
Music – for me – has been sort of spiritual in the sense that I used music to get over a lot of fears. I used to – believe it or not – have a fear of crowds that was happening when I lost my anonymity at around twenty. I never wanted to go to malls or concerts or any place where there could be crowds. The great irony is I formed a rock band and now there’s no crowd I can’t put myself in front of. I don’t throw myself in every crowd, but mostly it cured me of my fear of people. I like the idea of bringing danger and electricity and unpredictability to a live show experience. It’s an expression to me against the anesthetized, plastic part of our culture that’s been happening, especially with women in the arts where there’s this weird, unspoken way with which we deal with women in the arts.
I also feel like a superhero on stage. And Evel Knievel, he wore a badass suit. So I got one made. (laughing) I was inspired by David Lee Roth and others growing up, and he wore great outfits.
I wish I could pull it off! You do everything right!
Well thank you, I’m glad you were there!
Very happy I got to experience it. So what do you do to prep for a live performance like that though?
It’s weird because when I started my band, I very much approached it – and I guess acting more and more as I go on – by trying to maintain energy. So before I go on, I stretch and love looking at a venue or a space before it’s filled. Every stage has an electricity or a vibe, which is one of the pleasures of touring. You have all that came before you in that space.
I am inspired a lot by my band this time around. I had a bass player named Juan Alderete (The Mars Volta) and his groove alone would excite me for a show. He’s one of my favorite bass players of all time. I was just really excited to play with the group of people I put together. I always know why I’m doing it. I love people and having them come into a space to form a collective and shed their fears and problems and get into a space where we all unite and celebrate life, love, and music.
One ritual I do have is when I’m putting makeup on my eyes. When I’m doing my eyes in the mirror, there’s a focus and I’m doing vocal warmups while I work on it. I always do my eyes, but everything else I sweat off.
So Future Deep makes you feel like a total badass when you listen to it. Are there any fun anecdotes that you have from creating it?
Each song has a whole life of its own. “Hello Hero” is a song Isabella and I created in London. I met with her, we talked about music. It’s so neat to talk about something, to play a song and to create a beat or melody and watch it all come to life. When Brad and I made all our songs, it was snowing. I went to Nashville and we bunked out at a studio there and it was so great because it was snowing outside so we didn’t want to go outside. We made “Any Way You Want” and “I Know Trouble” – which is very inspired by “I Put A Spell On You”.
A lot of the best songs will sort of write themselves. I usually work with musicians who will play something and it will unlock a whole story that is sitting there within me, or a melody. If you’re connected to your truth, you can then access it.
One time, they took me out to Bowling Green, KY. I basically kidnapped most of the members of Cage the Elephant and made my EP. Drummer Jared Champion, Matt, and then Brad Schultz took me out to a bar in Bowling Green. I have a rule where I don’t accept shots or drinks from strangers, but (laughing) I just missed that rule. It was their southern hospitality. I was wrecked in the studio for two days and they just made fun of me. So that was good, I was like a member of the band for a minute. I passed the test. (laughing)
The whole record was made in a couple weeks. It started because I knew Brad Schultz from ten years ago when we were both touring in London and then I heard a recent record of theirs, and I digged the sound a lot. New rock n’ roll doesn’t have a whole lot that’s carrying the torch of soul and groove in the music, but they do it. They do it right.
Do you have a favorite song from the EP at all?
Definitely. We played most of them live the past year, so I do. These songs live take on a life all their own. Like “Future Deep” takes on this dance tone, and people are super into it. “I Know Trouble” is definitely a favorite as far as just a soul-ripping blues song. I love “Any Way You Want” as an out of the gate rock track. And “Hello Hero” is one of my favorite things I’ve done of all time. It’s dancey with big beats and the grooviest bass line. I love “Hello Hero”.
I will have to say I do everything haphazard because I’m totally independent. Vinyl is coming in two weeks, I’m making all of this myself. There’s a lot of freedom in it. Then there is social media and things like this interview that are fun and very helpful.
Over the years, have you had anything interesting or fun on your rider list?
We have such a basic rider. One, we’re so punk rock and low budget. (laughing) There is NOTHING fun on our rider. We play little rock clubs where you’re lucky if you get half your rider. PLUS I always have a couple vegans in my crew, so we prioritize getting them fed. Especially in Europe. So there’s nothing fun ever. Socks? I’m not vegan, but ginger cookies. I like ginger. Nothing exciting. (laughing)
What would your advice to young girls chasing their dreams around the world be, especially with our current political climate?
My biggest advice is to find your truth. I learned how to sing from jazz music, and I realized imitation isn’t bad as long as you develop who you really are. To imitate Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald – I used to sing like that. Then I got with Linda Perry and she helped me get more courageous. She asked me what I like and what it is I want to say and we just started playing. So I would just tell people to try. There is no perfection. Be willing to make mistakes in your art and keep doing it. Stop it with the pressure.
I think with social media, people like writing and directing their own bits online and putting themselves out there. Perhaps there’s less perfection. But then on the flip side, there are young girls who say, “I can’t take a bad picture.”
I’m really big into doing what you fear. Not in an unhealthy way, but to stand up and speak a poem you wrote that was meaningful to you. Say it in front of people. There are so many inspiring things that come from that and you’ll find that there are other people who hear and feel your truth. You’ll find who you’re meant to speak to and where you’re supposed to be.
Please break the mold and don’t get lost in beauty stereotypes. Nowhere in my art am I thinking about being safe or attractive. My deeper concern is expression and connection. That is the end all be all.
I got the privilege of touring with Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and it showed me that with certain artists, I don’t see any age. I don’t see anything but a one of a kind voice and a musical force with the most incredible songs. I got to tour with her and Cat Power f0r a month and it was such a phenomenal experience. Two completely different women and musicians. It was so liberating.
You do amazing things, woman.
Well thanks! I’m just open to opportunities and trying not to overthink. I try to leave it to chance. I don’t always feel prepared, but I’ll go for it and do my best in that moment, where I’m at. This record we just made is nothing I would have been able to write ten years ago. But ten years ago was what I could do at that time.
Do you have any big plans for the holidays?
Yes, I’m going to go to the snow. I grew up in California, the snow is like a miracle of life. “OH MY GOD! THERE’S SNOW!” I just want to be surrounded by it. I love that you’re surrounded by it and can’t drive right now. We’re going to Utah. I’m going with my guy and his kids and my sister and their kids for New Years. I’m really excited to play board games and to be stuck with each other and do things in the snow.
As far as Christmas, I’m just doing my thing with family. Should be relaxing.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Try and be active in the things you believe in and connect with other groups who are also active. Try to protect the vulnerable. That’s the main concern with our political climate is those people who have to be vulnerable by whatever things are about to be laid down. Right now is a very inspiring time. People are finding their voice and coming together. I’m going to that march on Washington for female rights at the end of January. We’re all coming together. It’s amazing.