After far too long – on the basis that for fans of the bloody marvellous Jenny Lewis, any wait at all is too long – next month sees a new record from Los Angeles’ finest purveyor of pop songs of puppies, trucks, glitter gulches and crushed dreams of velvet, called Joy’All.
It’s possible that the album has been heard in these quarters, and if I were allowed to say so I might tell you it’s bloody brilliant. Since I may not be allowed to, even if I had heard, which I’m not saying I have, for now we just have to wait.
But while we wait, Wind Back Wednesday looks back a decade to another much anticipated – and subsequently much loved – record, The Voyager, and finds the songwriter/singer under the gaze and assumptions of many.
JENNY LEWIS HAS JUST BEEN LAUGHED AT on the streets of Orlando, Florida, by a bunch of pre-teens - "When you are a ginger you are a walking target," she says without rancour – but it’s not their gaze that worries her.
"I live in California but every time I go to London, I am still hyper-aware of the cameras, but it's a way of life and people accept it,” says that rarity in American life, a Los Angeles artist who actually grew up in Los Angeles. “People are willing to give up their freedom for the idea of safety and I really disagree with that. It's really dangerous."
It’s the same attitude Lewis has applied to her music for more than 15 years, firstly with the band she co-created, Rilo Kiley, and then on her own. Radio and the charts know little of her polished gems of pop songs which carry fizzing centres of truth, but along the way she has attracted the close and devoted attention of celebrated authors, actors and journalists, grown-ups all, who tend to post online comments along the lines of “swoon” and “girl crush”.
From the almost universally gushing reviews, up to and including this week’s Ryan Adams-produced album, The Voyager, it’s an approach which has made sense. Yes, even if it has not always made money for a songwriter who seems to so effortlessly capture west coast life musically (she often sounds like a smarter and sharper Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac) or lyrically (singing of people, to quote one song, “struggling with sobriety and dreaming of notoriety”).
She sees what she does as just part of a tradition - “I'm an American songwriter and I write from a very American perspective and so did the records I grew up listening to.” – yet it was to an Englishman she turned when the period between solo records began to stretch past five years and no end was in sight. An Englishman she had never actually met but who is at least as immersed in American music as she was: Keith Richards.
"I've been reading and rereading Keith Richards autobiography [Life] and I kind of hit a wall with my songwriting and I had Life and in it he talks about this open tuning which he made very famous, so I tuned up a guitar like Keith did and I took off the top string and I wrote a song and that became the first song that I ended up recording with Ryan Adams.
“And he already had a guitar in that tuning, missing that string and he said ‘I know exactly what you want to do’.”
For all that serendipity, Richards’ guidance was not just musical, just as Lewis’s problems were not just musical as she tried to write in the midst of Rilo Kiley splitting, her father dying and a crippling case of insomnia.
"I was looking for guidance in that book during the worst part of my insomnia. I could not fucking get to sleep and I was walking in the mountains in Los Angeles, near my home, two or three times,” Lewis says. “And I was thinking, man if Keith got through it, if he is still alive, then I can do it.”
Could he deal though with suddenly and oddly becoming something of a poster child for a demographic he had never given a thought to? There is one line in particular on this new album which has had a lot of assumptions made about Lewis, where she notes that the difference between her and another character is Lewis is “just another lady without a baby”.
It is at the very least a straightforward fact, hardly uncommon and not in any obvious way something regretted in the song by the 38-year-old Lewis. Yet that line has been singled out as a huge revelation and she’s virtually become a spokeswoman for the not yet parented.
"I never signed up for that job," she chuckles. "And that line is meant to be funny. Or at least it’s a statement and you move on. Certainly, there are songs about old maids, written by men about women, but you know I can't think of another song that has that sentiment in it."
Some of the reaction to that line has said more about us and our own prejudices than her and any thoughts she may or may not have about being childless in her late 30s.
"That's what writing a song like that is for. You put it out there and it's up to people to interpret it,” Lewis says. “I did this interview with The Global Mail in Canada and the first question, the guy asked me if I needed a hug. Come on. Can you imagine? It was preposterous."
On the other hand, a line like “all our friends they’re getting on but the girls are still staying young”, that's alarmingly real and true and might need a hug.
"Oh yeah, that's true. That's a true statement,” Lewis laughs. “Maybe in bookkeeping circles women and men are of a similar age but let me tell you, in rock 'n' roll that shit keeps happening."
Jenny Lewis’ Joy’All is out June 9.