Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis

The Cactus Blossoms, Springtime Carnivore

Sun, June 4, 2017

Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

The Buskirk Chumley

Bloomington, IN

Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis
Jenny Lewis returns with her new album, The Voyager, on July 29th. The Los Angeles artist’s first solo LP since 2008’s Acid Tongue, The Voyager is Lewis’s most deeply personal, and her most musically robust. Featuring production work from Ryan Adams, Beck, as well as Lewis and her longtime collaborator Johnathan Rice, The Voyager finds Lewis at her sharp-witted best, singing about her recent life with honesty and incisiveness. And then there’s her voice, which was already a force to be reckoned with, but sounds even richer, more nuanced, more powerful. Lewis says The Voyager was the hardest album she has ever made, documenting her struggle to cope following the death of her estranged father in 2010 and the subsequent break-up of her band, Rilo Kiley. In the three years she worked on it, there were moments she thought she’d never finish. But, more than ever before, she knew she had to. The story is best told in Lewis’s own words:

Making The Voyager got me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. After Rilo Kiley broke up and a few really intense personal things happened, I completely melted down. It nearly destroyed me. I had such severe insomnia that, at one point, I didn’t sleep for 5 straight nights. Many of the songs on The Voyager came out of the need to occupy my mind in the moments when I just couldn’t shut down.

I asked for help from a lot of places. The first song on the album, “Head Under Water,” is about some of that. I really did get hypnotized. I tried everything. I got acupuncture. I did neurofeedback. I did massage therapy. I looked in the phonebook for a healer in Studio City and I met this woman who barely touched me for an hour and then wrote on index cards about what I was going through. All this just to try and get to sleep! I was ready to call the psychic hotline, “Tell me when this fucking thing is gonna be over.”

I recorded through my father’s death and terrible insomnia and all of the related fall-out. I just kept recording. Some of it was good and some of it wasn’t, but it took my mind off what was going on. Over the course of a couple years, I recorded dozens of demos, often trying multiple versions of the same song. I knew I had to finish it. And every single one of my friends helped me get there. This record took an entire village of musicians, including Ryan Adams, Beck, Johnathan Rice, Farmer Dave Scher, Blake Mills, Benmont Tench, Jason Boesel, Nathaniel Walcott, Alex Greenwald, Lou Barlow, First Aid Kit, the Watson Twins, Z. Berg, and Becky Stark, among others.

“Just One Of The Guys” was one of the tunes I’d tried a few different ways before I finally recorded it with Beck, at his home studio in Malibu. He ended up producing the song and contributing backing vocals. The whole experience was super laid-back — walking on the beach, talking about movies and the Rolling Stones and French pop music. It was just very mellow and lovely. But that was on the eve of my meltdown, and I didn’t go back again for a year.

I took a break from recording last spring and summer to tour with The Postal Service, for the tenth anniversary of our album, Give Up. It felt so good to play those songs. Every night I got crazy chills. I’d look down and the hair on my arm would be standing on end during “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight.” After having been a front-person for most of my career, it was an amazing time to just be there on the side, to support Ben and Jimmy. It was a great path back to myself, in a way. But the whole time I was out there, I was thinking, “This is wonderful, but I need to be playing my songs. I need to finish up this album once and for all.”

I was searching for a spirit guide. With everything that was going on in my life these past few years, I wanted to try ceding control. It can be a relief, at a certain point in your creative life. You let in a bit of criticism and it frees you up. And Ryan Adams and his partner Mike Viola were the final piece of the puzzle. Ryan and I didn’t know each other very well before this album — we had hardly even listened to one another’s music, to be honest. But I’d heard he built this awesome studio, Pax Am, at Sunset Sound, so I hit him up and asked if I could come in and record something. We put together a band — Ryan on guitar, Griffin Goldsmith from Dawes on drums, Gus Seyffert on bass, Mike on guitar and piano — and booked time for the very next day after I got back from the Postal Service tour.

I had this song, “She’s Not Me,” and I wasn’t really happy with any of the versions of it I’d tried. We ended up doing it in a different key, with a different tempo, with a part cut out. The biggest change was doing it live. There’s just something palpable about a group of people playing music live in a room together. The session was so fluid: I taught the band the changes, we did two takes, and that was it. I thought, “Well, that was awesome,” but Ryan wouldn’t let us listen back to it. The entire two weeks we were in the studio, we never listened to playback of anything, we just moved onto the next song.

Some of his methods infuriated me at the time, but I thrive in that environment — having some conflict to resolve, or having to prove myself. I was showing Ryan that I had something to say, and he knew how to annoy me into that perfect spot. We would get into these philosophical arguments about how to make records. Every time I wanted to put a harmony on a song, Ryan would ask me, “Do you come from a musical theater background?” His argument was that great songs, with great stories, don’t need background vocals. He would say, “Morrissey doesn’t use background vocals.” And I would yell: “Well, I do!”


I trusted the vision, and Ryan ended up being the person to get me over the fear of finishing something I’d been working on for so long. He found me when I was in a weird, tough spot, and he really helped me. And then we got to know each other as friends: You’re singing these songs and you’re weeping in front of your new bro who’s producing your record, and it’s heavy.

While I was in it, I couldn’t see my way out. But eventually, I started feeling better and the insomnia passed. I can sleep again, but I’m certainly a different person now. This record was the hardest one I’ve ever made. I truly thought I was never going to finish it, but I did. The Voyager tells that story: the longest night of my life and the journey to finally getting some rest.
The Cactus Blossoms
The Cactus Blossoms
Our new album, You’re Dreaming, didn’t happen overnight. It is the culmination of several years of songwriting and the kindness of thousands of miles and friends. A cast of characters, experiences, and personal perspectives set in simple rhymes and sung in harmony to paint a picture in your mind.

When my brother and I started making music as The Cactus Blossoms there wasn’t a big plan. We cut our teeth performing some well known and obscure country songs that were popular or unpopular pre-1960, partly out of curiosity and deep appreciation, but mostly because it was fun. Early on, we were offered a residency at the Turf Club in St. Paul, Minnesota, so we got a band together and it became our weekly “practice-in-public” where we would pull out every song we could think of, no matter how well we knew it. It was our first chance to play all night and do whatever we wanted. Over the course of our year and a half at the Turf Club our repertoire had snowballed into an amalgam of original songs and a bunch of gut wrenching, “tongue-in-cheek” heartbreakers, that were 30 years older than us. Not everyone could tell what was new and what was old, and it didn’t really matter. They just seemed to enjoy it. That’s how the wheel got going and gave the illusion of spin
ning backwards. We weren’t born in the wrong era. We just got into some music from a different era and happened to make it our own.

Every step of the way we’ve had the good fortune of being offered an opportunity that seems just beyond what we’re ready for. It always stretches us out and makes us feel lucky as hell. When JD McPherson called us up and said he was interested in producing our record it was the latest in a series of serendipitous events that have brought us to where we are today. We had opened for him at a hometown gig in Minneapolis a few months earlier and had met him briefly, but could never have imagined then that within a year we would be recording a new album with his help and criss-crossing America on tour with his band. He’s got the singing voice of an angel, a connoisseur’s taste, the boundless creative energy of a child, a scholar’s mind, and he can hear like a wolf. This guy was the guy. He wanted to do something sparse and rhythmic with simple melodic arrangements and it lined up perfectly with the direction our new songs were leading us.

We wanted to record live with the best rhythm section we could find, which led us to Chicago where JD enlisted the amazing talents of drummer/engineer Alex Hall, guitarist Joel Paterson, and Beau Sample on upright bass. Three musicians who practice their respective crafts to genius proportions and bring it all to the studio. At the start of our first recording session we barely knew these guys and they barely knew our music. Alex was setting up microphones and running cables while the rest of us were drinking coffee and cracking jokes to wake up. Within a couple hours we had cut the first song for the album, “Queen Of Them All”, and we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
Springtime Carnivore
Springtime Carnivore
You know the curious, almost out-of-body feeling you sometimes get when you wake up in the middle of the night, where everything seems a bit fuzzy and you’re not sure if maybe you’re still dreaming? It’s a state Greta Morgan perpetually revisited during the second half of 2015, when she was writing and recording the new Springtime Carnivore album, Midnight Room. “I was on a really jagged sleep schedule,” says the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter, describing the months during which she worked on the follow-up to her critically adored 2014 debut. “It was the first time I’d ever lived by myself, and there was this bizarre feeling at night of the house being so quiet and being so totally alone. And Midnight Room came out of that.”

Earlier in the year, Morgan went through one of those break-ups that completely topples your world. Though it was as amicable as those things can be, the twenty-eight year-old musician felt shattered. She began working on songs for Midnight Room during those strange waking interludes last summer, finding an abundance of beautiful melodies in the melancholy ether. “A lot of lyrics on the record are collaged or don’t necessarily make sense next to each other,” she says. “But I guess my whole headspace was like that for a few months. I felt like I couldn’t trust my memory completely -- like I was space cadeting through the weird space between sleeping and dreaming and waking and reality.”

The melodies came easily, but the words were initially harder to find. So she tried a new approach for Midnight Room’s lyrics, inspired by her own disjointed thinking during those months. When an intriguing phrase or evocative image occurred to her, she wrote it down on a piece of index card. Sitting with the dozens of scraps on the floor in front of her, Morgan would rearrange the fragments until she found a way to make sense of it all. “A lot of the themes are, like, ‘How do you lovingly change a relationship?,’” she says. “How do you say good-bye to someone in a certain way and still keep him or her in your life? I feel like I was asking a lot of questions during the making of the record that I still don’t really have answers to, but at least some of the songs were exploring that territory.”

In the interest of achieving a more cohesive sound for Midnight Room, Morgan reached out to producer Chris Coady, whose work with Future Islands, Beach House and The Orwells she’d admired. “To me, Chris’s greatest gift as a producer is creating a sonic palette for an album that really brings their songs to life,” she says. “I wanted the whole thing to feel like you’re looking through a cobalt blue glass, and to get textures that almost feel like being able to see stars in the sky. I wanted it to have this very velvety midnight blue purity to the sound, and I feel like the synthesizers that we used and a lot of the guitar tones we used evoked that kind of visual texture.”
Venue Information:
The Buskirk Chumley
114 East Kirkwood Avenue
Bloomington, IN, 47408
http://www.buskirkchumley.org/