Jenny Lewis

They say there are two sides to every story, but that old saying might not quite cover it if we’re talking about Jenny Lewis. Over the decade she’s showed us maybe four or five, depending on where you’re standing. With Rilo Kiley, her rock band of the past 10 years, she transformed before our eyes from a shy indie-rocker singing barely above a whisper to the authoritative, take-no-prisoners singer/songwriter/frontwoman we know today. Tack sharp and unafraid of subject matter of any height or weight, channeling songs through either Rilo Kiley or her solo work, her staggering range as a writer has brought her critical acclaim around the globe.

Rabbit Fur Coat, Lewis’ soulful love letter to the records of her childhood, was released in 2006 to universal acclaim. Similarly, for Acid Tongue, she was drawn by nostalgia, this time returning to the area where she grew up: Van Nuys, California. Lewis set up shop in Sound City Studios, which boasts a world famous live-tracking room that has produced seminal records over generations; from Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and Neil Young’s After the Goldrush to Nirvana’s Nevermind. Says Lewis, “The idea was to go one hundred percent live, including the vocals, and as few overdubs as possible. I wanted to use that big beautiful room and get fully realized takes. If the drums bled into the vocal mic and it made for a technically imperfect sound it didn’t matter to me. If it felt right, if the emotion was there, we kept it.”

Some of Acid Tongue’s songs, such as “Jack Killed Mom”, “See Fernando”, “Carpetbaggers” and the title track, were written and performed on the world tour for Rabbit Fur Coat. Others were written in the same creative burst that yielded Rilo Kiley’s Under The Blacklight, Some simply appeared in the studio. Says producer “Farmer” Dave Scher: “We were recording this stuff in between smoke breaks and conversations. Some songs, like Bad Man’s World, just arrived in one fluid gesture in between takes of another song. Myself, Jason and Johnathan Rice were in the control room just kicking ourselves at how naturally it all went down.” The all analog, no Pro-Tools sessions were all part of a shared aesthetic between Lewis, her producers, and her musician collaborators. They wanted to work quickly and work up a sweat. Tracking her vocals entirely live and without embellishment gave her the impetus to let the album flow as naturally as possible, the entire recording process taking just 3 weeks.

Some of Lewis’ most steadfast collaborators appear on Acid Tongue: Johnathan Rice, Farmer Dave Scher, Jason Boesel, Jason Lader and M Ward (who provided the dazzling guitar on “Pretty Bird”). She also invited other notable musician friends into the fold, including Elvis Costello for the duet on “Carpetbaggers”, Chris Robinson (of The Black Crowes) singing on “Acid Tongue”, Zooey Deschanel (of She & Him) & Vanessa Corbala (of Whispertown2000) on backing vocals, Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle / The Entrance Band) and her sister Ana provided strings, Benji Hughes singing on “The Next Messiah” and “Jack Killed Mom,” Davey Faragher (of The Imposters) on bass, as well as Laurel Canyon’s own Jonathan Wilson on guitar, and even members of Jenny’s own family. Her sister Leslie Lewis provided backing vocals on “See Fernando” and “Trying My Best To Love You,” while her father, harmonica virtuoso Eddie Gordon, provided rumbling bass harp to the Oedipal epic “Jack Killed Mom.”

The album’s tracks, disparate as they are, share a sparkling vitality; Lewis’ voice has never sounded so expressive and the narratives have never been so hard-hitting and acerbic. There is despair in “Bad Man’s World”, love and loyalty in “Godspeed”, and hallucinatory rage in “Jack Killed Mom”. “The Next Messiah” provides the record with its longest and most exciting song on the album; a 9 minute medley which features a swaggering tete-a-tete between Jenny and Johnathan Rice. “Carpetbaggers” was originally written as a Porter Wagoner/Dolly Parton-style duet to be performed by on the Rabbit Fur Coat tour. When revisiting the song for Acid Tongue, Lewis felt it needed something new. Elvis Costello, a longtime and vocal admirer of Jenny’s since Rilo’s More Adventurous, was invited to take part. A case of perfect synergy, Elvis’ searing vocal delivers one of the album’s most striking moments. The creative pull of the session was so strong, in fact, that Costello decided right then and there to make an album of his own with Lewis and her team. His Momofuku album was recorded the day after the Acid Tongue sessions wrapped, and was finished in six days.

“Acid Tongue” was the first song written and provides the musical lineage from Rabbit Fur Coat, giving the record its title track and logical lyrical centerpiece. Lewis recruited Chris Robinson, Jonathan Wilson, Rice, and Farmer Dave as a male choir, putting a spin on the gospel choruses The Watson Twins lent to her last record. At the end of the recording Lewis produced a play on words image: an acid blotter-style sheet of her own head for the album’s cover art. Pun thoroughly intended, it speaks volumes. Acid Tongue is Jenny Lewis’ own long, strange, and beautiful trip.

Johnathan Rice

Johnathan Rice has done his best work to date on his third full length LP Good Graces (SQE Music). When asked about this collection of songs, Rice spoke candidly about his attempt to make what he called "healing music."
"Some people really close to me had been going through an exceptionally rough time, therefore I was going through a rough time," he admits. "People that I love very much were struggling with extreme darkness. Thoughts of suicide and deep hopelessness. Fundamental questions like: do I want to be here or not? That absolutely informed the writing of this record. It wasn't about exploring how difficult and dark things were and lamenting the situation. I tried to heal myself and the people around me with the music. It was about finding the frequencies, the melodies, and the words that would help. That was in the front of my mind. That was the best I could do for the people I love the most."
In order to collect his thoughts and focus the writing, Rice crossed coasts, leaving his Laurel Canyon home for a friend's New York City abode. Having just wrapped up a year of touring the world behind his collaboration with Jenny Lewis—Jenny and Johnny's I'm Having Fun Now—January 2012 in the Big Apple proved oddly peaceful for the singer, songwriter and producer. It would be the first solo material since 2007's Further North.
"I had been so busy recording and touring that it was necessary to take a month away from home and write," he goes on. "It was a conscious choice – I had been exploring writing and making records with other people – I really wanted to return to my own sound, which I feel is clearer than ever. It was time for another solo album."
Even though the LP is unequivocally his vision, he wasn't entirely alone. Over the course of seven days, he tracked the album alongside Dawes bassist Wiley Gelber and longtime drummer Jason Boesel at engineer Pierre de Reeder's Kingsize North Studio in North Hollywood. Rice handled most of the production and guitar duties, but Rice's frequent collaborator and friend Farmer Dave Scher also added some crucial finishing touches at his studio in Venice Beach—in between night surfing sessions and parties at Mollusk Surf Shop. In fact, longboard legend Chad Marshall lends vocals to the surf-rock-noir "Surfer's Lament." Rice's long-standing obsession with the female voice is further explored throughout Good Graces – the record features major contributions from Jenny Lewis, the Watson Twins and Z Berg.
The record's first single "Nowhere at the Speed of Light" marries organic instrumentation with the hammering insistence of an EDM track.
He explains, "I've always loved juxtaposing happy upbeat melodies with darker lyrics. I think the character in that song feels like his life has stalled, and his dreams have lost value. Life is at a standstill, so to speak. As far as the music goes, I'm a rock or folk musician, and I live in that world, obviously. I do love dance music though. I tried to write a rock song that had a similar energy to a dance song."
Elsewhere on the album, he teams up with Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins for "Lou Rider," which "has that title because the vocal is kinda Lou Reed and the groove is kinda Low Rider" and the album's standout track – "My Heart Belongs To You" – an unadulterated and uncynical song of love.
Everything has led up to Good Graces for Johnathan Rice. Growing up between America and Scotland, he moved to New York in September of 2001. His first solo album Trouble Is Real dropped four years later, and he'd formally arrived. Seeing song placements everywhere from Grey's Anatomy to The O.C., to the Hangover 2 Soundtrack, he has toured the world as a headlining artist and also supporting R.E.M., Ray Lamontagne, Pavement, Belle And Sebatastian, Bright Eyes, Death Cab for Cutie, Phoenix, and more. Rice's achievements extend outside of music, including channeling Roy Orbison in the Academy Award-winning film, Walk the Line.
Good Graces is by far the most revealing portrait of Rice thus far. "I want everyone to feel what I felt while making the record," he leaves off. "It was my intention to put something positive out there. I hope you can feel the sincerity of that attempt."

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Jenny Lewis with Johnathan Rice

Thursday, October 24 · Doors 6:30 PM at Gundlach Bundschu Winery