Listen to Rilo Kiley on Rhapsody and/or MySpace...
By: Dennis Cook
Some bands hum with the energy of their locale, encapsulating the mood and character of their surroundings in their assemblage of notes. Like X in the '80s and Tom Petty in the '90s, Rilo Kiley are undeniably denizens of Los Angeles, the snarl of freeways and paparazzi nights fueling their increasingly polished pop. Their second major label release, Under The Blacklight (released August 21 on Warner Bros.), shimmers like the Turtle Wax buffed hood of a convertible rolling down Sunset Boulevard on a Summer night. Sounding like Stevie Nicks jamming with Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me-era Cure, almost 10 years into their story the once indie-rock darlings have grown into an unapologetically populist unit that hits a universal vibe with almost unnerving accuracy.
| Rilo Kiley|
"[L.A.] is a world unlike almost any other – orange trees in the desert, so much asphalt and freeways, the proximity to the ocean and mountains," says lead singer Jenny Lewis. "We are an L.A. band in that we tend to write and rehearse in our hometown. This record is the first of ours to be recorded in a studio here in L.A.; so, I guess the ghost of the twelve-string guitar lingers. Also, Jackson Browne plays guitar on a song on Under The Blacklight about Los Angeles."
Dig a bit below the surface of their new album and the sweaty, dangerous, pheromone rich SoCal Guns N' Roses once tapped into so effectively emerges. The video for the first single, "The Moneymaker," starts with a Q & A with actual porn stars before breaking into what looks like a performance in an adult bookstore, featuring said porn stars pawing each other while girlish-voiced Lewis pouts and preens along with the barely legal starlets. Like Steely Dan's late '70s output, Rilo Kiley's latest gets their pinky stinky in some strange places. For example, the oddly compelling statutory ode "15" tells us:
| Jenny Lewis|
She was a tiny woman
He could sense her developing body was just the beginning
She said is anybody out there
She was bruised like a cherry
Ripe as a peach
How could he have known
That she was only fifteen?
Things turn even darker on the title cut, where Lewis confirms the inherent CSI implications. "Things always look different under a blacklight. You might find something that you didn't know was there and that isn't particularly pretty. The song is in part about an abusive relationship that culminates in murder," offers Lewis.
Continue reading for page II...
Things always look different under a blacklight. You might find something that you didn't know was there and that isn't particularly pretty.
In the three years since their big label debut, More Adventurous, Lewis released a critically heralded solo album with The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat, that found her snuggling up with buddies like Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and dipping into gospel and folk. Where Lewis' voice mostly stands alone in Rilo Kiley, what's revealed in these collaborations is one of the finest harmony singers of our time.
"Both my mother and sister are singers, so I grew up singing harmony with them," Lewis says. "Musically, after the song is written, I tend to hear the harmonies first. So, in working with the twins [The Watson Twins], I was able to fulfill those moments both live and in the studio. I was also able to complete the story without having to sing the responses myself. I tend to overwrite sometimes and have a difficult time letting stuff go, so the twins would pick up the phrases that were a little clumsy for me to sing. I really enjoy singing with other people. It is something that you can take with you without having to set up an amp or microphone. It is a really pure form of music. On Under The Blacklight, we were lucky to work with the Waters [Maxine, Julia and Oren Waters], who have been singing on amazing sessions for years. They sang on Thriller."
Lewis' creative foil in Rilo Kiley, Blake Sennett, also explored other pastures with his paisley Brit-inflected side project, The Elected.
| Jenny Lewis|
"Time apart tends to refresh the relationships both musically and personally," observes Lewis. "I've always been a fan of vocal harmonies, which I was able to explore with The Watson Twins on Rabbit Fur Coat. I then brought elements of my record to some of the new Rilo Kiley songs. The Elected has also had an effect on the sound of the band. Within our other bands we are able to explore ideas more thoroughly than in Rilo Kiley, where we tend to touch on a lot of musical styles and ideas. 'I Never' from More Adventurous was the song that spawned my solo record. It's sort of an r&b song with group backing vocals. They're kind of buried in the mix but they're in there."
Rilo Kiley gets a fair amount of press coverage these days, with cover stories, large features and a significant presence in the U.K. music rags. The recent cover of the "Hot 100" issue of Blender announced "Sexytime With Rilo Kiley." Inside, they declare Lewis has become "a sex symbol to a legion of lust-deprived indie-rock fanboys." So, what's the price of fame?
"Although our shows have grown in size over the years, it's not as if we have stalkers or get stopped in the streets. It feels pretty similar. The intention or process hasn't really changed as a result. Although, as Blake and myself become more independent from each other musically, the output tends to be more diverse."
Under The Blacklight may winnow away at Lewis' blasé attitude towards stardom as the record is being positioned for widespread mainstream consumption that will build on their previous cult status. Already the press is reporting on Lewis' romantic entanglements (current beau? Emerging singer-songwriter Johnathan Rice) and the scrutiny is only going to escalate as Rilo Kiley is planted squarely in the spotlight. Like many L.A. bands before them, the record industry machinery often supplants whatever intentions one goes in with. But that's the kind of thing that's sometimes revealed beneath blacklights.
JamBase | City of Angels
Go See Live Music!