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Jenny Lewis looks optimistically at love and life on new album 'Joy'All'


For most of her life, Jenny Lewis has been performing. She started as a child actor. Then, in her 20s, she got into music. And if you, like me, went to high school sometime between, say, 1998 and 2010, there's a good chance her voice appeared on a lot of your mix CDs. She was in a band called Rilo Kiley.


RILO KILEY: (Singing) And it's bad news. Baby, I'm bad news. I'm just bad news, bad news, bad news.

PARKS: And in the two decades since, she's put together an impressive solo career. "Joy'All," her fifth and latest solo album, came out in June, and she joins us now. Hi, Jenny.

JENNY LEWIS: Hello, Miles. Thanks so much for having me.

PARKS: Thanks for being here. So I kind of wanted to start there, with, like, this idea that you have been making music for, like, 25 years, professionally. And I was just thinking, like, you're a very personal songwriter, a very intimate songwriter. What is it like to have basically, like, a public diary of your entire adult life just kind of out there?

LEWIS: Well, it's become less embarrassing over the years 'cause I've learned how to accept the former incarnations of myself. So some of those lines from the early Rilo Kiley records - there's a song called "Glendora" that was always a favorite, and people would yell it out at shows, but it's got some pretty embarrassing lyrics in there. But I'm OK with it now.

PARKS: (Laughter) That took time to kind of come to terms with?

LEWIS: Yeah. And I think, you know, when you make art for a long period of time, you learn to appreciate the beginnings because they led you to where you are now.

PARKS: Well, let's listen to a little bit of the new album. This is a song called "Apples And Oranges."


LEWIS: (Singing) He don't kiss me in the morning. He don't tuck me in at night. He don't know the things about me that endure despite. He's hot, and he's cool. He just isn't you. Oh, apples and oranges...

PARKS: So this song kind of compares two different relationships. And, like, so much of this record, it's kind of imbued with this sense of somebody who has, for lack of a better phrase, kind of gone through it.

LEWIS: Well, this is an interesting song because I started writing it before I recorded my last record, "On The Line." So it began out of an early breakup. And then when I brought it into the fold for the batch of songs for "Joy'All," I updated the bridge, and I changed the sentiment, where it's neither-nor. One type of relationship isn't necessarily better than another type of relationship, and there's joy in the failures as well as the successes.

PARKS: One of my favorite things about your last few solo records is the love songs, and the songs about relationships are not about young love. They're about, like, love as adults in a lot of different instances. I think it's on "Giddy Up" where you say, we're both adults. Is that an explicit decision to kind of write to chronicle how romance has changed as you've gotten older?

LEWIS: Yes. And there's a sense of accountability as well. You know, I'm not the victim in these songs. You know, we're both adults. You know, I made a conscious decision to be here. And that song is actually about cognitive dissonance as well, where you know you have to get on your pony and ride, but maybe you're not ready to do it yet.


LEWIS: (Singing) Giddy up, get on my pony and ride. And it just trips me out living against my own advice. I'm paralyzed. Take a chance on a little romance. We're both adults. Take a chance...

PARKS: OK, let's turn now to, I think, my favorite song on the album called "Puppy And A Truck."


LEWIS: (Singing) Like a shot of good luck, I got a puppy and a truck. If you feel like giving up, shut up; get a puppy and a truck.

PARKS: I have to admit, I'm biased here because I also got a dog and a car in the last couple years, and they have made my life much better. But tell me about yours. Tell me about the puppy and the truck.

LEWIS: Well, I have a cockapoo called Bobby Rhubarb and a truck. And, really, it's just a recipe for allowing the simple joys in life to help you out. And that song is, like, very light. And people have asked me, oh, is this your, you know, "Margaritaville"? Is this, like, your Jimmy Buffett-influenced song, which - absolutely, I love Jimmy. But I also think it is perhaps the saddest song I've ever written.

PARKS: Really?

LEWIS: The bridge is so sad. I truly get so emotional every time I sing it.


LEWIS: (Singing) I don't got no kids. I don't got no kids. I don't got no roots. I'm an orphan. Catch me if you can. I'm lacing up my boots.

PARKS: That's so interesting 'cause that's exactly where I was going to go because it has this clear parallel to the line off "The Voyager" - when I look at myself, all I can see, I'm just another lady without a baby. And the way you sing it in that song, that still punches me in the stomach 10 years later since that song came out. But the way you sing I ain't got no kids on this song, it almost sounds celebratory. So tell me how your feelings on all this stuff have changed. Or have they not changed? Just where are you at with all this stuff?

LEWIS: Even in Rilo Kiley, I think we did this thing where, you know, the lyrics were dark at times and sad, but the music was sort of upbeat. So I think that's something that I've been playing with for many years. And, yeah, those two bridges are linked. And I think your feelings change about all of these things that are deemed important in one's life. So that - the bridge on "Puppy And A Truck," it's kind of like my "Annie" moment. It's kind of like "It's A Hard-Knock Life." Like, I imagine myself, you know, Little Orphan Annie, just lacing up my boots.

PARKS: You know, this album, the constant theme I kind of picked up throughout listening to it was just this kind of feeling of not giving up and continuing to try to find joy, for lack of a better word.

LEWIS: Well, I've always been a survivor, so I think in order to do that, you have to be an optimist. You have to believe that you're going to get through it. And I've had so many eras of my life where I've started over - when I retired from acting at 19 years old or started a band or started a solo project, a relationship. So I think in that perseverance moving forward, there's just this element of hope.


LEWIS: (Singing) And where there is love, there's going to be hate. We get a little wiser every day.

PARKS: That's Jenny Lewis. Her new album, "Joy'All," is out now. Jenny, thank you so much for joining us.

LEWIS: Thank you.


LEWIS: (Singing) I'm not a toy, y'all. I've got heart. Follow your joy'all, joy'all. I'm not a boy, y'all... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.