Timeline: Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis performing in 2006 (credit: Wikipedia)

Jenny Lewis performing in 2006 (credit: Wikipedia)

After starting out as a bit actor on shows such as Baywatch, The Golden Girls, Growing Pains, Roseanne, and Mr. Belvedere, Jenny Lewis first emerged on the music scene with the California indie rock band Rilo Kiley in 1998. They brought her in to sing background vocals for the band, but her stage presence, song writing skills, and standout voice made her position progressively more prominent, and by the time they released their first two albums “Takeoffs and Landings” in 2001 and “The Execution of All Things” in 2002, she was front and centre, singing lead vocals on most songs, along with most writing credits. Her strength of adding a folk singer-songwriter element to an indie rock sound helped Rilo Kiley gain buzz in the LA indie scene with such notable songs as “The Execution of All Things”, “With Arms Outstretched”, “Pictures of Success”, and “Wires and Waves”.

In 2002, Jenny Lewis was drafted into Ben Gibbard’s (Death Cab For Cutie) side project Postal Service to provide background vocals for the epic album “Give Up”, notably singing on the songs “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight”, “We Will Become Silhouettes”, “Nothing Better”. This album allowed her to step out of the shadow of Rilo Kiley for the first time, and start to develop her own name in the music industry.

Jenny returned to Rilo Kiley for their third album “More Adventurous” in 2004 which lead to their strong single “Portions for Foxes”. The album was slickly produced, and Jenny’s voice grew in confidence, as the band became merely the foil for Jenny's song writing prowess. At this point it became apparent that she had outgrown Rilo Kiley, very much like Gwen Stefani outgrew No Doubt, and that the next logical step was a solo album.

“Rabbit Fur Coat” was released in 2006, and allowed Jenny to explore a more country music vibe, showcasing her musical flexibility and song writing abilities, drawing parallels to Neko Case or Loretta Lynn. The album was highlighted by the singles “Rise Up, With Fists!!” and “The Big Guns”, as well as the stand-out cover of the Travelling WIlbury’s “Handle With Care”. 

Rilo Kiley released their first major label effort (and sadly, their final album) “Under the Blacklight” in 2007. It was a super slick record, designed to leave their indie rock past behind them, and propel them into radio-friendly rock superstardom. At least that seemed to have been the plan. The album in itself was not bad, but it certainly did not seem to play to Jenny’s strengths, as the imagery of the band being projected was of the seedy LA underground rockers, conflicting with the clean crisp sound which tried to downplay Jenny's voice. Album stand outs included “Dreamworld”, “Silver Lining”, and “The Moneymaker”. 

If “Under the Blacklight” was Jenny’s attempt at the mainstream, Jenny’s second solo album in 2008 “Acid Tongue” was anything but. She pushed back against the pop hits with an angry musically charged solo effort, bringing together various big name collaborators such as Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson, and M. Ward. The result is a pretty rocking record including “The Next Messiah”, “Carpetbaggers”, and “See Fernando”. Jenny continued her collaboration with Elvis Costello on his 2008 album “Momofuku”, providing background vocals on numerous tracks.

Spending more time away from Rilo Kiley, Jenny’s next output was an indie folk album with her boyfriend Jonathan Rice. Under the moniker Jenny and Johnny, they released “I’m Having Fun Now” in 2010, almost as a therapeutic necessity for Jenny, who hardly veiled the reason of being of this album behind its name. Album highlights include “Big Wave”, “Scissor Runner”, and “Animal”.

Although officially broken up in 2011, there was some buzz on the official Rilo Kiley website in 2013 which led the public to believe that there would be a new album coming out, but it turned out to be the largely forgettable B-Sides album "RKives", which felt more like a contractual obligation than a cathartic culmination for Rilo Kiley, although it did produce a few good tunes.

In 2014, Jenny Lewis released her latest solo album “The Voyager”, produced mainly by Ryan Adams, and it represented the successful culmination towards achieving pop success in a completely organic way, unlike “Under the Blacklight”.  “One Of The Guys” was co-produced by Beck, and became her biggest song to date.