But Juliette wasn't content merely to rock it louder and harder than it's been done since those fabled glory days. No, she's got visions that go well beyond three chords and four-on-the-floor. And after teaming up with The Mars Volta's Omar Rodriguez-Lopez for the just out Terra Incognita, she's proven it. A sprawling, monster hybrid of psycho-blues growl and monumental roar, the new Juliette is more than a force to be reckoned with - she's a force to be glorified.
After a summer that saw Juliette and her New Romantiques touring the States with Cat Power and The Pretenders, she's leading her band back out on a headlining route that began in Toronto on September 11 and won't stop till it hits Portsmouth, UK on December 8. Thank Zeus the onslaught also includes this Sunday night's slot at Culture Room. And unless you've lost your nerve with world, you'll be there to greet her.
New Times: I just caught a 1984 clip of you lip synching to Til' Tuesday's "Voices Carry." Are you a big New Wave fan?
Juliette Lewis: Oh yeah. The thing about me and why it was so difficult when I was starting music is because I'm not a genre loyalist. I love disco. I love classic rock. I love new wave. I love jazz. I love pop singers, you know what I mean? So when I first started my band, I had to find what would get it off its feet and running. What am I deeply connected to? And it was really guitar rock at the time and stuff that packed a punch and had a lot of energy. So it was relatively as simple as whittling it down. And for me, it was really about the live show. And then I feel like now five years later with this new record, I'm really developing a sound and developing as a songwriter.
Oh, I agree totally. I know you met Omar at the Fuji Fest in Japan, but what made you decide he was the right cat to expand your sound?
Well, I needed somebody weird! [Laughs] I needed somebody who thinks way outside the box. See I'm connected to my different facets of my emotional self. And they are extreme, you know? I have extreme vulnerability. I have extreme cynicism. I can be extremely filled with longing. I can be extremely filled with joy. And this will all come out through my music. And also from touring for the last three to four years, there was certain stuff I was craving in my life. And also I'm still so connected with my audience. I know what works and what moves us together and what doesn't.
So, I needed a producer. For a second, I thought I needed three: someone who would know how to producer my rock songs; someone who'd know how to produce, what I call, haunted lady songs; and someone who could produce this kind of soul angst songs. There is a different palette on the record. A friend of mine actually recommended Omar to me. But I didn't call him for two months because I was so intimidated by him. [Laughs]
You saw The Mars Volta live though right? I read somewhere else that you thought it was one of the best live shows you'd seen.
Ooh, yeah, I can't even describe it. It gets in my blood. It's like a chaos explosion at times, with all these cross rhythms and frequencies. I think he is our Jimi Hendrix, today. People have to see him live to understand that. He reinvents the new guitar sound and the way you play guitar. He comes at it from a really different fresh perspective, which is hard to do in rock music today.
Anyway, so I talked to him and I found that we speak a similar language. Because the way I talk about music is visual and emotionally connected, and so does he. You find the best musicians and they don't approach music academically. It's not like go to the A minor, and then we'll play this sixteenth note. They don't talk like that. I remember one song "No Chasing Sin" and he said, "Juliette, how do you want the drums on this? How do you want them to go?" Because the song, the music is all an extension of my heart and soul. It's like a purging, a guttural purging. It was the most raw demo. There's not conventional song structure. There's no verse-chorus. So it's a constant building into this crescendo.
I said I wanted the drums to feel like Zeus just woke up from a nap and angry. And he looks down from the heavens and starts handing out lightning bolts. And I talked to him constantly about this idea and he didn't look at me like I was crazy. He completely understood it. He whispered something to the drummer. The drummer played. And that's exactly how it sounded.
That's great. Yeah, he harnesses gods and monsters on this record. I think it's phenomenal. You know, I hear people mention P. J. Harvey, Patti Smith but you know but when I was listening to "Hard Lovin' Woman", I heard like a raunch rock Screaming Jay Hawkins. Are you a fan of Screaming Jay Hawkins?
Love it! Yeah, we talked about Screaming Jay Hawkins. I always wanted to do, what is it, "I Put A Spell On You" right?
Right, yeah that's his big one.
Right. We referenced that a long time ago and the way we recorded that song even was very minimal. It's a four track mixed into live guitar feed and a vocal, and it's all in one take. I'm a huge fan of people like that. We mentioned Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Tom Waits. These guys are very theatrical. They come to the table with some voodoo. They bring voodoo and vision. So that's why I live in my music. It's full spectrum. I'm not some regular thing. To best understand me would be yeah, to listen to this new record and come to a live show. But it's a feast.
Speaking of the live show, will you be performing any of the Licks hits? I know people were big fans of those records. I was.
Absolutely we will. I absolutely perform Licks songs and it's been one of my biggest challenges and the most fun to try to merge the past with the present and the future sound. My new band, just everything we do is just has more groove involved. There's more sonic scope than before. That's all I say. If you want straight up and down the middle guitar rock; it's something much more twisted than that. But yes, we play "Hot Kiss" and "Sticky Honey" and "Purgatory Blues." "Purgatory Blues" was always a track that I thought was in a direction that I was moving, in the future.
I hear that. But with "Uh Huh" you go like another scope. It's almost like '90s New Wavey, Liz Fair or Veruca Salt or something. Were you listening to that stuff back in the '90s?
[Laughs] I actually wasn't. This is what's so funny, because I've had people say riot grrrl, in my name or in the context for my name and in the 90's I was listening to Creedence Clearwater, Miles Davis, and Hendrix. Just like all my music history. It wasn't until a couple years later I met a boyfriend and he introduced me to Pixies, so thank God for that.
But what's brilliant about Omar is that he allowed a pop song to be a pop song as well. These are all my truths, you know. "No Chasing Sin" was this guttural, visceral purging. That's as true as "Uh Huh," this sort of hoaky, little yummy pop nugget, mixed with "Fantasy Bar," which is like really groovy and fun. And then super haunting, beautiful stuff like "Romeo," and then "Hard Lovin' Woman" is blues. I'm an independent artist to the core. I don't have anyone to answer to. I'm not on a major label. I'm not a radio artist. So if I'm not developing and being all that I am, then I'm not doing my job. It's a weird record, but it's a full record. That's what it is.
Like you mentioned before that there's all genres. You aren't pinned to any one genre. There is cool in every genre. There's cool pop music. There's cool soul. There's cool blues.
Conversely, there's uncool as well.
Juliette Lewis and the New Romantiques. With American Band and the Ettes. Sunday, September 27. Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. Sunday, September 27. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., tickets cost $14.99 954-727-0950; cultureroom.net