In the realm of extremely extreme actresses, there is Juliette Lewis and there is everyone else. (Sorry, Vin Diesel, but you’ll get your props soon, girl.) How many other Hollywood types could have had audiences cheering for homicidal sociopath Mallory Knox in the Oliver Stone mindfuck Natural Born Killers? Not Vin Diesel, that’s for sure. Whether laughing at her own burps as the mentally retarded Carla Tate in The Other Sister or sucking on Robert DeNiro’s thumb in Cape Fear (my sphincter just flinched while typing that, no joke), Juliette Lewis goes for broke and comes out a winner flashing a shit-eating grin that could fertilize the American heartland. She’s hella extremely extreme. And loony. And that’s why she’s a natural born ’banger.
Sometime around the early to mid-2000s, Lewis put her critically acclaimed acting career on the back burner to jump face-first into that most potentially disastrous creative venture: rock singer. “Oh,” you may be thinking, “yet another one of those actors-dabbling-in-music like Bruce Willis or Scarlet Johansson.” Bish please! Those twinkies best step aside before they hurt theyselves.
Lewis’ first band, Juliette and the Licks (with Todd Morse of H2O and, initially, Patty Schemel of Hole), won over hordes of fans with sweaty, visceral live performances. The Licks disbanded after an EP and two albums (…Like a Bolt of Lightning, You’re Speaking My Language, and Four on the Floor), but Lewis has only just begun to make noise. Her next album, Terra Incognita, is being released under her own name and was produced by the Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.
The Deciblog got Juliette on the horn to talk about her decision to become a solo artist, her new album, and her favorite heavy metal songs. She admitted she’s not the most knowledgeable of metalheads, but like everything else she does, she killed it.
Where are you?
I’m in Los Angeles, I just came back two days ago from a whirlwind little festival run where I was in England and Istanbul and Italy and Switzerland. And now I got a cold to show it. But we got to play with Jane’s Addiction in Istanbul and that was a pleasure and a half and fucking fun. Love it.
And you’re about to go on tour with the Pretenders and Cat Power, correct?
Yes. It’s the first U.S. tour under my own name. It’s not Juliette and the Licks and I hope you didn’t go on Wikipedia ’cause they get everything wrong. It’s not the New Romantiques. It’s just my name. This was a moment of indecision that I had but I felt that it was disingenuous [to have a band name] and I felt it was more honest to just be my name. The way I made the record was I wrote songs on piano. I wrote songs with my good friend Chris Watson, who I’ve known for 15 years who is now in my band, and with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. So it was us three that created the new sound and then I put a band together after the fact. I tend to like band names, but now it’s just my name. If I want to do Afro rhythms or an electronic album or whatever the fuck I want to do next, I can do it ’cause Juliette means unpredictability. Hahaha, just kidding.
You are rather unpredictable, though! Rock n roll really needs you.
We gotta put that on the shirt! Like the fuckin’ army! “Rock n roll needs YOU!” And I need IT! I couldn’t agree more! For me, let me just tell you a little bit about this record. It is the old and the new. The live shows have been the old and the new, combining these old Licks songs with the dynamic and the range of this new sonic force and with blues. Somebody the other day called me “apocalyptic punk blues” and I was like “Fuck, I’ll take that.” It’s just this new incarnation allowed me to be all the voices that I am and to really concentrate on melody and groove but there’s some hard-hitting songs. It doesn’t mean I’m playing the harp. There’s more range and the live show is still very much this rock n roll animal. It’s just there’s these haunting parts and blues and all that heartbreak and I don’t know. I live and breathe in tragedy like my name would lead you to believe. It’s just the truth. I try to bring it and live it and own it, like that.
Rock n roll has been in a funny place and it’s weird because in the 90s when there was this real strong voice of females, really unique female voices, I was listening to 60s music, besides PJ Harvey who I was happy to discover because she’s so one of a kind, but yeah there was more of presence then. And then before that, what do they do in threes, because I’m all inspired by Tina Turner and Grace Slick and Janis Joplin and Chrissie Hynde, so I’m happy to wave the flag. I feel like I wave the flag not only for rock n roll sisters, but for freaks and outsiders and disenfranchised. It’s not so far away from what I was trying to do in film, which was giving a voice to sort of an underbelly, if you will, but it just sort of haphazardly happened that way because I’m not a film maker—it’s just I was drawn to those characters.
Okay, so let’s have it. Your yop 5 heavy metal songs.
Five songs, all right.
1. “RUN TO THE HILLS!” Iron Maiden! Or, or… fuck! What’s my favorite song? … “The Trooper!” Okay, well, little known fact: I tried to cover that song but it never made it out of the rehearsal space. [sings] You’ll take my life but I’ll take yours too! You’ll fire your musket but I’ll run you through! I had the pleasure playing… This is one of those things in my rock n roll dream journey where I get to say, “Pinch me” so many times. I got to see Iron Maiden at a festival, I forget where we were, but there it was. It’s Iron Maiden. And the singer is a phenomenon. His voice is everything it is on record that it is live.
2. A lot of my heavy metal knowledge comes from my older brother I grew up with. I’m not really one for heavy metal but I’m gonna go with Black Sabbath. Okay, so I’m gonna go with “Crazy Train.”
Oh, that was Ozzy.
Oh it was. Shhhhit. Well I could do that!
Absolutely. You could do that.
3. Um, let’s see, what was Judas Priest’s big hit? Again this is totally my brother. I should just call him up. Yeah, they had a big hit in ’82…
“Breaking the Law”? Was that it?
[sings] Breakin’ the law, breakin the law. Yeah yeah I’m gonna do that. Okay, good one.
Van Halen sure as shit is not heavy metal.
No, but we love the hard rock, too, we do.
4. I’m gonna go “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love,” Van Halen.
I saw you cover that live.
Yeah [laughs]. Cause WHY NOT!? Who else is gonna cover it?!
5. Okay the last one, again this isn’t heavy metal but Iggy and the Stooges “Search and Destroy.” Yeah it’s a blend of that heavy metal and hard rock. What’s funny about heavy metal is that they’re so in melody in a way. Like Iron Maiden is all about melody these power courses. And they’re close to opera with the singing. Well, I coulda gone all cool with uh, all those other weird band names but heavy metal’s not my forte, but there you have it. That’s what I know. They’re tried and true.