Jenny Lewis on ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ at 10, How Conor Oberst Changed Her Life
You’ve always sung about really relatable things like hating yourself in the morning after a one-night stand (“Melt Your Heart”) or growing older as just another lady without a baby (“Just One Of the Guys”). Do you ever regret sharing these intimate thoughts you have about yourself?
No, I don’t. Sometimes I get a little embarrassed. It depends on the tour. Any one of those lines makes me feel a little embarrassed. But when I meet people, it all seems like it’s sort of meant to be. I kind of put stuff out there — there’s no filter. I don’t ever write with a filter. Sometimes it can be a little intense if you’re singing about someone, and they’re in the room. But there are rules with your friends. Most of my friends are songwriters, and you’re not allowed to take it personally if there’s a really mean line about you. I write these things that I sometimes don’t even understand sometimes what I’m writing about, and 10 years later, they’ll make sense. They’re little prophecies. Then I’ll sing a song, and suddenly it’ll be 100 percent relevant.
On Rabbit Fur Coat, how did you end up collaborating with the Watson Twins, Conor Oberst, Ben Gibbard, M. Ward and others?
Well, the Watson Twins were living in Silver Lake at the time, a couple blocks from my apartment. They were friends with Blake Sennett of Rilo Kiley, and they actually sang on a really early Rilo Kiley B-side. We didn’t hang out all the time, but as I started piecing the songs together for the record, I was referencing this Laura Nyro record with the Labelle sisters, Gonna Take a Miracle — it was one of my favorite records growing up. I used that as a template and reached out to the twins with that record in mind. I didn’t really have a plan, I just went over to their place, played them my songs and it was just meant to be. We practiced a couple of times and recorded for a day. I brought Mike Mogis out from Nebraska to record me in L.A. I had made two Rilo Kiley records with Mike at that point. We were like, “Whoa, this album is really different.” It was really special.
Looking back on Rabbit Fur Coat, what was your favorite track on the album when it first came out, and what’s your favorite now?
I think my favorite song at the time was “Rise Up With Fists!!” I think that happened when I was working with M. Ward. There was just a moment when I could see him listening to the words and there was a little sparkle in his eye. I was like, “Wow, that’s so cool that this guy likes this song.” I think just in rehearsals [now] “Melt Your Heart” has been so sad and beautiful. Conor [Oberst] played a five-night run at Town Hall many years ago, and he asked me to come sit in, and he chose “Melt Your Heart.” I remember at the time I was pissed because he chose “Melt Your Heart.” It was like, “Of course, he chose the quiet girl song. Why didn’t he choose ‘Rise Up With Fists!!’?” See, your friends sometimes know you better than yourself.