Anyone interested in growing their band from the ground up should take note of Rilo Kiley’s slow and steady career path. Founded in 1998 by Jenny Lewis (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Blake Sennett (guitar, vocals) and rounded out by Pierre de Reeder on bass and Jason Boesel on drums, the Los Angeles-based band self-released its first album, Take-Offs and Landings, which was picked up by Barsuk in 2001. The group’s second album, The Execution of All Things, was released by Saddle Creek the following year. Last year’s More Adventurous landed Rilo Kiley on Warner Brothers through the band’s own imprint, Brute/Beaute. Now officially a Warner Brothers act, Rilo Kiley’s climb has been buoyed by Sennett’s side solo project, the Elected, and Lewis’s appearance on CD and onstage with the Postal Service, two artists on Sub Pop’s roster.
If that weren’t enough to make one’s head spin, Lewis recently completed her first solo album which will be released in January. We checked in with her from the UK where she was touring in support of Rilo Kiley’s first single, “Portions for Foxes.”
You guys are so busy. What has that been like?
It’s been good and bad. I’m grateful to be busy doing what I love but sometimes it’s difficult to be surrounded by a bunch of people and not have a place to reflect. Overall it’s good. We’re a strong, dysfunctional family so we can make it work out here.
How is it dysfunctional?
It’s functional in that we get our job done every day and remain intact physically, but we have our brother/sister/ex ways of relating to one another and it can be pretty funny, particularly at the dinner table. We’re all ordering what we want specifically and rolling our eyes at each other.
Nothing can be harder on a band than being on the road. Do you have tricks you use when things start getting too annoying?
Sleep is always a good respite. I can get wound up about tiny, insignificant things like someone leaving their shoes out or not tidying up the bus. I have to remind myself to let the small stuff go. We never have it out over anything big. It’s always the minutia that gets us fighting.
What was your first instrument?
My father was a harmonica player and my parents put a harmonica in my crib. I immediately threw it out of the crib, so that didn’t last. Later on I started playing piano, then guitar.
There was quite a bit of chaos in my family and music always brought us together so for me, it was a necessity. I never considered music as a career until Blake and I were playing for a couple of years.
Did you have formal piano lessons?
Not until community college. I took a basic piano course and barely passed.
What did you listen to?
A ton of stuff. My mom let me buy a seven-inch of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” when I was seven. Little did I know what a dutchie was!
We listened to a lot of soul music and female singers. I grew up with Laura Nyro, Dusty Springfield, Carole King and Patsy Cline. There were three girls in my family: myself, my older sister and my mom. We sang together and fancied ourselves the Judds of the San Fernando Valley. Then I found myself relating more to male songwriters. My mom gave me a Lou Reed record, which was important for me.
Not on your singing style.
No, but lyrically.
What kind of songs did you play at first?
I was always singing sad folk songs and I wrote a reggae song in the seventh grade.
Was it about a dutchie?
Perhaps it had the exact same melody but it had other things too. My songs weren’t too far from what they are now.