With a raw, reflective solo album, Jenny Lewis starts to open up.
Philippe’s Original sits on a corner a few blocks over from Dodger Stadium in downtown Los Angeles. It’s a deli counter restaurant old-school enough to get its own municipal landmark sign (“…since 1908”), specializing in gravy-dipped sandwiches, ten-cent cups of coffee and sawdust on the floor. Jenny Lewis picked this spot, and explains that she’s been coming here since childhood. “My friends would have eating contests, coffee-drinking contests, water-drinking contests,” she says, before instructing me to get the turkey-dipped over the beef. We carry the cheapest, tastiest meals in LA to the empty cafeteria upstairs, where thousands of names and sayings—but mostly just names—are scrawled and chipped and keyed along Philippe’s brown brick walls. Couples in hearts, curses, phone numbers, so-and-so-was-heres. “There’s so many lives on this wall,” Lewis says almost the second we sit down. “That guy’s name was Snivel. Could you imagine what Snivel’s story must be like?” When I ask if she’s ever put her own name up on the wall in twenty-odd years of inexpensive lunching, the response is a quick negative. “There’s no room left,” she explains. “Isn’t that bad tagging etiquette? I wouldn’t want to write over anybody else’s name.”
Jenny Lewis’s record Rabbit Fur Coat is her first solo album in almost a decade of writing and recording with her band, Rilo Kiley. As to be expected, it is a far starker affair than Kiley’s studio work. Many songs are constructed from little more than an acoustic guitar and Lewis’s vocals, which are fuller and more emotive than ever before. The stripped-down approach forces her lyrics even further into the spotlight. Every reference to lovers, mothers and God, every yearning lament or indictment—it all comes across as raw and intimate on the record as if Lewis was there whispering it into your headphones herself. Yet for someone who’s committed such an irrefutably private, vulnerable work to tape for the express purpose of sharing it with others, Lewis remains extremely guarded about the details. Our lunch conversation would drift into everything from critiques of Wes Anderson’s “hipster-friendliness” to Lewis’s love of Freestyle Fellowship (“Come on, Inner City Griots was great!”), but every time the subject turned back to matters of autobiography, or the experiences and soul searching that Rabbit Fur Coat wouldn’t exist without, I’d have to make do with drawing my own conclusions. “It is a personal record in a lot of ways,” Lewis would later admit. “But I don’t intend on giving up my sources or outing myself.”