Juliette Lewis still speaks with her trademark drawl, a quirk of an actress once considered a hot Hollywood commodity in the ’90s – largely due to such eccentricities. But Lewis has lost much of her Hollywood luster in recent years and finds herself mostly playing bit parts in comedies and making frequent trips to the “I Love the ’80s” studios. All of this finds her here, traversing the country in a tour bus with four sweaty dudes, pushing her garage rock band, Juliette & the Licks. Lewis insists that music is a “natural extension” of her film career, an alternative form of expression to that of her day job.
In conversation, Lewis is affable and sincere, making it difficult to remain cynical about her musical ventures. It’s not that difficult, though, after hearing her describe the creative process – “My guitarist plays something, or I’ll tell him what kind of thing I want. Something rhythmic, or really driving, or give me something heartbreaking – With ‘You’re Speaking My Language,’ my drummer started tapping out a beat on his leg, and then my guitarist goes, ‘dun dun dun dun dun,’ and I right away go, ‘I know you think you know me better than that.’ So that’s how you write a song.”
It might seem easy to dismiss Lewis musically, but even a cursory listen to the band’s first full-length album, You’re Speaking My Language, reveals that, despite an abject absence of ingenuity, it has its merits. In an industry where bands like Jet top the international charts and an army of Strokes clones fills the country’s rock clubs night after night, there’s no reason why a band whose primary influence seems to be The Hives shouldn’t get a record deal.
The question, then, is whether Lewis is banking on The Licks to become her primary source of income any time soon. Despite recent cinematic travails, Lewis has several films lined up, including “The Darwin Awards” and “The Fuck-Up.” Still, none of these are lead roles. Lewis sidesteps the issue of the dearth of quality roles for veteran actresses: “Hollywood is a big fat machine, with all these inner politics, and in independent film, there’s always a lot of opportunities. But I’m not really old yet, so I don’t have that problem.”
In fact, Lewis remains positive about her crossover, only slipping when discussing the fact that rappers like Snoop Dogg can hop from recording studio to film set without anyone batting an eye. “(Acting) requires revealing emotions, an antithesis of rapping. Rapping is all bravado and concealing your feelings,” she said. “I think it’s hysterical to see rappers acting.”
She has a point. The leeway granted to musicians who become actors has traditionally not been afforded to those moving in the opposite direction. Despite this, Lewis seems genuinely pleased with the progress of her band, genuinely unencumbered by the hordes of writers just waiting to lump the band’s release with Don Johnson’s “Heartbeat” and Bruce Willis’s “The Return of Bruno.”
“The press, they never get anything right anyways. It’s about the people and the audience, so right now we’re still looking for an audience. I think it’s going good. It’s going as it should for a new rock band.”