Jenny Lewis, the groove-singing lineal descendant to Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie, former member of Rilo Kiley, one-half of Jenny and Johnny, Watson Twins collaborator and touring member of The Postal Service, is pondering a deep question.
Namely, Lewis is considering which was the more meaningful experience: her child-actor role as Haley in "The Wizard," the 1989 film/tribute to the Nintendo Power Glove, or her recent Paul Shaffer-ish stint as a musical sidekick for Zach Galifianakis' appearance on IFC's "Comedy Bang! Bang!"
"First of all, Zach has actually opened for me at this club in Largo called Largo on La Cienega [in L.A.]. He did like a 10-minute set before I played there a couple months ago. So I've known him for a little while. But I was pretty nervous to have to be funny and do dialogue [on "Comedy Bang! Bang!"] because I'm out of my element. It's one thing if he's doing comedy and I'm about to play a show... like, he can make fun of me or whatever, but to actually have to engage him in a scene? It was horrifying. It was so scary.
"But he was so nice. We all had one dressing room and we just hung out backstage."
So Zach wins versus the Power Glove?
"Nah," says Lewis quickly of the film which also starred Fred Savage, Christian Slater and Tobey Maguire in his film debut. "The Power Glove wins. C'mon!
She then rattles off one of the film villain's signature lines to reaffirm her position.
"Of course," she said. "It's so bad."
A moment of levity is understandable when you consider the six-year journey Lewis has taken to the release of her third solo album, "The Voyager."
The record is a document of sorts, tracing the death of her estranged father, the dissolution of Rilo Kiley, some bad breakups and a paralyzing period of insomnia.
"It's a long journey that was fraught with just some life events that we all experience," said Lewis. "Like my parent. My band breaking up, not that everyone experiences that, relationships end. So it was definitely a period of reflection even though I didn't feel like I wanted to do that, but I was kinda forced to take inventory when that happened. Like when you're just walking and someone trips you and you have to look back and figure out why you fell.
Though Lewis has been busy in the last half-dozen years — a song for the show "Girls" called "Completely Not Me" featuring Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij as well as soundtrack work for Ann Hathaway's film "Song 1" and Elizabeth Olsen's film "Very Good Girls," amongst other things — it was difficult for her to tackle her own music.
"I think when your internal monologue is a part of your work it's often difficult to separate the two," said Lewis. "I write about what I see, I write about what I experience and so it felt cheap to write about my father's death while it was happening. And that's my outlet — music — if I'm feeling shitty I write a song. So it just felt like I just couldn't possibly address that topic in my work."
The crippling insomnia didn't help either.
"I tried so many things," said Lewis of that sleepless period. "The more you try the less likely it is that you're going to sleep.
"That feeling it's a really lonely feeling even in your bed in your own home. I've exercised, I've talked to a psychic, I got neurobiofeedback, I did reiki. I was desperate to get to sleep because it was ruining my life because I couldn't function, I couldn't tour. And eventually I had to let go a little bit and that's when I started to get a little sleep."
Only then was Lewis able to start properly working on "The Voyager." She enlisted prolific alt-country star Ryan Adams to help produce the album. His no-nonsense approach was exactly the push Lewis needed to get back to making her own music.
"I had a lot of songs but I had recorded them many different times with different musicians in Los Angeles," said Lewis. "And I needed a guide, albeit an insane person, who I truly respect.
"He's got a reputation. He's a very eccentric person, he's highly energetic and creative. He's constantly creating and I was stuck in the mud and I needed this kind of free spirit to pull me out of it.
Adams also forced Lewis to confront any indecision she had about her music. Mostly by not dealing with it.
"He didn't care," she said. "He didn't want to hear it. He didn't fucking care. I wanted to play him what I had been working on so there'd be some continuity and he said, 'I don't want to hear a song until we're about to record it.'"
Lewis also got slacker soul rocker Beck to work on first single "Just One Of The Guys."
"I reached out to him as well and sent him a bunch of demos that I had been working on at home," said Lewis. "And he liked the song 'Just One Of The Guys,' which I had given up on at that point. It had been around for a long time. I had played it with Jenny and Johnny and with Rilo Kiley and it had just been this song that I knew that there was something there, but I didn't know how to present it in the studio. So he really got it, he got the intention of my demo and then kind of understood it from a kind of girl group perspective or something."
While Beck may have "got it" on the single, it was arguably a case of Lewis *not* getting it that led to the title and final track on the album, "The Voyager." With almost all the pieces for the album in place, Adams gave Lewis a specific songwriting challenge.
"Ryan instructed me go home and write one more song for the record and he told me to write 'Wonderwall,'" said Lewis, referring to Brit band Oasis' timeless singalong hit. "He said, 'I want you to go home and write 'Wonderwall.' And I of course said, 'I can't do that. That is a perfect song...'
"So I went home and I tried to deconstruct that song a little bit and I wrote 'The Voyager' and brought it back to Ryan and he was, 'Meh, I don't know if this is quite what I was hoping for.' And I was like, 'Well, this is it. This is all we got here. I'm going to record it. This is what we're doing.' So that was the very last piece of music recorded for the record and I really felt that it summed up the feeling of the record. And I kind of wanted it to end up out in the cosmos rather than in a dark spot.
"There's a kind of hopefulness to it. Sort of."