By Alex Suskind
January 08, 2019 at 10:00 AM EST
Credit: Autumn DeWilde

The year she turned 40, Jenny Lewis decamped for New York City. “That was terrifying,” the now 42-year-old tells EW. “I moved away from my home and my friends and family.” Having just ended a 12-year relationship, with the musician Johnathan Rice, Lewis — who has lived in Los Angeles most of her life — was looking for a clean break, as well as a place to continue writing On the Line, the follow-up to her 2014 LP The Voyager. Thankfully, her friend Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, took her in. “My girlfriends really came to my rescue,” adds Lewis. “I leaned on them hard, and they gave me places to stay and they talked to me for hours on the phone.”

In New York, Lewis started a band with Tennessee Thomas and Erika Forster, called Nice as F*ck, and continued to devise new material for her next solo effort, picking up inspiration wherever she could. Walking around Queens or Brooklyn or the East Village, as opposed to the sunny environs of Southern California, added a different flavor to her songwriting, while providing a sort of mental road map.

“I always write these songs, and they’re almost little prophetic nuggets for myself,” she says. “Like, I don’t understand what I’m writing, and then it all kind of makes sense a couple of years later.”

The work she put in on the east coast would eventually culminate in On the Line. Due out this spring, the record ditches the sherbet-hued aesthetic and summery earworms of her previous album for something a bit quieter and true to self. “I wanted to shed the rainbow,” says Lewis, meaning both figuratively and literally (the Voyager album artwork, guitar, and her accompanying pant uit all ran with ROYGBIV themes). “I think the rainbow was almost like a superhero device against depression, where if I presented this stage aesthetic, I couldn’t possibly be depressed and down. It was kind of like this antidote.”

Lewis’s first aim with Line was to strive for personal reflection, combining a conversational and introspective tone with the catchy pop-rock melodies and witty one-liners she’s honed throughout her career. By aiming for authenticity, she hoped to discover what it meant to be herself again following the break up. “I felt like I lost my inner mystic,” she says. “You know, you share your consciousness with someone [in a relationship], and I felt like I just had to get away to get back to how I was feeling and how I was perceiving the world.”

The result is a beautifully flawed account of what her life actually looks (and sounds) like. “I think we’re obsessed with perfection,” she says, pointing specifically to her early days as a child actor, when it was all about being flawless on camera. “I f—ing love Auto-Tune, but that’s not what this [album] was. My voice cracks. It’s a little pitchy. Some of the words aren’t exactly what I had written down. But I think it’s human.”

That aspect also lends itself to where Lewis sees herself now in her career. With On the Line — which includes contributions from Beck, Benmont Tench, and Ringo Starr (“Oh man, it was one of the great experiences of my entire life, and I just was in disbelief,” says Lewis, of recording with the Beatle) — she’s ready to face the world head on.

“It’s like, personally, I’m on the line,” she says. “I’m 42 years old. I’m a professional woman, a single woman without children. I’m on the f—ing line.”

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