L.A. LOVEBIRDS: In the world of sweet-voiced, guitar-toting female folkies, Jenny Lewis has long been queen. Since busting onto the indie scene with Rilo Kiley’s debut, Take-Offs and Landings, back in 2001, Lewis has expertly walked the line between hipster messiah and bona fide musical megastar, even making the jump from band to solo project (and back again) without a hitch. It makes sense, then, that she’d eventually find her king in singer/songwriter Jonathan Rice. The part-time Virginian, part-time Scot has been making the rounds in and around Lewis’s L.A. hometown since the release of his debut album, 2005’s Trouble Is Real. And, as all good rock ’n’ roll love stories go, met Lewis by way of another musician, Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst. Since then, the pair have been touring and collaborating together, even teaming up to assist on Elvis Costello’s Momofuku in 2008.
Nowadays, these two music-making lovebirds have not only shacked up together; they’ve launched a band all their own. As Jenny and Johnny, the pair delivers a take on the male/female dynamic that’s as buoyant as it is personal. And their debut album, last year’s I’m Having Fun Now, is just that: Think rollicking guitars and lyrics that run the gamut from snakes (“We live in the woods, so we walk around in the hills a lot,” explained Rice) to afternoon naps. Better yet, Rice’s gravelly speak-sing and Lewis’s sometimes breathy, sometimes boisterous deliveries play fantastically off each other, creating something that’s part saccharine sweet, part in-your-face rock ’n’ roll.
“We definitely wanted the vocals to be the center point,” Lewis told me recently via phone from the pair’s L.A. pad. “At the core of this record are the harmonies, so we wanted that to be very prominent.”
Production-wise, I’m Having Fun Now is a true collaboration, with Lewis and Rice evenly sharing vocal, writing, and playing duties. “It’s a reaction to what we had both done before,” explained Rice. “[Our last solo albums] Further North and Acid Tongue were both made in the same studio with relatively the same cast of all-star L.A. session musicians. For this record, we wanted to get away from that and play as much as we could ourselves.”
In addition, the pair ventured out to Omaha to mix and master the record with production guru (and Monster of Folk) Mike Mogis. And the end result, as they describe it, is greatly due to his skills behind the board. “He elevated the sonic quality of everything to a level we would not have been able to get to,” Rice said. “It sounded a lot more lo-fi before he ran it through his magic machinery. He made it into a contenda.”
Still, at the heart of I’m Having Fun Now is Lewis, Rice, and an honesty that comes along with not only love, but genuine partnership. “If we hadn’t been involved personally with one another, I don’t think we would have made an album,” Rice said matter-of-factly. “I think I’m Having Fun Now is born of a lot of things, but mostly it’s proximity, and that level of creative comfort that can only be reached when you’re living out of each other’s pockets.”
Lewis added, “I think I’m creatively motivated by romance first and foremost. When you’re hanging out all the time and you’re really into someone, it produces something really special. … I want to play music all day, every day.” Rice interrupted, concluding, “That’s real life, for us.”
Jenny and Johnny play SOhO (1221 State St.) this Monday, April 11, at 8 p.m. with openers Miracle Parade. Call 962-7776 or visit clubmercy.com for tickets.