Exclusive: Juliette Lewis Talks Pixie-Lions, Music, and Bulls, Oh My!

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Juliette Lewis is the greatest pixie-lion you will ever meet. To some, she is a quirky and versatile actress (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Natural Born Killers, Hysterical Blindness); to others, a full-fledged bad ass rocker-chick (The Licks). But Lewis doesn’t care what you think, because these labels are generalizations. Resorting to her own homegrown lexicon, Lewis admits that she is simply an “emotionalist.” On the verge of her August tour with The Pretenders and Cat Power, Juliette Lewis sat sat down with Flavorpill to chat about her new solo album, Terra Incognita

(out September 1st), the “geniosity” of Omar Rodrigeuz-Lopez, and, of course, one of her promotional collaborators, Willy, a bull.

Flavorpill: There are a few videos of you crowd-surfing on YouTube, you really look like a pure-blooded rock star. What has been your most rock star moment?

Juliette Lewis: I don’t know if it’s rock star because that has other connotations, but I can tell you a very moving moment. I just played an amphitheater from the Jesus days in Verona, Italy. It was built in 35 A.D. I was opening for The Killers, so that was pretty powerful and humbling. Okay so for another rock star moment… one time I walked on the shoulders of people at Lollapalooza.

FP: That’s definitely a cool rock star moment. I’d want to step on people, too.

JL: You want the people to hold you, but you don’t want to hurt anybody. I figure I’m just a little pixie anyway… I’m a pixie and a lion — a combo.

FP: I was reading up on how you met up with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (Mars Volta) to work on your new album. I can really notice his influence — those atmospheric Mars Volta sounds — in some of the songs, especially “Ghosts.”

JL: Yeah, there’s a melding of energies. It was a really vulnerable album for me to make. I wrote songs on piano for the first time. I also had a lot of courage to do really stripped down songs, and he was very supportive. He also created a lot of the sonic landscapes for those songs. But for “Ghosts,” it was so incredible to work with somebody who could accentuate the lyrical story. I wrote “Ghosts” on piano and always pictured it as haunting. I wanted to create a barren feeling and one of alienation. And that drum beat that’s like [sings] “Boom boom boo boo,” was made with my foot. Omar was like, “I love what you’re doing with your foot. Let’s replicate that.” He’s not intrusive and yet he was bringing light to the visions I was having.

FP: So he he reaffirmed and brought out more of your own ideas.

JL: You need encouragement, you need validation. At every turn somewhere in the world, there are these consumer signs that try to breed more complacency, to be like everyone else. There are things trying to inhibit us so that we’re all these perfect little robots that are just imitations of each other. I don’t know any other more radical artist than Omar — his music, the way he leads his life. He also makes films, he’s just fucking radical.

*The phone gets cut off for 10 minutes*

FP: Okay, so you were saying…about Omar and his geniosity.

JL: Geniosity! Love it. Did you make that up? I love making up words! It’s great. I made up another word because people are like, “Oh you act and you do music, bla bla bla.” And I’m like: “I’m an emotionalist.” I deal with emotions like finger-painting. It’s a different medium, but it’s still working with colors — blues reds, yellows, dealing with joy and anger and longing and lust. You can pull it out in lyrics, song, and melody.

*Phone cuts off again*

FP: Hello?

JL: We’re going to make this happen!

FP: I was wondering about your change in sound, from straight forward rock to a more experimental, atmospheric rock. Was this style of music always within you or did you have to grow into it?

JL: It’s living within me. It’s gaining the means and the ability and depth to be able to access it and pour it out. When I first started out, I wouldn’t have had the balls to write “Hard Loving Woman.” But I’m smart enough from my fifteen years of movies to know how to “get out of my own way,” to be able to execute where you are at the time. If you try to seek perfection, saying “It’s not good enough, it’s not good enough,” years will go by and you’ll never do anything.

FP: What song are you most emotionally attached to on the album?

JL: “Suicide Dive Bombers,” “Noche Sin Fin,” and “Hard Loving Woman” are the three most honest, they just poured out. “Noche Sin Fin” was like a purging and was very hard to record, because it was like a storm. How do you pour out a storm? I don’t know. “Suicide Dive Bombers” is about finding hope in disillusionment. I wrote it for my audience so that we could sing it together.

FP: Are your live shows different with the new band?

JL: It’s been awesome; it’s all been more me. All the shit that my audience responded to — this whirling dervish, this girl, little pixie-lion creature or whatever it is I am. We’ve been playing live for months now and I’m loving it. We played old songs and new songs, it’s just a different groove. It all makes sense live.

FP: Will you be wearing equal amounts of spandex?

JL: No! I did wear jump suits, I only had three pairs. I do need clothes that I can move in. I’ve been into sequins lately, like Tina Turner.

FP: When people think of you from this point on, do you want them to think of you as a singer first and then an actor? Or vice-versa?

JL: I don’t even care what people call me to tell you the truth, just as long as they show up. I know some people take wording very seriously. I feel like no one is stopping me. I have this tremendous freedom, this great love for what I’m doing. You wanna call me a singer, a sham, an actor, I really don’t care. But like I said, I’m an emotionalist. I’m the pied piper for the underdog, the pied piper for all the little creatures that live in the forest [laughs]. I would like people to remember my life in cinema and I hope they get a kick out of the next thing I do. I’m all for the journey. Yeah, but labels… shit magazines, they like to take the substance out of everything.

FP: I really like that promo picture of you with the buffalo, by the way. You guys look like kindred spirits. Would you say it’s in line with your earthiness/pixie-lion image?

JL: Yeah, I had all these visions and to try to manifest them is hard with limited resources. If I had it my way, I would’ve created even more of a universe. The bull on a leash came out of Omar’s guitar. Omar played a guitar riff and I imagined a bull, because sounds can be really visual, and I think it went with the whole idea of Terra Incognita and this unknown land. We rented a bull and I held him on a leash. It should mean whatever you want it to mean, but it’s very symbolic of trying to domesticate the wild, but you can’t or harness your power, but you can’t.

FP: You should have kept him as a pet.

JL: That’s what I wanted to do! It’s like if this creature fell to earth and she had a bull as her pet. That bull’s name was Willy.