Jenny Lewis Transitions From Everyone's Fave Indie Sweetheart To Very Good Girl

Categories: Feature

Photo by Michael Alan Goldberg
About a year and a half ago, singer-songwriter and former Rilo Kiley principal Jenny Lewis was in a difficult spot. Crippling writer's block had stopped her in her tracks right in the middle of work on her third solo album, the follow-up to 2008's Acid Tongue. Her father had just passed away. Her love life was complicated. All kinds of emotions were swirling in her head, but she needed time to process it all before attempting to turn it into song. She needed to just live life for a while, and find something else to work on.

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Fortunately, her long-time friend Naomi Foner -- a screenwriter-turned-director, and the mother of actors Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal -- had a project for Lewis. Foner had recently written a film script -- a contemporary coming-of-age story about two teenage girls in Brooklyn desperate to lose their virginity in their final summer before college. One of the two characters, "Gerri," was a budding songwriter who performs at local open mic nights, and Foner enlisted Lewis to write the batch of songs that Gerri would sing. That quickly evolved into Lewis writing more original songs for the project, as well as composing the entire score and taking on the title of "music supervisor" for the film, called Very Good Girls starring Elizabeth Olsen as Gerri and Dakota Fanning as her best pal, Lilly. The supporting cast includes Ellen Barkin, Richard Dreyfuss, Boyd Holbrook, Demi Moore, and Peter Sarsgaard.

"It was really just me, alone in a room with my computer and a bunch of instruments, watching the film and coming up with music, and because I was writing for a character, there was a lot more freedom there than when I'm doing my solo stuff," Lewis said over the phone Tuesday night from the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, where she was in the midst of Very Good Girls' premiere. "To be able to put aside the things I was going through personally and just think about the mood and the tone [of the film] and supporting the story and the emotions was great."

Part of the initial appeal of the project for Lewis -- aside from loving the script "written and directed by a woman about young women," she said -- was the opportunity to "put myself 10 years back to a place where I just started writing songs. Themes inevitably change as you get older, so it was kind of fun to revisit that old headspace, and I guess I wrote some lines that are maybe a little funnier or dark or just young that I wouldn't necessarily let fly at this point in my life."

Leaning on the sonic textures -- twangy guitars, warm Wurlitzer organ, both bright and melancholy melodies -- that have characterized the country-rock and '70s Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter vibe of much of her solo material, and her work with Rilo Kiley and Jenny and Johnny, Lewis wrote a bunch of songs and spent time with Olsen prior to last summer's shoot in Brooklyn.

"She'd come over to my house [in L.A.] and we'd talk about music and I played her some of the original songs I was writing before I even played them for the director," said Lewis, who also hooked Olsen up with a guitar instructor. "Lizzie was great, I was so impressed with her and she took it very seriously."

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