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Jenny Lewis Looks Back on ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’

Aug. 30, 2016
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Jenny Lewis isn’t typically one for nostalgia. For the last decade, the former Rilo Kiley leader has propelled herself from one project and one set of collaborators to the next, most recently partnering with Ryan Adams and Beck for her 2014 effort The Voyager, then this year self-releasing a record with her new post-punk band Nice As Fuck, which after a quick tour is already on hiatus for the foreseeable future. She’s currently writing songs for her next album, and she genuinely has no clue who she’ll record them with. 

Given that forward focus, it’s out of character for Lewis to commemorate the anniversary of one of her records, but 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat occupies a special place in her heart. “It was an important moment for me as an artist, and in my personal life and my professional life,” she says of her first effort as a solo act. Recorded with the harmonizing folk duo The Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat remains the most distinctive entry in her discography, a tender, funny and bittersweet record about searching for meaning in a godless world. “It’s not a religious record by any sense,” she explains. “It’s a spiritual one. It’s a quest for peace.”

Lewis’ agnostic gospel album was also a statement of independence, its very sound conceived in reaction to Rilo Kiley’s bells-and-whistles indie-rock. “I wanted to make something that I had sonic control over,” Lewis explains. “And I wanted to make something where I wasn’t competing with electric guitars, which are in the same frequency as the human voice. It’s not that I don’t love guitar, because I do, but having come from a band, and touring for two years with two electric guitars, I wanted to make something that was very open. And then when I sat down with the Watson Twins to teach them the songs and sing through them, it became very clear that that was the focus of the record, those three voices and the lyrics.”

With appearances from Saddle Creek mainstays Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis, as well as M. Ward and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Rabbit Fur Coat felt like one of the last hurrahs of a certain moment in indie-rock, and in particular the Omaha indie-rock scene that for a time served as Lewis’ adopted home. “We’re all still friends and we’re all still making music, and we’re all still touring together, so we still have that thread,” she says of her peers from that era. “But it did feel like summer camp was over, or like we’d graduated high school and it was time to go out on our own.”

To this day, Lewis says she still hasn’t found a replacement for the artistic community she discovered in Omaha, though she’s always searching. 

“I’ve been really fortunate to meet some really amazing people and enjoy their creative company for a finite amount of time, but I’ve learned over the years that, especially if you’re collaborating with other songwriters, you can’t really keep people,” she says. “You have to be open and free and let people find their own way creatively. These magical moments happen, you know, like with the Watson Twins, but then they had to go on and make their own record. Then there’s this period of adjustment afterward, where you’re like, ‘I’m never going to do anything as cool as that again,’ and it’s so scary to feel like this raw dog alone in the world. But then you find your people and you do it all over again.”

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins will perform Rabbit Fur Coat in its entirety, along with a second set of songs from Lewis’ career, at the Pabst Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. “We have a special surprise opener, so I suggest getting there early,” Lewis says.

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