Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
The early evening darkness had already descended on Austin when Juliette Lewis and her new band, the New Romantics arrived at Big Orange during the Friday night hours of the South By Southwest music festival in March. Lewis looked modestly fatigued, with an over-sized sun hat on, a short-cut belly shirt and jeans - nothing of which was synchronized by color or style - and it couldn't have been a more fitting combination of attire for the free form, cultishly worshipped actress/musician. She informed us that she'd just begun to drink Guinness and after a long day of performing and press behind her new ensemble, the New Romantics, she was in need of some thick, brown beer spirits. There was no Guinness in the studio so she sought stuff out across the street at The Scoot Inn, where an official showcase was already underway in the dive-y environs. Lewis does things on her own and in her own way - getting her own Irish brew with her working legs and building her musical voice on her own whimsies and her own desires, not copping to just making music, but making music that she really cares about. Her band, in just the hour and a half we spent with her, comes across as the most important thing in her life - besides her puppy dog. It's not all the movies that she shoots to pay the bills (unnecessarily so at this point, most likely), but HER band and her NEW songs. She does emphasize the words "her" and "new" when talking about the band and the songs. They are close to her and meaningful. She seems to take great pains with them, with their feel and their sound, with their execution and their effect and the sounds that she's now making are extraordinary examples of someone who cares quite a lot about the material that's coming out of her. She's found an interesting balance between the two versions of her artist side that she'd previously recorded - one of extreme, dirty and sexy punk rock and one of glamorous and sexy riot girl rock and roll, over-the-top wildness and reckless abandon. The songs that she debuts here have a new energy and a new brand of raw emotion that Lewis hasn't given us before. She's more of Joan Jett doing a version of Janis Joplin while hearing the apocalyptic dysfunction and melodic touch of The Pixies in her head. It's really an astonishing take on her former(?) self, one that was just about sloppy bursts and thrashing about like a hopped up young woman, getting sweaty in one of the many ways she knew how. She sings, on these new songs, about falsely-colored worlds, primping and priming, veneers and gloss. She sings about renegades and revolutionaries who aren't really so, but fakers who'd run away with their tails between their legs. She sings about poets and entertainers drenched in devil's blood and who knows what that's all about, but it comes as a line in "Suicide Dive Bombers," a number that is all kinds of spooky and big as a mushroom cloud. Lewis and her new sound - oddly romantic and introspective - should start to put more of the emphasis on HER band and HER music, as much as she seems to have.