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February 19, 2007 | by  | in Features |
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The Musician Formerly Known as Juliette Lewis

While Prince performed at the American Superbowl, I lost my only chance to interview Juliette Lewis – the most famous white-trash actress-turned-singer that I’m never going to talk to. Lewis’ agent told her to call Salient on Monday but he didn’t tell anyone at the Salient offi ce, so when she called at 2pm everyone was drinking milkshakes down at the Mount Street Bar.

Salient editor Steve Nicoll had told everyone that there was to be no work during the half-time show. He hasn’t missed a half-time show since U2 back in ‘02. Prince was good and all, but it’s not every day that you get to meet someone who was your teenage on-screen crush…

If you are under the age of 25, you probably haven’t heard of Lewis. She is a Generation X-era actress best known for playing dark and gritty roles in films as diverse as Cape Fear, Natural Born Killers and From Dusk Till Dawn. Since covering PJ Harvey songs in the fi lm Strange Days, Lewis has made the jump from the silver screen to the rock scene with her band The Licks.

It’s not the first time Lewis has missed a media appearance: she refused to let her Punk’d prank by Ashton Kutcher be screened, presumably because it made her look bad. However, she had nothing to worry about with my questions: a fan who only wanted to ask her about how she writes her music. I guess I’m thankful that Auckland’s Craccum weren’t into the Superbowl, as Lewis called reporter Matthew Backhouse during ‘Purple Rain’. Here’s what they talked about…

A lot of people know you from your film work and this gives them an opportunity to sort of hear what you’re doing these days.

Yes it’s cute, it’ll be like a trip ‘cause I guess some people who have seen me in movies are like “oh, there she is” and then they see the band and you’re like “what? This band is crazy.”

That’s the one thing, on stage we really are a full-throttle band, you know, it’s not just me with a bunch of dudes. I mean these are like my brothers in rock. We write everything together, we endure everything together.

What can we expect your live show, what kind of experience is it going to be for the audience in terms of what you will be doing and what they’re going to get out of it?

Ok, I’m going to give you a stupid quote: expect the unexpected, expect some high-assed little band that gives their all. Some mean electric guitar that sounds so delicious, an awesome kick-ass drummer named Ed Davis who I’m just so excited about and then a spastic front female singer. I don’t know, we don’t take this all too seriously and we’re really in it for the love of the music and the crowd and just trying to uplift people.

What’s it like to be a female artist in a male-dominated world of rock and roll?

I know, it’s wild, it’s kind of something that fuels my fire in a way because I’m so used to being an underdog. It’s kind of like 15 years in the film business has helped me ‘cause I’m used to rejection and judgment and I’m used to having to prove myself. So I don’t mind doing those things, I actually thrive on it.

But it’s kind of fun because sometimes people have low expectations of you and when you kick ass it’s that much more of a thrill… I like proving myself but, yeah, women, it’s weird, it’s 2007 and in the mainstream media as far as female artists, there’s a lot of cupey dolls – safe, really overly-manicured female artists that I like to just blow apart with what I’m doing. Just being really expressive and breaking it open, just surrendering to the music… Yes, it’s like I’m also an actress crossing over and then I’m a female, the kind of music we play is usually male-dominated. It’s what I like to call meat-andpotatoes rock n roll. But we really bring it and I like to fi nd my own voice and set it free.

What’s your opinion of downloading music? Both legal and illegal.

You know, it’s weird because I’m getting into the music business at a very interesting time. First of all, we’re not a major label band, we get distributed off an independent distribution and label. A lot of this, I’ve put in my own money, so it’s just a different perspective. So the thing is yeah I want my musicians [to put in] their heart and souls. I want them to make a living.

I think I’m of the mind of, like, downloading gets people excited about your music but also I’m more about the live show. So I think that’s where my head’s been at, always, in the beginning of this, rather than record sales. For us it’s all about the live show… You just have to have more content, ‘cause I have wrestled with this idea but you got to make exciting things for the fans. So we’re trying to do all that.

On our MySpace page we have exciting videos that my brother edits and then we’re releasing a record I think in April with an entire DVD attached. So, the downloading, I don’t know what to think. You just have to sort of go with the flow. You know, the days of the spoiled artist are over so you really have to become a giver, I guess.

What’s the best and worst tour experiences that you have had?

Oh man! In retrospect you learn to just love it all. But I’d say the worst is probably not sleeping for 40 hours and playing a show. Catching a fl ight at fi ve in the morning, playing a show again whilst sleeping for 20 minutes upright. And then somehow you magically summon the energy, and it’s the power of the people really that give it to you. So even in the worst times of like eating horrible deli lunch meat and bread and not sleeping there’s still a magic in it you know. That’d be the worst.

Oh, and then there’s some places that drive me crazy ‘cause they have a decibel rule… It’s like having Motorhead on five, like volume five rather than ten. Not that we are Motorhead. It’s like turn it down midway and listen, you can hear each other talk. It’s when we have to play territories like that, I think it’s in Switzerland. But whatever, you just do it, you make up for it with the energy.

The best – oh man, there’s been so many – but people can watch. We did this show in Amsterdam and it’s actually on the Internet and playing there, I don’t know, there was just a magic. It was towards the end of our tour last year, we had been touring for three months and I expected the audience just to be like whatever, you know, maybe sedate.

‘Cause it was an early show we went on like at 8:30. But the audience was fuckin’ off the wall, it was like packed, sold out and it’s just a magical show I can’t really describe. That was one of our best, another show in Madrid was pretty crazy, ‘cause we don’t speak the same language. But I wrote a song called ‘You’re speaking my language’ because in rock n roll of course you speak the same language.

Juliette & The Licks play Orientation week with Charlie Ash on Friday March 9 at 8pm at the Student Union Hall. Tickets are $20 for students and $40 for non-students.

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