RILO KILEY with TILLY AND THE WALL and NOW IT'S OVERHEAD at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Sunday (October 3). $10. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
You get the sense there's a lot of stuff Jenny Lewis is sick of talking about.
The frontwoman of L.A.-based indie pop outfit Rilo Kiley has to field a lot of questions that have little to do with her band.
There's her vocal turn with pals Ben "Death Cab for Cutie" Gibbard's and Jimmy Tamborello's electronic pop project the Postal Service, whose soaring anthem Such Great Heights ended up on about a trillion mixtapes made by introverted music geeks for their crush objects last year.
There's her tenuous connection to the Omaha music scene, home to Bright Eyes and a slew of other Conor Oberst-connected projects, of which Lewis and her bandmates became honorary members after releasing their last album on Omaha's emo-saturated Saddle Creek label.
There's her romantic entanglement with co-songwriter/guitarist Blake Sennett, which ended just before Rilo Kiley recorded 2002's The Execution Of All Things.
And then there's the child star thing. Prior to starting up Rilo Kiley as a coffee-house acoustic duo, Sennett and Lewis had been floating around Hollywood for years, turning in performances in cult Nickelodeon series (him) and a handful of cult films from the 80s (her).
I can understand Lewis's reluctance to dwell on her former glory - including her role in the Shelley Long vehicle Troop Beverly Hills. But it's still a bit disconcerting when the singer/songwriter responds to a question about whether playing characters in films contributed to her songs' idiosyncratic lyrical style with a curt, "I don't think so, cuz I was doing a bunch of trash.
"It was a fun thing to be part of," she continues, "but I don't think it sparked anything intellectually. It served a different purpose in my life. The two aren't necessarily related."
One of the tracks on More Adventurous, the first album they've released on their own Brute/Beaute label, is called A Man/Me/Then Jim. She claims the title is intended to distinguish between the different voices on a languorous ballad divided into a convoluted three-part narrative, with a trio of characters (all sung by Lewis) who reflect on suicide, hopelessness and dying love. It feels like a screenplay, albeit one with intimate brass arrangements and pedal steel.
That tune is representative of the intense soul-searching thread that runs throughout More Adventurous - a vibe that feels a bit at odds with Lewis's super-perky girlish voice. On the album, Rilo Kiley tackle everything from George Dubya (the hooky lead track It's A Hit imagines him as a simian impostor sending troops into battle like pouring salt from a shaker, then goes on to indict the music industry), self-destructive relationships, deer hunting and buddy Elliott Smith's death on the elegiac album closer It Just Is.
In keeping with the album title, Lewis and her bandmates strive to broaden their pleasant, slightly twangy indie rock aesthetic with dollops of blue-eyed soul, earnest acoustic folk, sugar-rush new wave power pop and lush orchestral arrangements.
Along with Bright Eyes producer Mike Mogis, who helped polish their last album, Rilo Kiley worked with the Postal Service's Tamborello and LA knob-tweaker Mark Trombino, the man responsible for Jimmy Eat World's massive pop/rock breakthrough. The end result is an album that sounds like it could be a crossover radio hit, which, combined with the fact that they're distributing their wares through Warner, may piss off their cult indie fan base.
"I expected a lot of flak for selling out," scoffs Lewis. "But I also think that even more people will find out about us. And if indie cred is the reason people are listening to our music, then fuck 'em. Who cares about labels?
"I wasn't mad at Built to Spill when they moved over to Warner Brothers. I understand their feeling of wondering what the music is gonna sound like and whether things are gonna change, but ultimately people have to lighten up a bit. In the end, records last and labels kind of fade away."