Indie-rock mainstay Jenny Lewis released her fifth solo album, Joy’All, this month. With it, Lewis continues to offer generous vulnerability both in her songwriting and in her singing. The album delivers the musician’s signature melodies, broad vocals and, above all, a plea to please continue finding beauty. The Globe spoke with Lewis about the new album, her sense of humour and her favourite song about joy.
The lyrics in the track Joy’All – “Follow your joy’all / I’m not a boy y’all” – remind me of another one of your songs, Just One of the Guys. In what ways do you feel most like a woman?
I think I’ve always tried to be authentic to whatever I was feeling at the time with my own gender. And there was a point with Rilo Kiley where I started to be a little more feminine on stage, like in a fashion context, and there was so much criticism. Which is so weird because I was feeling empowered for the first time in my life where I felt comfortable showing my arms and legs on stage in front of people and it was met with the opposite of the intention.
Each of your solo albums is fundamentally rooted in country and gospel, but Rolling Stone called your first single, Puppy and a Truck, “yacht rock.” Are you in your “yacht rock” era?
(Laughs) I don’t even know what yacht rock is! Is Steely Dan yacht rock? Because if yes, then absolutely.
Your songwriting is so intimate and existential. I want to address how generous it can be for you to be so emotionally blunt. With that in mind, is this album about being single in your 40s?
Mm-hmm. But that’s not the meat of it, you know? I mean, that’s all the funny stuff on the record, but I think the real story is the processing of it all. And the underlying big existential stuff. Things like analyzing your dreams. There’s some Jungian stuff in there. And there’s some Buddha representation there, too. And then, yes, it’s also about being on Raya, the dating app.
Your songwriting has always had a strong sense of humour. For example, on the final track of Joy’all, Chain of Tears, you write: “How do you say goodbye forever / Sincerely seeking advice / One day at a time sure is clever.”
I’m just a smart aleck. I’m that person in a fight that tells a joke. It’s super annoying. I deflect with humour. It’s like … infuriating.
Are you deflecting with humour in your own songs?
I think your success is in part thanks to your songwriting, but also your uniquely expressive and emotive voice. What do you feel when you sing?
Well, it depends on what I’m singing. I use methods and techniques on tour sometimes to access a feeling with a work that maybe has been around for 20 years. So if I play A Better Son/Daughter now, it feels very different than when I wrote it 20 or so years ago. So I have to find the honest emotion in there, but in the current moment, and without fail, that’s what always happens.
My repertoire is pretty big, so there’s a lot of songs from a pretty wide slice of time. On tour, I get to experience these younger versions of myself, sometimes even on a nightly basis. It’s pretty trippy.
This album explores loneliness a lot. Do you miss being in a band?
Yes. It’s so special. I love that sort of collaboration. But then it’s really hard to get everyone wearing cool stuff. That’s the biggest challenge about being in a band with a bunch of dudes. (laughs). You’re just like, please just wear this. I beg you. Take your wallet and your phone out of your pockets before you get on stage. I beg you.
What’s your favourite song about joy? A song for you that evokes Joy’All?
Well, the first thing that came to my mind was that Roy Ayers song Everybody Loves the Sunshine. “My life, my life, my life in the sunshine …” Like that, you know? Or that Tom Tom Club song Genius of Love. I mean, how do you even make songs like that?
This interview has been edited and condensed.