​Jenny Lewis Is Letting Her Dog Lead the Way

How a songwriting club led by Beck, as well as a new outlook on life and art, inspired her to find the joy in everything

Photo: Bobbi Rich

BY Nicholas SokicPublished Jun 7, 2023

Jenny Lewis has a new album on the way, along with a hefty heaping of tour dates – but she's focused on the little things.

"The joy is in the process of getting it done. It's not … the finished product. It's like the whole process of me being a musician for 20 years. It starts with Rilo Kiley, I'm 17 years old, and it continues today, 2023," she tells Exclaim!

"It's not any record individually. It's the whole journey of being an artist, and within the song, or the song itself, the lyric, the phrase, the pronoun, just all of these choices you make. It's just like a part of the whole thing."

The process for her fifth solo album, Joy'all, was a little different. Most of it came from an early 2021 songwriting workshop headed by Beck, back when almost everyone was stuck at home. The artists would write a song a day from a prompt provided by Beck and send each other the results over SoundCloud.

Lewis doesn't disclose who else was involved in the workshop, in case they also release the material one day, but it seems to be a different one than the one discussed by Maggie Rogers, which included Feist and Mac DeMarco. (Lewis does note that there were some Canadians present.)

The first assignment was freeform: just send in a song. So Lewis delivered "Puppy and a Truck," which she says set the tone for the rest of the tunes.

"It was really, really cool. Not only having a deadline to get some of these songs done, but being given prompts to come up with new ways to write songs — like you write a song with one-four-five [chord progression], write a song with all clichés," she says.

"So I wrote 'Love Feel' on the record, from all of these country music tropes, and the most used phrases in country music. The most used word in country music is love, and the second is feel."

Lewis doesn't usually write with an audience in mind, unless it's a love song. But she did say that having these artists be the first on the receiving end certainly informed the tone of the writing. The workshop for her wasn't so much about direct inspiration as it was seeing the other artists' process and their craftsmanship.

This appreciation for the process extended to Joy'all's production.

"It was very open, and as open as I've ever been. I have such respect for Dave [Cobb]. You're working with a producer who's had a lot of successes, a lot of Grammys. … He is who he is for a reason," Lewis reflects.

"And I think just now I'm in my 40s, I understand the importance of collaboration."

This led to a mindset — and an album — that's focused on finding the joy in life. Lewis mentions a few friends who didn't make it through the pandemic, but stressed the importance of setting the tone in the morning with an open heart.

So, in between her solo tour, her gig on the upcoming 20th anniversary Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie co-headline tour, and supporting dates for Beck and Phoenix's summer tour, what does she plan to do? Mainly exercise, meditate, spend time in the garden, make cocktails and tackle some home projects.

Of course, she's grateful for her over 20 years as a working artist, but acknowledges that sort of stuff is secondary to what really keeps you functioning. She's taking cues from her dog Bobby Rhubarb, who is a minor Instagram celebrity.

Lewis explains, "I just follow Bobby Rhubarb's lead now, where she wakes up in the morning, first thing she yawns and then she stretches, and then she wants to go outside. Then we go outside, and then we sit in the sun for a minute. And then we come back in and she drinks water, and I drink water.

"Those are the important things in life."

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