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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Try to decipher the new album by Jenny Lewis and the CD jacket won't be much help. No liner notes, no lyrics, just photos of the singer posed in vintage dresses and a retro hairdo. She's sitting at a diner counter, carrying a milk jug through a grocery store, fixing her makeup in a motel room mirror.

Jenny Lewis lives in Los Angeles. She's the lead singer for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley. This is the title song from her new solo album, RABBIT FUR COAT.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Rabbit Fur Coat)

Ms. JENNY LEWIS (Musician): (Singing) I was of poor folk, but my mother had a rabbit fur coat, and a girl with less character pushed her down the L.A. river and over that rabbit fur coat --

(End Soundbite)

Ms. LEWIS: I think some aspects of the characters are based on myself in a lot of ways, but it's tough to figure out where the truth ends and the story begins, so in a lot of these ways, the characters are fictionalized.

BLOCK: Well, mom must appreciate that, I suppose. There's a lyric in there about, I think, she's still putting stuff up her nose.

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah, that's not exactly true, so she's in the clear.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Rabbit Fur Coat)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) But when I sell that mean ol' ma, what will I get? A mansion house and a rabbit fur coat.

(End Soundbite)

BLOCK: You know, I don't know if it's that I'm looking at you wearing this, these fabulous vintage outfits and this retro hairdo, but when I come to the song Happy, I feel like I'm taken back to some other time completely. There's a real vintage sound to this song.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Happy)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) I'd rather be lonely. I'd rather be free. I'm a sure as the moon rolls around the sea...

(End Soundbite)

Ms. LEWIS: We recorded this record on tape and using some older equipment. I think it sounds older than it actually is. I think the way my voice, you know, when it hits the tape, you know, you can kind of hear the warmth of that. There's no real digital accompaniment on that song.

BLOCK: What other vintage equipment were you using?

Ms. LEWIS: We worked in a studio in Los Angeles called Rotund Rascal. We were just searching for an inexpensive tape studio, and the whole place was covered in about an inch of dust, and we went in there and wiped off some of the dust and used some of these old microphones and compressors and a tape machine, and every time we'd try to speak to each other from the booth, the fuses would pop in the board, and it was trying, for sure.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Happy)

Ms. LEWIS (Singing): No, I could be happy, happy, oh, so happy...

(End Soundbite)

BLOCK: There's a part at the end of the song where, as I'm listening to it, I realize I'm incredibly pleased by the sound, and I'm not entirely clear, really, what any of the instruments are or even if they're instruments at all that I'm hearing.

Ms. LEWIS: That would be the magic of Matt Ward.

BLOCK: The producer.

Ms. LEWIS: And I can't divulge any of his secrets, but I will say this: There's an ebow somewhere in there, which is a little handheld instrument that you put up to your guitar pickup, and it creates this sort of humming creepiness.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Born Secular)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) I was born secular and inconsolable...

(End Soundbite)

BLOCK: There are a number of places on the CD where you're, you're talking about God in one way or another, and the song Born Secular quite clearly is one of them.

Ms. LEWIS: I think, yeah, throughout the record, there are these sort of God- questioning references. The record is definitely a secular record, and I think there's a lot of searching going on. I don't know if any conclusions are made, you know, by the end of the record, but I think some steps are being taken to understand a little bit more.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Born Secular)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) God goes where he wants, and who knows - who knows - who knows - where he is not. Not in me.

(End Soundbite)

BLOCK: Did it seem as you were writing these songs that that was a theme you kept coming back to, you realized you were coming back to something there?

Ms. LEWIS: Yeah, I didn't intend to write a bunch of songs about God. I was surprised when I had all of the songs completed and there were so many God references throughout. I guess that's what happens when you're about to turn 30.

BLOCK: Which you now are, right?

Ms. LEWIS: I am now 30 years old. I think maybe being broken-hearted is not the only thing you want to sing about.

BLOCK: I think the song, or the melody, that I can't get out of my head is the chorus from You Are What You Love.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's You Are What You Love)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) You are what you love, and not what loves you back. I'm here on your doorstep, pleading for you to take me back.

(End Soundbite)

Ms. LEWIS: That song was one that was written with so many verses. I had pages and pages for that song, and I had to kind of go through a process of revising for a little while. It's a mouthful, that one. It's tough to sing that one live. I have to kind of spit out all of the words.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's You Are What You Love)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) It's a slight of hand, a white gold band, a heart attack, I'm convinced I have that dream more than upon waking. If you are a symbol or a monument, your right of passage to fulfillment, but I'm not yours for the taking...

(End Soundbite)

Ms. LEWIS: A lot of these songs are just folk songs in a lot of ways, and --

BLOCK: How so?

Ms. LEWIS: I think because they started out on an acoustic guitar, just voice and guitar, and they were written simply, and they kind of tell a story, and I think that every song that's just kind of written on an acoustic guitar is initially a folk song, and then you can kind of morph it into a rock song or a soul song, but I think the song in its simplest form is just a little folk song.

BLOCK: Jenny Lewis, it's good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. LEWIS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of Jenny Lewis's Happy)

Ms. LEWIS: (Singing) So happy.

(End Soundbite)

BLOCK: The new CD from Jenny Lewis is titled Rabbit Fur Coat. You can hear more songs at our website, NPR.org.

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