Far be it from Jenny Lewis to view the construction of her newest album as a work created out of darkness. But truth to tell, the five years it took to cut and complete The Voyager wasn't the merriest period in her life.
First there was disintegration of her critically championed indie pop troupe Rilo Kiley. Then Lewis dealt with the death of her father. That triggered bouts of near-crippling insomnia, some of which lasted as long as five days. But in and around those trials, she penned the sometimes pensive but always robustly melodic tunes that make up The Voyager, set to be released July 29.
Does that mean songwriting became a cathartic experience as the new album took shape?
"I would hope so," said Lewis, one of the Sunday headliners at this year's Forecastle Festival in Louisville. "But I think things become cathartic in retrospect. So hopefully some good came out of a difficult personal time.
"All I know how to do is write and record music whenever I'm feeling happy or when I have the blues or whatever it is. I'm hopeful this is just another marker in my creative life."
Audiences got their first listen to the first single from The Voyager, a jangly, restless but lyrical slice of astute guitar pop called Just One of the Guys, more than a month ago. The song was produced by Beck, the artist who will follow Lewis at Forecastle on Sunday.
"Beck is so cool," she says. "I'm such a huge fan of his. I have been since (his 1994 album) One Foot in the Grave. I love that record. I didn't work with him for very long. I think we spent two or three days together, but he really understood Just One of the Guys. He makes that song feel kind of classic and modern at the same time. It's not necessarily rooted in any tradition, but it feels kind of timeless, and that I attribute to Beck knowing what to do with it."
Several Internet sites began streaming the title song from The Voyager last week. A lovely folk affirmation ("if you want to get to heaven, get out of this world"), it was one of several tunes produced by Ryan Adams.
"Ryan was really, really important," Lewis says. "He arrived very late in the process, but he knew exactly what to do with the songs. We worked together for maybe two weeks and that was it. So he was the spirit guide we were searching for. There was one moment where I looked up to the sky and, like, screamed for help. It was like, 'Send me someone please. I need someone to help me get through this.' And there was Ryan Adams, a very unlikely guide.
"You see, I didn't know how I wanted this record to sound. I thought I did initially. I went into the studio and recorded a bunch of these songs. Then I just really needed help. I needed guidance. I felt a little bit lost. Now, I hope it's just another slice in the pie — the pie of my musical life."
Lewis admitted that pie has grown considerably over the years. As she sets out on tour this summer, she plans to draw not only from new works from The Voyager, but from music cut throughout her career. And she still views Rilo Kiley as the catalyst of that career.
"I attribute The Kiley, as we called it, for all of my success," she says. "That's where I learned how to play an instrument and perform onstage with my friends, and make records and learn about recording gear. I learned everything in Rilo Kiley.
"That was my high school and my college. The best years, truly, of my life were spent onstage with that band. I look back with total gratitude and love. It just makes me so happy thinking back on all the hard work we all did."