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Music isn't a side gig for Juliette Lewis

Marian Liu
The Seattle Times (MCT)

The landscape is littered with actors who take up the mic.

But music isn't a side gig for Juliette Lewis. The actress has taken time off the past couple of years to rock.

It came "out of a dying aching hunger that would not go away, that was ceaseless and only growing since I was 8 years old," said Lewis. "I sort of kept it in the closet for so long, because I was being protective."

But she stopped being scared, and recently released her first solo record, "Terra Incognita," a passionate, psychedelic approach to rock. This is her third full-length studio album to date.

There's a certain dual persona that seeps into her music from her movies — an interplay of vulnerability and fierceness. She is known for her roles in "Cape Fear," "Natural Born Killers" and most recently, "Whip It" with Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page. Her characters range from a mentally disabled sister to a psychopathic serial murderer.

"I create them this way to create a more honest humanity, one that is filled with contradictions," said Lewis. "The last decade I looked back and I sort of became the voice of the freak, or the misfit or the disenfranchised. I guess there's a relationship there that I prefer over a polished, pristine ingenue or debutante."

The 35-year-old has been acting since she was 12, but didn't take up rock until her early 30s.

"It took me this long to write my blues," said Lewis. "I wanted a record that could represent, like my characters I play, a lot of duality and contrast."

So while the music may be about despair, it's set to hopeful melodies. During the making of the record, she was going through a band breakup, a relationship breakup and a change of government — but with that alienation and uncertainty, she found hope and longing.

"It's sort of this juxtaposition that I really write from a lot and that I feel a lot," said Lewis, on the phone before her concert in Chicago. "Where you can feel as innocent as you are cynical, or you can feel as content as you are filled with longing."

So she picked Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, from the experimental rock band Mars Volta, to be her producer.

"He's just so radical. His own music, he doesn't follow any rules. He's got all these counter rhythms and he expresses himself through guitar unlike anybody I've ever heard."

Her fashion sense also reflects the two sides of her psyche. "I like things a little bit glam, where there is a little bit of sparkle," Lewis said, but she's also drawn to earthiness.

So she often dons feathers and pleather on stage. "I'm inspired by this idea of a little prince in a Mad Max world," she said.

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