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Fantastic Voyage

Photo by Autumn De Wilde
Photo by Autumn De Wilde

The May 26 show at WOW Hall is a bit of a rare bird as far as Eugene goes: The lineup features two badass acts, both women. Over the phone, I mention to singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis how unusual this is, to have a show here with nary a beard gracing the stage.

“I’ve always tried to be fair with picking openers,” Lewis says. “It’s just cool to have all females on the bill.” 

Lewis explains that she’s noticed a dearth of female musicians on festival lineups. “There’s a lot less of us for sure,” she says, but in the same breath points out the “absolute powerhouses” she is digging right now — St. Vincent, Florence and the Machine, Angel Olson.

That’s why for The Voyager tour with her 2014 album of the same name, Lewis is trying to book exclusively female openers, including the rising alt-pop country artist Nikki Lane, who will join Lewis in Eugene. 

“She’s so fucking cool,” Lewis says. “She’s writing great tunes.”

That’s a big stamp of approval to nab early on from Lewis, a veteran musician with a cult following that has tracked her path from tween stardom in films like 1989’s Troop Beverly Hills to her days as frontman for Rilo Kiley, the now defunct L.A. indie-rock band — an indie rock band that actually had a soul. 

Lewis is now blazing her solo career, which is equal parts indie rock and alt country brightened with a little West Coast sunshine. The Voyager is her third solo album, taking five years to complete, longer than her average turnaround. 

“I had been on a trajectory where I was putting out a record every two years, and I hit a creative and personal wall,” Lewis says. “I had to take a moment for myself.” In that period, Lewis lost her father, began a struggle with insomnia and broke up with Rilo Kiley.

“It was like losing a family member,” Lewis says of the end of Rilo Kiley. “It was like a divorce.” 

After that, Lewis says she needed to rebuild her musical life. From that came The Voyager, a classic Jenny Lewis album where cheery beats and melodies act as a Trojan horse into a listener’s heart, her witty lyricism full of sharp confessions and droll observations. 

In “She’s Not Me,” Lewis sings, “I used to think you could save me/ I’ve been wandering lately/ Heard she’s having your baby/ And everything’s so amazing.” 

While Lewis’ brand of wry heartache is alive and well on The Voyager, the album sounds much more polished than previous efforts. Lewis tapped Ryan Adams to produce, who will join her onstage May 23 at Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater.

“I was sitting on a bunch of songs, and I needed a spirit guide. I needed someone to believe in me,” Lewis says of bringing in Adams. “I arrived with songs. That’s really the most important thing. If you don’t have the tunes, it doesn’t fucking matter.” 

Beck also helped produce The Voyager. “I’d really like to work with Beck some more,” Lewis says, calling him an amazing artist. On the album, longtime fans will also be happy to see Lewis teaming up again with indie-folk duo The Watson Twins, who also worked with her on 2006’s fantastic Rabbit Fur Coat

“They sang on a very early Rilo Kiley song,” Lewis recalls. “It was the first time professionally I had the opportunity to sing with other women. I really found myself with them. They brought this female element. I really carried it with me. I need that interaction in my music.”

Her most recent collaboration was performing her new single “Girl on Girl” with Haim, the pop-rock band du jour. “It’s really exciting to do something new when you’re in the middle of a record cycle,” says Lewis, who adds she’s close friends with the Haim sisters and their family — Danielle Haim even got her break playing backing guitar in Lewis’ band. “There’s always women in my band,” she says.

Nikki Lane joins Jenny Lewis 8 pm Tuesday, May 26, at WOW Hall; $25 adv., $28 door.