Jenny and Johnny talk songwriting as a duo, touring and the art of conversation

Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are young, pretty and in love. Luckily for us, they’ve got better things to sing about. On “I’m Having Fun Now,” their first album as duo Jenny and Johnny, Lewis — former lead singer of indie fave Rilo Kiley and a fine alt-country songstress in her own right — and Rice, a Scottish-American singer with two records to his name, combine talents, turning in a collection of smart, sun-kissed California pop tunes. Listen, Dammit, chatted up the couple earlier this year, before they launched a tour now winding its way through Europe. Here are three things we learned:

1. Touring’s Better With Two: Rice and Lewis have been traveling together since 2006, when he joined the band that toured behind her solo debut, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” but this time, the collaborative nature of the songs is making for a more enjoyable experience. “I think we kind of know the drill to touring for my records or for Johnathan’s, but this is really exciting, because not only are we putting together a four-piece band, but we’re playing different instruments on this tour,” Lewis says. “We’re switching off between bass and guitar and keyboards, and because it’s a really collaborative record, we’re singing together a lot live, in harmony, which is not something we’ve done in the past. So it’s really satisfying when you’re not just hearing your own voice coming back at you. It’s this new character that we’ve both been able to create when we’re singing together.”

2. Two Heads, Like Two Hearts, Are Better than One: When two wordsmiths get together, there’s always the possibility of tension. Not so with Jenny and Johnny, who sometimes finish each other’s tunes. “It varies from song to song,” Rice says. “On some, the lyrics are completely collaborative, and some, the lyrics belong to either one of us.” “‘My Pet Snake’ started out as my song, and Johnathan wrote the chorus, and he wrote the verse,” Lewis adds, describing one of the disc’s standout tracks. “It was very open. I’m not usually that open when it comes to my songs. I can get a little protecting, which I think is important. If you’re a writer, you have to protect your perspective, but with this I was completely open to whatever suggestions Jonathan had, which I think was really liberating for me. If I couldn’t finish a song, which happens all the time — you’ve got a pile of songs that are half done — I was open to having him come in and write a part.”

3. Not Every Song is as Happy as it Sounds: Although Jenny and Johnny write songs that evoke the warmth of Los Angeles, where they make their home, they don’t shy away from tackling the big issues: war, religion, the financial collapse, Michael Jackson’s pet primates, etc. “We often say we’ve been having a five-year conversation with each other, and I think a lot of the songs reflect the things we talk about,” Lewis says. “Politics are part of that conversation, and at this particular moment, I think when you go through a heavy period, it’s harder to write about it seriously. The only way to deal with it is to make light of it in some way. So with a lot of these songs, I think it was easier to kind of just touch on it but inevitably you write about the things that are on your mind. Certainly with [the song] “Big Wave,” the economic collapse of California, we’re thinking about it all the time.”

— Kenneth Partridge

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