"It's very hard to be on the road," Lewis said, readying her band Juliette and the Licks for an upcoming set on Aug. 13 at the Wrecking Ball, the Masquerade's two-day outdoor festival featuring approximately 60 acts. "It's not easy living. But I'm falling in love (with touring) again."
After several years of roles on TV shows and in movies such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” Lewis captivated film audiences in 1991 with her Oscar-nominated breakthrough role in director Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear.” For the next 13 years, a string of high-profile roles followed, finding her working in front of cameras helmed by cinematic giants. Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino and others put Lewis on their call sheets.
In 2004, she surprised fans by switching the focus to music, an unfulfilled dream. Braving preconceived notions by the press and the public — just another actor wanting to be a rock star — Lewis spent the better part of five years setting out to convert all who would watch and listen. Like some sort of electric evangelist, she cranked her own personal gospel in the form of releasing an EP, two full-length albums, and incessant touring.
“I’ve seen her movies, and I think she’s one of the greatest actors of our generation,” Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl says in the trailer for “Hard Lovin’ Woman,” a 30-minute documentary about Lewis’ melodic side. “But I watch her onstage, and I’m like, wow, it kind of seems like she should say (forget) that other stuff and just do this.”
Vocally, she channels the whiskey-soaked soul of Janis Joplin, typically fueled by a testosterone-laden rhythm section. Lewis has chops in spades, but the whole package proves much more.
Equal parts cathartic and theatrical, but not forced, Lewis’ captivating stage presence evokes the full-throttle delivery of frontman royalty. Imagine a female conglomeration of Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop and David Lee Roth, each in their prancing prime. Owning the stage for Lewis means she brings forth boundless energy. Streaks of mascara drip down her face, and Spandex stretches across her ripped torso during something she refers to as a primal release.
“Everything’s about the love and connection with an audience and performing live,” Lewis said. “That’s where I can be all of myself. I can sort of bleed and let loose every single aspect of my creative soul and fire. Performing for me is healing. It’s spiritual, it’s deep. Music is salvation.”
Lewis disbanded the Licks in 2009, branching out of the straight-up rock genre with a more diverse solo disc, “Terra Incognita.” Then for the next six years, she dove back into her love for acting. After all, it’s in her blood, literally.
Her father, the late character actor Geoffrey Lewis, appeared in more than 200 films and TV shows throughout his 45-year career. That’s not saying she won’t converge her two passions someday.
While a star turn in a Joplin bio pic would be a no-brainer — she adores the late singer — Lewis has other plans. She says she longs for a more theatrical live show, complete with a narrative, and has a screenplay written she says she’d like to direct, and co-score with a writing partner.
In the meantime, since last summer she’s been resurrecting the Licks with a new lineup; has released a single, “Hello Hero,” co-written and co-produced by Isabella Summers of Florence and the Machine; and has more music on the way courtesy of producer Brad Shultz of Cage the Elephant.
Still, the communal live experience continues to be Lewis’ preferred musical medium. “At the end of the day,” she said, “yes, I’m coming out with an EP, and I want people to get my music as I release it. But for me, it begins and ends with the live show.”