Juliette Lewis on the music that made her

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Somewhere between Blondie and Jimi Hendrix, Juliette Lewis lets out a false sigh. “This feature has already upset me because, no, you can’t choose just one song,” she says over the phone from a hotel in New Orleans. It’s no surprise that Lewis adores music wholeheartedly – there’s his punk band, Juliette and the Licks, but there’s also a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility that carries over to his roles. Throughout his nearly four-decade career, Lewis has excelled in portraying characters driven by a fierce inner rhythm. Most recently, she brought that unpredictable intensity to the role of Natalie, a hardened loner with fierce loyalty, in Showtime’s smash hit yellow jackets. She even wore it own Amyl and the Sniffers shirt on the show, thinking her character would be a fan of the Australian punk band.

Music has played a crucial role in Lewis’s life since childhood, when she took piano and voice lessons, although she admits she quit both because “inevitably a teacher would say or do something I don’t like”. These early experiences helped Lewis write her first song at age 10, which she describes as “a tragic one-finger song on the piano wondering if anyone would notice if I wasn’t there”. She chirps a verse from memory – “It sounds awful / If I were to die / Everyone would wonder why” – and bursts out laughing.

Musical creation took a back seat over the next two decades as Lewis became one of the most celebrated young actresses of her generation, mesmerizing audiences in dramas like born killers, What eats Gilbert Raisinand Cape fear. (Her performance in the latter earned the 18-year-old a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.) Along the way, she fell in love with bands like the Velvet Underground (“Ironically, I found out after quitting drugs”) and Nirvana (she describes Kurt Cobain as a “megawatt”).

At 30, Lewis honored his childhood musical dreams by forming Juliette and the Licks, a rock ‘n’ roll band with lots of stage diving and high kicks. After two feature films, the Licks went on hiatus in 2009, occasionally reforming for touring. Lewis has continued to release solo records under his own name, most recently feisty of 2016 deep future EP, and she is currently working on new material with the Licks. Meanwhile, Lewis continues to proclaim his love of music in other ways. Her instagram is a tribute to the artists who shaped it, including Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde. “Music has always been a vehicle for my feelings,” she says. “I always use music to get into something or to grow from something. I know I get really depressed when I don’t feel like music.

Here, the 48-year-old artist walks through the songs and albums that defined his life, five years at a time.

Donna Summer: “hot stuff

Juliette Lewis: My parents separated when I was two years old. It was very friendly, they never argued, but I spent a lot of my time with my mom while she was working in Florida. I literally remember lying on the floor of the apartment – the days of the horrible brown or maroon carpet of the 70s – with my ear on the radio speaker listening to Top 40. I loved Donna Summer. Disco was happening and I bought fuchsia spandex disco pants. “Hot Stuff” sounded so jubilant and adventurous. It told a story of danger, and even at that age I wanted to get out of the drudgery of that little apartment. It was like Day-Glo listening to this song, my imagination became so vibrant and alive. I never stopped loving “Hot Stuff”; later in life my band did some fun rock’n’roll blanket of this one.

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