"I like places with a little sweat and dirt," laughs internationally known actress/singer/songwriter Juliette Lewis when told she'll be playing Atlanta's Drunken Unicorn. "With a name like that, I'm expecting full-on fantasy and cosmic energy."
Chatting from her car on a busy California freeway, her noisy phone was as crackling with explosive energy as its owner. Four on the Floor, her recently released album with punk-fueled band the Licks, is a raw, decidedly noncommercial jolt of guitar-driven rock 'n' roll. Don't expect the mannered politeness of fellow actors/singers Minnie Driver or Julie Delpy. Lewis is a beguiling performer who's always had a brusque, indie-rock mind-set. She's quite comfortable in dark rock clubs such as the Unicorn or Athens' 40 Watt.
She began acting at age 12, quickly gaining Oscar and Emmy attention and collaborations with most of modern cinema's premiere directors. Yet, after harrowingly wonderful performances in Kalifornia, Natural Born Killers and Cape Fear, she'd much rather talk about Mastodon and the Who than the movie industry.
"I know people have preconceived ideas about an actress doing music, but I've never been overly precious," she continues. "I've always tried to do interesting and compelling stuff." Thus, her loud, sinewy anthems, served in clubs and festivals and on tiny labels since 2004, appeal to the same audiences who admire her cult film roles. "Really, it's not a huge leap. It all comes down to this: Does this band rock or not?"
Unlike the unfortunate gang of actors (William Shatner, Sebastian Cabot) on Rhino Records' laughable Golden Throats series, Billy Bob Thornton's records aren't the stuff of novelty. With four albums of compelling, intelligent Americana, he's a modern Kris Kristofferson or Lee Hazlewood. Yet even his friends sometimes doubt his dedication.
"Billy Bob will never tour," huffed '60s icon Howard Kaylan in his dressing room after a show. "He doesn't have to." Unlike his pal Kaylan of the Turtles, Thornton doesn't have to play live to survive; he's an Academy Award-winning screenwriter, respected and bankable actor and director. "I love the road," he says. "Little clubs are cool. You can really get a reaction – fast."
"I'd rather talk about the Dave Clark Five than any movie director," says Thornton, before leaving for a small U.S. club tour to support Beautiful Door, his latest batch of moody musings. "I love music. I grew up on ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers, the Beatles and the Monkees."
The Monkees' Micky Dolenz is an actor, musician, director, author and artist. When interviewed, his latest film -- Rob Zombie's remake of Halloween – was the No. 1 box-office attraction, and two of the Monkees' 1967 LPs, in-print for four decades, were newly released in deluxe editions. Yet he was about to play a concert in tiny Martin, Tenn., at a Soybean Festival. "My father [acclaimed vocalist George Dolenz] always told me, 'You have to follow the fish; they don't follow you.' You go where you can and play to as many audiences as possible."
Still, even Dolenz, who has worked steadily in all media since the '50s, acknowledges the challenge of constantly shifting career platforms. "It can be difficult to change, or for people to perceive you as something different." The key to longevity in entertainment is to stay busy and constantly evolve, he adds. "In the '70s, I lived in England, where it was not uncommon for actors to do television, then film, then stage, then an album and go back and forth with no sort of backlash or questions. It was much more common than it was here. But it's getting more so over here, where people can go back and forth pretty easily. Still, a lot of it is luck, good choices and timing.
"But," Dolenz concludes, "some people say there's no such thing as luck. It's just when preparation meets opportunity. I was prepared, and I took the opportunity. That's really how it works."
To sample a song from Juliette and the Licks' Four on the Floor, click here.
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