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Leaving indie life behind

L.A.'s Rilo Kiley, with a new album on its own label and support from Warner Bros., believes its time has come.

August 01, 2004|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

When you title an album "More Adventurous," you'd better back it up or brace yourself for some bad jokes.

The Los Angeles band Rilo Kiley slapped that target on its upcoming record, but they probably won't have to worry about the one-liners. The collection, due Aug. 17, has the feel of a breakthrough into a whole new level of accessibility.

Rilo Kiley has always been the exemplary indie-rock band, starting nearly a decade ago as the coffeehouse duo of singer Jenny Lewis and her boyfriend, singer-guitarist Blake Sennett.

They picked up momentum locally as they expanded into a full band and started playing Spaceland and other clubs and putting out their own records, finally coming into full national prominence when they hooked up with Omaha's Saddle Creek label for their second album, 2002's "The Execution of All Things."

They were also well connected, bonding with the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, who gave them access to his studio, and the electronic duo the Postal Service, with whom Lewis recorded and toured before their song "Such Great Heights" became a hit.

But now it's time to be, well, more adventurous. They've left Saddle Creek and started their own label, Brute/Beaute. Warner Bros. Records will distribute the new album and eventually increase its involvement with the band. .

"I think we're excited, but we're a little nervous as well because we've been completely independent up until this point," says Lewis, 28. "Once you start considering stockholders and the way these corporations are run, it isn't necessarily in line with experimental music and continuing to do things in a totally organic way.

"But at the same time I feel like, you know, it's been eight years for us, and if we're not gonna do it now, then when? And I think we owe it to ourselves to continue to grow."

Lewis, Sennet, drummer Jason Boesel and bassist Pierre de Reeder have come up with a potent calling card for this new chapter. "More Adventurous" is anchored in a rich, folk-rock style whose Fleetwood Mac-grade surface seduction opens into deeper, more mysterious emotional topography.

Lewis sings in a voice that's added new layers of vibrancy and power. "I Never," a sweeping, belt-it-out country ballad, unleashes her inner Wynette, while in "Portions for Foxes" she picks up a head of steam as she repeats "I'm bad news" to insistently catchy effect.

It sounds like a hit; will it come at the price of the precious indie-rock credibility they've built up over the years?

That's always a risk when a cult band makes a move toward a bigger audience, but Lewis notes that the band members didn't lay out this strategy in advance.

"I think after making the record we started playing songs for our friends and we realized for the first time that [radio airplay] could possibly be an option, and I think that led to our decision in trying new things," she said. "With the shift that's happening in music right now, where bands like Modest Mouse and Franz Ferdinand and all these rock bands are starting to get played on the radio again, it just seemed like the appropriate time."

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