Staying power

At a time when the life span of a mayfly exceeds that of most Hollywood marriages, even the most devoted fans can hardly expect their favorite band to make it to the leather anniversary. After all, with battling personalities, power struggles and suffocatingly close quarters, bands are like the ultimate adventures in matrimony—and perhaps even more so with Rilo Kiley, that most Hollywood of bands. Fronted by former child TV stars Jenny Lewis (Life With Lucy, Growing Pains) and Blake Sennett (Salute Your Shorts, Boy Meets World), the group gained national recognition and an extensive fan base after landing songs on hit TV shows like Dawson’s Creek, The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Weeds and Nip/Tuck.

Absence makes the art grow fonder: Rilo Kiley makes “us” time between side projects.

Celluloid aside, Rilo Kiley has been an item for a decade now. They’ve endured the dating and then the not-dating of Lewis and Sennett, the solo projects of the band’s members, label-hopping and a significant sonic shift with the release of last year’s disco-tinged Under the Blacklight (Warner Bros.). Through all of that seismic activity, there’s only been one personnel change (drummer Jason Boesel replaced original percussionist Dave Rock in 2001).

“Everyone is endeared to the people playing in the band,” bassist Pierre de Reeder tells Xpress. “It feels a little weird when there’s someone else there playing.” But fans needn’t fear the anxious tremors of a broken home: Rilo Kiley has adopted an open marriage of grand proportions, allowing its members ultimate creative expression (and fans, in turn, a multitude of Rilo Kiley offshoots to enjoy).

Lewis, who continued acting until 2001, has contributed her vocal talents to projects by Elvis Costello and the Imposters, The Postal Service, Cursive and Johnathan Rice. In 2006, she released her critically acclaimed solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat, and toured with The Watson Twins. Sennett recorded with Bright Eyes and formed a second band, The Elected, in 2003. De Reeder sees the release of his solo album, Shame on Love, this August (though advance copies of the shimmery, Paul McCartney-reminiscent pop record are available at Rilo Kiley shows).

“This band has a rich history of side projects,” the bassist notes. “It’s been sculpted into our mantra, our mission statement.” The way they make it work is through a mature respect of each other’s space: “Things rarely overlap. Whenever there’s a break from one thing, people go on to do their own things.”

And according to de Reeder, the strict non-jealousy policy only benefits Rilo Kiley in the end. “It never detracts, it always adds,” he says. “Whatever everyone brings back to the experience of this band, so far it’s always helped. It’s exciting, because people come back [from solo projects] with more experience.”

Such enhancement is apparent on Blacklight, a slick studio album with a heavier, club-ready feel. Synthesizers borrowed from the ‘80s meet catchy hooks—especially on opening track “Silver Lining” and the pulsing, insistent “Dejalo.” Lewis’ vocals are more upfront than ever before, and her previously breathy vocals are now full-fledged (which makes sense for the power ballads she pens). Of course, that album’s risk-taking resulted in some early critical pans, but de Reeder takes that in stride. “You expect some mixed reaction,” he reflects. “It’s fun to have introduced a different-sounding record and shake things up a bit.”

And now, with fans both old and new coming around to Blacklight‘s dark charms, the bassist cryptically states that “it’s fun to permeate some people’s ‘likey-hood.’”

When Rilo Kiley played Asheville last September, the set was weighted toward songs from the new album. This time around, with Blacklight the better part of a year old, the group offers a diverse range from its catalog. It’s a show of hits from a band with few misses. But de Reeder does admit to a penchant for certain numbers. “We’re usually more partial to our live songs,” he says. “They have that live energy, and we’re playing them in the moment.”

That bit about being in the moment: Those words might be the best advice Rilo Kiley can offer to all the bands coming up in their wake—all those new group with their tenuous bonds, jealous leanings and tendencies toward grandstanding. Sure, the band that plays together (and apparently with others and solo) stays together. Rilo Kiley, it turns out, knows staying power.

:who:  Rilo Kiley, Thao with The Get Down Stay Down and Benji Hughes
:what:  Indie-pop
:where:  Orange Peel
:when:  Wednesday, June 11. 9 p.m. ($25. www.theorangepeel.net or 225-5851.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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