An indie-rock couple’s unplanned burst of inspiration turns into a full-time gig

On I’m Having Fun Now, their debut effort as Jenny and Johnny, indie-rock “it” couple Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice take on God, economics and Michael Jackson’s chimpanzee, addressing these and other topics with wit and wisdom.

The two began writing the album in late 2009—“a bastard of a year,” as Rice sings on the standout “My Pet Snakes,” a venomous back-and-forth between contemptuous lovers. The tune evokes Elvis Costello, an artist Lewis and Rice have recorded with and consider a major influence. “I hear more of a Heartbreakers vibe,” Lewis says, acknowledging a debt to Tom Petty, another rocker the former child actress, Rilo Kiley frontwoman and acclaimed solo artist has drawn on throughout her career. “I think there’s a place where early Heartbreakers and early Costello meet,” Rice says.

Whatever its reference points, I’m Having Fun Now marks the formalization of a musical partnership that began in 2006, when Rice played on Lewis’ solo debut, Rabbit Fur Coat. The Scottish-American singer-songwriter then co-produced and

co-wrote songs for the follow-up, Acid Tongue. Rice says the Jenny and Johnny project was “born out of a lack of planning.” When he and Lewis began making demos, recording them in one nine-day burst of inspiration, they had no idea whose album they might come out on. “We ended up playing everything ourselves,” Lewis says. “In doing so, it just sounded different—and different enough that it warranted a new band.”

With their mission defined, the twosome left Los Angeles for the Omaha home of Mike Mogis, the producer behind Rabbit Fur Coat and Rice’s 2005 Trouble Is Real. The sessions dragged on for five frigid winter weeks, during which Lewis and Rice endeavored to maintain the spirit of the early demos. “We set the tone with that first week,” Lewis says. “But sometimes you have to hunker down and pay attention to the details, and Mike Mogis is a really detail-oriented person. We knew that we trusted him, and the songs really benefited from the brainpower.”

Lewis and Rice each contributed words and music, sometimes bringing in completed tunes, sometimes finishing each other’s compositions. “We’ve reached a level of comfort with one another I’ve never achieved with anyone else,” Rice says. “When Jenny tells me something, I don’t think there’s any ill intention behind it, or any of the B.S. that emerges when you become a band. We can basically tell each other anything.”

–Kenneth Partridge

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