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Pop & Hiss goes to the movies: Jenny Lewis gets a dose of Disney optimism with 'Bolt'

November 25, 2008 | 10:00 am

Snaring one of two songs in an animated Disney film is not exactly a low-profile gig. But when one of the songs in the movie is a duet between teen sensation Miley Cyrus and actor John Travolta, it's not hard to predict which tune is going to get the headlines.

Just a few weeks after the release of her second solo effort, "Acid Tongue," Los Angeles' own Jenny Lewis has resurfaced with a song in "Bolt." While a vehicle for Cyrus, Lewis' song, "Barking at the Moon," shouldn't be overlooked. It's an effortlessly comfortable country pop ditty, one complete with animal references ("I may not have nine lives," Lewis sings in the opening verses).

"I was excited at the prospect of having a subject matter other than myself to write about," Lewis told Pop & Hiss. "My new record has a sort of a dark undertone, so I was excited to write something from the perspective of a dog."

If may at first seem an odd turn for the songwriter. "Acid Tongue" is a loose mix of country and blues-inflected songs, an album that comes equipped with a murder ballad, and a singer who is "drunk and looking for company" in the title track.

But as a child actor-turned-singer, Lewis found plenty to be inspired by in the Disney tale. "Given my experience growing up here in Hollywood, when it was explained to me that Bolt was a child-actor dog who kind of had a difficult time distinguishing between Hollywood and reality, I could immediately relate to that," Lewis said. "I’m Bolt!"

And she almost had two songs in the film. Lewis said she was originally asked to write the song that would become the duet between Cyrus and Travolta. While on tour with her band Rilo Kiley last year, she recorded a song in Omaha with collaborator/producer Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes). In the end, Disney went with "I Thought I Lost You," which is co-written by Cyrus, but Lewis has no hard feelings.

"It was a pretty positive and upbeat song," Lewis said. "I submitted that. But they ended up asking Miley Cyrus to do something and using her song. But it was fun to just be able to write a song for myself and my friend. And now it’s mine. Now I have this weird song that I can play for children."

"Barking at the Moon" was recorded with singer/songwriters Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings and Lewis' musician boyfriend Johnathan Rice. Lewis said the song in the film is as it was delivered to Disney, full of bright acoustics and singalong harmonies.

It was a challenge, Lewis said, to stay optimistic. "I do write character-driven songs, but they always seem to reflect my cynicism," Lewis said. "They always get run through this dark perspective. For this? This was totally removed from my own feelings. I really wanted to create something totally upbeat and positive. If you’re writing something for children, you don’t want to drop an unexpected bomb that might ruin them later."

But will the newfound positivity be reflected in Lewis' future songs? Lewis said she'll be taking the holidays off, but may sprinkle a few shows in Los Angeles to try out some new material and will tour again the spring of next year.

"I hope so," Lewis said. "It’s harder to write when you’re happy, and you’ve got to find that as a human being first. But you’ve got to be able to work when you’re happy. It’s the struggle for many songwriters. They create chaos so they can keep writing about it. But when you’ve written so much from the perspective where you’re coming out of the angst of your 20s, I think it would be silly to keep repeating that."

-- Todd Martens

Photos: Jenny Lewis at the "Bolt" premiere. Credit: AFP/Getty Images. "Bolt." Credit: Disney.