After months of writing, recording and touring, just renting a car and turning on the radio can help soothe the nerves and the muse. Rilo Kiley drummer Jason Boesel has rejoined his bandmates for a second tour to support their 2007 release Under the Blacklight. For more than a month before that, he was in Mexico recording with Bright Eyes mastermind Conor Oberst as part of his Mystic Valley Band. Somewhere in between, Boesel set off in his rental car and was taken in by the simplicity of oldies such as Jimmy Jones' 1960 hit, "Good Timin'."
"It was a lot of one-hit-wonder kind of stuff, and it was really awesome," says Boesel of his on-the-road soundtrack. "It made for this really sweet, kind of small sound, before recording technology bloomed into something kind of crazy."
Boesel's response could have been a subconscious reaction to playing highly stylized Blacklight tracks like the groove-heavy "The Moneymaker" and the ambient dance-pop "Dreamworld." While the album highlighted singer Jenny Lewis' vocal maturation and the musical scholarship of Boesel, Lewis, guitarist Blake Sennett and bassist Pierre de Reeder, its beefiness made even the quasi-country "15" approach Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. For a band best-known for straightforward indie pop, Rilo Kiley took a departure with Blacklight.
"We worked with Mike Elizondo a lot, and he kind of has a history in rap music that we looked to, in part, to get that full sound," Boesel says. "However, Jenny and I are also suckers for older music, whether it be Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Townes Van Zandt."
The album jarred some fans. Diehards groused about the throbbing, twang-free "Moneymaker" and dismissed new fans who knew Sennett as Winona Ryder's boyfriend and Lewis more for her child-star role in Troop Beverly Hills than as the voice behind "Portions for Foxes."
"There are certain moments when the fan base affects not necessarily what we write or how it's written, but, afterward, how we feel about what we've done," Boesel says. "For us, it was, like, "Bummer,' and was kind of a scary feeling when they didn't like it. But we kind of didn't care, either. You can't write for the fans, because if you try to predict what they want from you, you're dead in the water."
After a Rilo Kiley tour that still includes the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, Boesel will join the Mystic Valley Band at the Leeds and Reading festivals. Working with Oberst, M. Ward and Rachel Yamagata as he did on Bright Eyes' 2007 album Cassadaga continues to impact his view of music.
"I think about that a lot, actually, because there have been times when everyone was in the same room like Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Conor and myself all playing songs together and it's like, "Wow, this is pretty incredible,'" Boesel says. "I think you can't help but be influenced by it and step up your game."