Juliette Lewis has wanted to be a singer since she was a young girl in Los Angeles. Yes, she veered wildly and successfully into a late teen career in mainstream and independent film, with vividly mature roles for marquee directors Martin Scorsese (1991's Cape Fear), Woody Allen (1992's Husbands and Wives), Lasse Hallström (1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape), Oliver Stone (1994's Natural Born Killers), Kathryn Bigelow (1995's Strange Days), and Robert Rodriguez (1996's From Dusk Till Dawn).
All that, and still she wanted to rock out.
So rather than miss the opportunity, at age 30 she hit the road, psyched up her growly baritone voice and sexually frustrated lyrics, picked up a band (Juliette and the Licks), and commenced to punk rocking.
She and her Licks released a 2004 EP (. . . Like a Bolt of Lightning) and a full LP (Four on the Floor) in 2006, with Dave Grohl on drums. Lewis then went solo with 2009's tough, power-pop Terra Incognita.
She took a break from rock to act, with series such as Wayward Pines and Secrets & Lies, and films like Jem and the Holograms and the just-opened thriller Nerve. Now she's back to making garage punk, pop, and dance music with a forthcoming album and EP for 2016 (her new single is "Hello Hero"), a documentary of her life as a rocker - Hard Lovin' Woman, directed by actor Michael Rappaport - and a tour that brings her to Union Transfer on Monday.
When you first decided to do Juliette and the Licks, did you want out of the film world?
No, actually. I always liked what I was doing in movies and I wanted to do music - that was a passion since I was a kid. When I was 7, everything I did was singularly musical: sing, play piano, write songs. Everything that inspired me was musical: Hair, Rocky Horror, Fame, Grease. But I got successful doing film really early [She was nominated for an Oscar at 18 for Cape Fear], which was cool, but I felt incomplete. I hit 30 and thought, 'Oh, [expletive], time is up. You better do it now if you're ever going to do it.' So I did.
Did you have an idealized version of a band in your head?
I did. I wanted to cut my teeth on live shows. Very guitar-driven rock and roll. Very energetic. I did that for five years with the Licks then disbanded that because I wanted to write songs that weren't so guitar-driven.
After that solo album, a lot of acting roles came your way.
They did. But it was never like, 'Oh, I'm done doing music.' I'm never going to do one and not the other. I'm just trying to create a voice in both mediums. If you think about it, I started late in life - most people take up being in a band when they're in their teens.
Was it easy to disconnect from music when you slowed that roll in 2009?
I went through a whole lot of stuff. I was still brokenhearted about my band breaking up, I was trying to find my muse. I was doing a lot of acting work again. It wasn't until my dad passed away [in 2015] that I began thinking time is fleeting. So in honor of my dad, I became more fearless again. This is why I'm going out live, as myself, with a band that I love but is more nuanced and diverse than my old band - but still can rock.
When you stopped touring, was it hard to tear yourself away from that trajectory? You were making records and touring hard and fast for six years straight.
Oh, yes. Then again, I felt really burned out. Look, not only did we do our shows, we opened for the Killers, Kings of Leon, Muse. We were this totally independent band. I'm independent, which means I don't have to answer to anybody. So the second that it turned into a grind I was like, "Who am I doing this for?" There is, of course, a love of the connectivity to the audience - because this is communal - but I needed a break from it, so I took one.
Were you satisfied with who you were as a songwriter?
No, so I hooked up with other writers to help me grow up, people from Mars Volta, Florence & the Machine, Cage the Elephant. This time out, I wanted to better myself, then get a band together, which is not how I did it the first time. With the Licks, we just tailored songs to them. So I was able to reevaluate, reinvigorate. Plus, I'm only doing short tours from now on. Those yearlong runs pull you away from family, friends, your roots and routine.
How is burning out from music different than burning out from film?
Good question. Touring is just hard physically. You're breathing bus or van air. You're always in motion. You can never enjoy a city that you're in unless you can grab a day off. No way around it - it's harder on you physically and mentally.
And I'm a healthy person. I'm a drug-free person. You miss things. Look, even with movies, it's a labor of love. The one thing, though, that you always keep asking yourself is, 'What am I in this for?' You can't ever be imprisoned.
So why do a documentary for Michael Rapaport? He's got a good eye, what with having done films on the New York Knicks and A Tribe Called Quest.
He and I talk about this, how as creative persons we look for release and satisfaction - we look for that happiness in our job. Now, everybody is an exhibitionist - it's the way we live, the world we live in - but, honestly, I don't want someone following me around with cameras. But I wanted to do something inspirational. That meant something.
Mike? I trusted him. We're old friends for 20 years. I knew he understood me and the art form, so there's humor pain, struggle, and dreams.
Talk about your new music.
I've got a fun, anthemic summer song, "Hello Hero," out now with the next single being this little banger called "Anyway You Want," which is psychedelic soul inspired by the Zombies and the Animals and featuring a favorite theme of mine - sexual frustration. There's an EP coming with a song that's very bluesy, very Screaming Jay Hawkins, called "I Know Trouble." A punk song called "Losing My Mind." Plus, I'm doing more dance music on the next album. I grew up loving Donna Summer.
As an artist, as a woman, are you satisfied with where you are?
Yes, because I understand myself more and understand the music more. I mean, I'm always going to feel as if I have something to prove. Only, now, I have the good vibes to make it real. Wait, though? Satisfied? I'll never totally have that - and that's a good thing.
and the New Regime
8:30 p.m. Monday at Union Transfer, 1026 Spring Garden St.
Tickets: $16. Info: 215-232-2100 or uniontransfer.com.