By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Rockabilly's trappings are encased in the amber of '50s culture, but that doesn't mean its attitudes have to be. Or, at least, that's Kim Lenz's perspective, something the red-haired rockabilly siren demonstrates with It's All True!, her third album and first release in a decade.
The record bleeds a sass and self-determination from every slinky curve, befitting its self-produced/self-released nature. The songs are equally as brazen, from the jazzy swing of "I'll Tell You When" to the country-blues "Ramblin' Feeling," which upends commitment-phobic tradition by giving the woman the peripatetic heart.
"I just think it's an interesting twist to take some of the timeworn themes that you still never hear from a woman's perspective—and definitely women feel like that sometimes," one-time Dallas resident Lenz says from her new home in Los Angeles. "Rockabilly is such a great place for women to say those sort of things. I'm frankly surprised there aren't a lot more women using this genre to talk about these kind of things because it's the perfect vehicle to do it."
Lenz set up shop in Los Angeles six years ago, shortly after having her son Riley. When her mathematician husband received a good job offer, it seemed like the thing to do. But she'd never intended to give up the rock.
"I had this idea that I'd have a child, I'd throw him on my back, and my life wouldn't change that much. I could kind of go around and do whatever I always did. Things did not go down that way," Lenz says, laughing.
Love has a way of doing that. Indeed, she fell for her kid so hard they practically had to pry him from her arms to send him to kindergarten. She cried for weeks, Lenz admits, until finally deciding to do something constructive with that time. She'd contributed music to television and movies before, and, with the opportunities presented by living in LaLa Land, she decided to set up a little home studio. "It wasn't until I really started getting my feet wet with my home studio and writing again that I realized I needed to make another record," she says. "I was like, 'Forget this foreplay, we just need to just go ahead and do it.'"
But Lenz had never produced her own album, and, as a result, she says she was never fully satisfied with the sound of her first two. While some songs may have worked for her, others sounded like missed opportunities. More assured and determined to realize her vision, she reunited her backing band, the Jaguars.
"The goal," Lenz says, "was a record I can listen to and not have a stomachache."
Turns out It's All True! is an unqualified success, but not just by those standards. The rugged, stripped-down sound bristles with energy and foot-tapping hooks. Whether strutting away with hip-shaking verve on "Burning Rubber," watching her heart revving with the reverb-soaked guitar right past the "Speed Limit," or going a little psychobilly on "Zombie for Your Love," Lenz's sashaying vocals possess a vibrancy to match the music. It's as immensely catchy as it is straightforward, a trait that's by design.
"I wanted it very simple and very repetitive, almost like a pop record," she explains. "One of the problems a lot of musicians that play more and more have is they want to keep challenging themselves, and doing things that are more complicated and challenging. Which is great for themselves and other musicians, but the average person just wants to listen to music. Sometimes they overcomplicate things. I just wanted to make simple, rocking fun from the perspective of a powerful woman."
And that's something Lenz says she doesn't believe she could've done 10 years ago. The passage of time and the experience of motherhood have changed her, building her confidence and hardening her resolve. As a latecomer to music, who first began singing in bands when she was 27, she doubted her instincts and deferred to the men around her. This time around, though, she got what she wanted—even if she had to cajole the sound out of them. In the end, she not only got something that satisfied her, but produced her best album to date.
"Being a mother really toughens you up," Lenz says. "It kind of beats you back down, but builds you up again too. It makes you realize what's really important and gives you a different kind of strength. I thought I was strong before but being a mother, just getting a few years older and learning more about who I was gave me more confidence in myself as a woman. "
As she prepares for some of her first touring in years, Lenz is so happy you can almost hear her roar. Life is good, she says, and she feels like she's returning to Dallas a conquering hero.
"I feel like I've got balance in my life for the first time," she says. "I'm able to do what I love to do and have a family life. That's pretty rare."
But she's a woman whose mettle is now tempered enough to pull it off.