There are many stories about why actors want to become musicians. One of the best anecdotes comes from Juliette Lewis, known for her performances in films such as “Cape Fear,” “Natural Born Killers” and “Kalifornia.”
Lewis, 43, joined the rocker fraternity thanks to the band Van Halen, led by guitarist Eddie Van Halen and singer David Lee Roth. Roth fascinated Lewis.
“I remember watching ‘Panama,’ the Van Halen video,” Lewis recalls. “I remember watching David Lee Roth sing and when he said, ‘I’m going to reach back between my legs and ease the seat back,’ I was like, ‘Wow, I want to be that guy.’ His showmanship and sexuality had such an impact on me. That performance stayed with me.”
Lewis and her band the Licks, performing Friday at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, are for real.
For one thing, Lewis has that rock star presence. Maybe it’s her acting experience, maybe not. But considering the fact that so many actors – such as Keanu Reeves, who was part of the forgettable band Dogstar, and Russell Crowe with his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts – did not have that certain something during their rock turns, perhaps Lewis’ rock success has nothing to do with her screen experience. Lewis is a throwback on stage. She performs with an admirable zeal, and she is sexy and larger than life.
And then there is the music. Lewis’ 2009 album, “Terra Incognita,” is comprised of some solid songs (a dozen of the songs were written by Lewis). Her specialty is brooding, urgent alt-rock. “Hard Lovin’ Woman” and “Fantasy Bar” prove her talent.
Speaking of “Hard Lovin’ Woman,” that’s also the name of a documentary, directed by Michael Rapaport, about how Lewis took a break from her acting career to focus on music. The documentary was released earlier this year and is a short, fascinating look at a rocker turning her back on big acting paydays.
“That’s not what’s important to me,” Lewis says. “I do what’s important to me. Music is something that I’ve always loved.”
Lewis and the Licks are touring again, hitting fans with incendiary performances – something often in short supply in the mannered rock world – and it’s obvious that Lewis is having a blast.
“I love having fun onstage,” Lewis says. “There’s nothing like singing in front of a crowd.”
Lewis also has some new music to perform. Her “Hello Hero,” which was co-written with Isabella Summers of Florence and the Machine fame, is a catchy gem.
With actress and rock star already on her resume, it’ll be fascinating to see what’s next for Lewis at mid-life.
“I like to take chances,” Lewis says. “I also like to do what I want. It’s not about money. It’s about what makes me happy.”
Who: Juliette Lewis & the Licks
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham