Indie rockin’ actresses
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Indie rockin’ actresses

By Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

From Lindsay Lohan and Russell Crowe to Jennifer Love Hewitt and David Hasselhoff, the pop culture world has viewed the singing careers of actors with a bit of curiosity -- and a dose of skepticism. It’s safe to say that the aforementioned actors do not have indie credibility.

There are, however, some who do. The indie community has seemingly embraced the musical ambitions of Jena Malone, Scarlett Johansson and Zooey Deschanel, pictured, who’s been working with rising indie singer-songwriter M. Ward.

Indeed, there’s a host of actresses whom the music community has embraced, and we take a look at them here. Granted, we may be stretching on some of these, but good taste in music isn’t rewarded enough. (EPA)
Zooey Deschanel

Fans have been clamoring for Zooey Deschanel to record an album since she wowed audiences with her slyly cool take on the holiday standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the 2003 film “Elf.”

Finally in 2008 there was an official Deschanel album. The actress collaborated with indie singer-songwriter M. Ward for their She & Him project, due March 18 from indie label Merge Records.

The two were first heard on a duet of “When I Get to the Border,” a Linda and Richard Thompson cover. Ward often sings as if he’s from another era, his booming voice resulting in a timeless echo over his piano work, and Deschanel’s vocals complement him well, gracing the song with an almost enchanted calmness.

“When I Get to the Border” appeared in indie film “The Go-Getter,” which also stars Jena Malone (see slide No. 9). And for still more Deschanel, check out the album “Nighttiming” by Jason Schwartzman’s Coconut Records, available via most digital download retailers. (Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)
Scarlett Johansson

It was Scarlett Johansson’s costar Thora Birch who got to play the artsy, music-obsessed teen in the 2001 film “Ghost World,” but it’s Johansson who’s embarking on a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. She tipped her hand by contributing a standard to the 2006 benefit CD “Unexpected Dreams -- Songs from the Stars,” but who knew she had an appearance with cult heroes and guitar-scorchers the Jesus and Mary Chain up her sleeve?

After performing with the reunited U.K. rockers at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April, Johansson was reported to have been holed up in southern Louisiana recording her debut album. It may be on the Warner Bros. imprint Atco, but Johansson’s inspiration all comes from the underground.

She recorded her debut album, “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” with TV On the Radio producer/guitarist Dave Sitek, and guests include Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and David Bowie, among others. As for the album’s content, Johansson tackled the work of eccentric indie-cult hero Tom Waits. The album was released on May 20, 2008. (
Parker Posey

Dubbed “Queen of the Indies” by Time magazine, Parkey Posey’s cult following has been largely confined to the film world, where she’s starred in a string of independent films including the recent “Broken English,” as well as generation-defining cult flicks such as “Dazed and Confused.”

But she’s also dabbled in music, and we’re not talking about her role in “Josie and the Pussycats” (underrated movie, trust us). She sang in Christopher Guest’s “A Mighty Wind,” the role for which she reportedly learned to play the mandolin, and her vocals also appear on a 2003 Ryan Adams album, “Rock N Roll.” At the time, Posey was dating the alt-country artist, who began his solo career on indie Bloodshot Records.

That same year, Posey showed off her mandolin skills on “Welcome to the Monkey House” by the Dandy Warhols. (Myung J. Chun / LAT)
Christina Ricci

It may have been Hollywood blockbuster “The Addams Family” that catapulted Christina Ricci to stardom, but she soon let the world know she had slightly more adventurous tastes. Ricci dabbled outside the mainstream with a string of indie-minded films, including “Buffalo ’66,” “The Opposite of Sex,” “Pecker,” “Prozac Nation” and “Pumpkin.”

So it’s no surprise that she made her recording debut with Beck, an artist who also walks the line between the indie and mainstream worlds. Ricci didn’t exactly sing on the relaxed, electro-folk of “Hell Yes,” where she played the role of a Japanese waitress. But she did provide the vocal hook with the coolly polite refrain of “please enjoy.” (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images)
Michele Greene

Nominated for an Emmy in 1989 for her role as Abigail Perkins on NBC’s “L.A. Law,” Michele Greene began more intensely exploring her career as a singer-songwriter as the series was winding down its run. She released her first album “Ojo de Tiburon” on acclaimed folk independent Appleseed Records (Pete Seeger, Al Stewart).

She released her second album, “Luna Roja,” on her own last summer. Both are bilingual efforts, and “Luna Roja” saw Greene delving more deeply into political and social issues affecting the Latin American community. She also offers a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Across the Border.”

Greene recently published her first young adult novel, “Chasing the Jaguar,” and continues to act, appearing in such shows as “The Unit” and “Nip/Tuck.” (Genaro Molina / LAT)
Jenny Lewis

Although Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis has long since abandoned acting, no list of this ilk would be complete without her. That being said, her work in Rilo Kiley, as well as her smashing 2006 solo debut, “Rabbit Fur Coat,” has rendered her acting past a mere afterthought.

But alas, it exists. Lewis appeared alongside Fred Savage in “The Wizard” and with Shelley Long in “Troop Beverly Hills.” Her last role was 2001’s “Don’s Plum,” a film featuring Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio, and one that was not given a proper U.S. release.

In 2007, Rilo Kiley released its fourth album “Under the Blacklight,” and the second under major label Warner Bros. It sees the band’s effortless pop evolving into a more groove-driven sound, with greater guitar atmospheres and more space for Lewis to stretch out her conversationally approachable vocals.

Read more about Rilo Kiley here(Ricardo DeAratanha / LAT)
Minnie Driver

Minnie Driver has just released “Seastories,” her second well-received effort on independently-owned Zoe/Rounder Records. The album sees the Englishwoman delving into traditional Americana, even enlisting the help of actress-friendly rock star Ryan Adams (see slide No. 5).

Driver’s music ambitions actually pre-date her acting career. The star of such films as “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “The Phantom of the Opera” was in a band before her breakout role in 1995’s “Circle of Friends.” The act lacked a proper name, Driver recently told Relix Magazine, but it did carry the nickname Puff, Rocks and Brown.

In a recent interview with The Times, Driver was asked about the stigma attached with actors dipping into music careers. “It’s a really strange and fairly unilateral impoverished response,” she says. “I never understand why people aren’t allowed to do more than one thing.” (John Sciulli /
Jena Malone

Jena Malone has already won over the indie rock set for her role in 2001’s cult hit “Donnie Darko.” The film’s music was a choice selection of ‘80s cuts from the likes of Joy Division and Duran Duran, and it arrived just as the hipsters were discovering the ‘80s-inspired gloom of modern acts such as Interpol.

A couple of years later, Malone gave Mandy Moore-starrer “Saved!” some indie cred, and this year she released her first single on hot New York indie label Social Registry, home to the experimental electronic work of Gang Gang Dance. Her band, Jena Malone and her Bloodstains, has already played shows with psychedelic guitar rockers Deerhunter, and is sampling songs via Malone’s MySpace page.

No word when or if a full album may be coming, but Malone treads toward the experimental in her music, bringing a Karen O-like curl to “Lunchbox and Memory,” a confessional, beat-poet approach to “This Pain” and a Yoko Ono-inspired fragileness to “New Year Come.”

Of late, she’s been recording with her new band, the Shoe. (United Artists)
Michele Greene

Nominated for an Emmy for her role as Abigal Perkins on NBC series “L.A. Law,” Michele Greene began more intensely exploring her career as a singer/songwriter as the series was winding up its run, releasing her first album, “Oje de Tiburon,” on acclaimed folk independent Appleseed Records (Pete Seeger, Al Stewart).

She releases her second album, “Luna Roja,” on her own last summer. Both are bi-lingual efforts, and “Luna Roja” saw Greene delving more deeply into political and social topics affecting the Latin American community. She also covers Bruce Springsteen’s “Across the Border.”

Greene also recently published her first young adult novel, ‘Chasing the Jaguar,” and continues to act, having appeared in such shows as “The Unit” and “Nip/Tuck.” (NBC)