Jewel is always a gem
By Naughty Mickie

Folk artist Jewel grew up on a remote ranch in Alaska. She was always singing, performing for Eskimos and Aleuts in native villages at age six, touring with her father as a duet act at age eight. At 15 she earned a vocal scholarship to Interlochen, a private arts school in Michigan, where she also majored in visual art. By 18 she had moved San Diego, California and due to a series of unfortunate events, ended up living in her van. She would perform regularly at a coffeehouse in Pacific Beach and was discovered by labels which ensued a bidding war for her. She signed with Atlantic Records and released "Pieces of You."
During her career Jewel has delved into inspirational ballads, holiday music, modernized '40s dance hall music, country and more. She is the author of a poetry collection, "A Night Without Armor," and the journal of her life on the road, "Chasing Down the Dawn." She has also released two DVDs. Her music has been featured in film and television and she has quite a few acting credits as well, including a guest role as a lawyer in NBC's "The Lyons Den" and a part in Ang Lee's civil war drama, "Ride With the Devil." Jewel lives on a working ranch in Stephenville, Texas with her husband, World Champion bull rider Ty Murray.

In May, Jewel released a new album, "Lullaby" (Fisher-Price). Recently I managed to garner some of her precious time for an interview. She started out guarded, not surprising for the demure artist, but by the time we finished, she made me feel as if I was chatting and laughing with an old friend. Jewel is - simply put - a talented musician, a giving and warm person and a true treasure.

We began with Jewel sharing why she recorded "Lullaby."

"I've written lullabies for myself over the years when I was needing reassure or comfort," Jewel says. "A lot of the first songs I ever wrote, I moved out when I was 15 and one of these songs called 'Raven,' on the album, I wrote when I was 16. It was like meditation or prayer, it helped me calm down, when I was scared. When I was homeless at 18 I wrote 'Angel Standing By' because I  liked the idea that maybe there was somebody watching over me when I would fall asleep at night.

"To write these songs it put me in a certain emotional or mood state that's nice. And I thought if I'm an adult and I like adult lullabies, there must be other people. I've often heard from fans that their kids really like my voice, babies and stuff. So it was a project I've been wanting to do a long time, but I knew it wasn't a very commercial project, there wouldn't be any radio singles or anything uptempo on the album. I finally worked out a deal where I could
release one independently between label records.

"It's a hard record to describe," Jewel continues, "It's one of those you almost have to hear because it's not a kid's album. The best way I could describe it is as a mood album, like lullabies for adults that's appropriate for kids. I was really proud of the lyrics. I love it. It can be lyrically stimulating, but still relaxing. I also got to produce it by myself, it's my first project that I totally produced alone, so I was happy about that too."

I ask if she has any formula for her writing.

"Yes, it's two cups creativity, one cup making time for it," lilts Jewel with a giggle. "No. I've been really lucky that I'm prolific. I've have never really suffered from writer's block because I don't really feel that everything I write has to be good, if that makes sense. I try not to judge what I'm writing and it's like mining for gold, sometimes you get coal, but it's sure fun digging. I just write a lot and I probably have five or six hundred songs and have never had to write an album because I've always been able to look through my growing catalog and pick out the gems.

"There's never been any one formula or process. I would just say that there are two styles of writing for me. One is when I write alone, which is no agenda, no plan, I don't know what I'm going to write about. I'm kind of just as surprised by what gets written as anybody else. The other kind is when I co-write. It's a little bit more standard or structured, where I come in with an idea, we'll have a two hour time limit and we'll have a song by then."

Music or lyrics first?

"They tend to come together, they're very bound," replies Jewel. "Once in a while I'll take a poem and I'll put it music, but that's very rare and not usually very freestyle long songs that aren't traditionally structured. Once in a while, if I can't figure the guitar part out as quick as I'm writing the melody and then lyric, I'll write it acapella and then go back and figure out the chords."

With such a long career, I wonder how Jewel feels her music and writing has evolved.

"It's interesting. I recently, I have a home studio and I recorded 60 songs solo acoustic in my studio, started going back through my catalog and trying to finally get songs down that I've never even written down. A lot of them were just lost except that I would go on Twitter and ask my fans what songs do you guys like?" explains Jewel. "And there've really been rabid bootleggers my whole career and have really documented a lot of these five or six hundred songs that I have that I've never documented. So they'd all send me links to songs that they've posted and they might have been some cassette recording bootleg from one show I did in '95 or something like that and I'd learn the song and record it, so it's been a pretty interesting process."

With so many directions her voice allows her to go, what's next for Jewel?

"I'm going to do another country album," states Jewel. "It will probably get worked at country radio. I'm just not sure if it will be more of a raw, acoustic-driven record or if it will be like my 'This Way' album, that's more rock-ish driven. I have to figure it out."

I know she has a yen for standards, so I ask if an album of those may be in the future.

"I love American songbook standards," responds Jewel. "I grew up being really inspired by Cole Porter, which is one of my main inspirations as a songwriter. I would love to do that, I have actually written several in that style myself. I'd love to do a bunch of originals in that style one day. I'd love to do a kid's album, I'm dying, I have that all planned out, that will be a project I'll work on soon hopefully too."

Jewel was slated to appear in the eighth season of ABC television's "Dancing With the Stars." She planned on doing it mostly as a bet with her husband, who would also be competing. Unfortunately, she suffered fractures in the tibiae of both legs five days before the premiere and had to withdraw.

"It was a really generous offer, they invited me back, but I decided not to do it. I don't think that I could get Ty to come to L.A. again for three months while I did it and I wanted to be able to do another record and tour, which the show is about three months of commitment so.. We want to start a family too, so maybe once I have a kid I'll do it to lose baby weight," Jewel giggles.

I am curious if Jewel may have had a leg up on her hubby if she had been able to continue in the contest.

"I'm not a dancer and I'm shy. I'm not an entertainer that's like, 'Look at me, check me out.'  I'm not a pop star where I'm fronting a dance career," Jewel laughs. "I hide behind my guitar and I sing emotional songs. It was pretty bizarre just the couple of weeks training that I did."

We discuss if she has discovered any secret to her success, both with her music and her career's longevity.

"There's no guarantees, but while I was homeless even and record labels were looking at me, I thought long and hard," says Jewel. "I didn't really want to be famous, I was actually quite scared of it because I such an introvert, very sensitive, typical singer/songwriter personality. I didn't know if I could handle the spotlight. But I made a folk album that I thought surely would never become successful, but hopefully I would get a cult following like Tom Waits or John Prine.

"I've tried to make each of my decisions based on longevity as I went about my career and even as my career, it got so much bigger than I ever thought it would, I tried to make my decisions on will this help me to have longevity or will this just help me to be more famous today? And I've turned down a lot of things in my career and even a lot of money to make sure that I'm staying alive as a writer." Jewel continues, "I've tried to stay out of the media, I don't go to parties, I still read a lot, I live on a ranch the way I was raised, which really helps me stay creative. I try to make decisions based on what's good for art and pushing myself to do things that are different and help me grow because a lot of songwriters quit being good songwriters in their 20s, they quit being poignant or relevant. I want to get better, I want to be more like a novelist hopefully, where my best work's done in my 40s or 50s. So we'll see, but that's certainly my goal."

Jewel also gives back to the world with the charity she runs with her brother, Project Clean Water. It unites scientists and engineers to bring safe, clean drinking water to impoverished communities.

"I founded Project Clean Water back in '97. I've never really done much publicity or anything about it. We've funded it and run it completely ourselves, so it's not an organization that I lend my name to or my face to, it's something that I actually run the whole time. It has about 35 wells in 15 countries, it's pretty amazing," shares Jewel.

"I working on a partnership with Richard Branson." Jewel goes on, "It's been me and my brother running it so I'm proud of everything we've accomplished. We've done amazing work, but I've realized that if I actually talked about the charity work that I did and had other people helping me, it could actually make this a lot bigger so now I'm working with Virgin United and I'm about to do a partnership with Voss Water and then we'll start working on new projects."

We chat a bit more before parting and then Jewel leaves me with one final thought: "I love talking to my fans and if people want to follow me, I'm at jeweljk on Twitter and there's my Web site."

Visit Jewel at

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