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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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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