Jewel talks about what her life is really like
Jewel Kilcher, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Alaska, rose to fast fame in 1995 with a startlingly good debut album. Titled “Pieces of You,” it launched a trio of hit songs — “Who Will Save My Soul,” “You Were Meant For Me,” “Foolish Games” — and went on to sell 15 million copies.
She has sustained a successful recording and touring career for 20 years now, while making time for her husband, nine-time world rodeo champion Ty Murray, and their son Kase, almost 2. Home is a 2,200-acre ranch in Texas.
Jewel has released two albums, “Perfectly Clear” (2008) and “Sweet and Wild” (2010) to the country market; they climbed to numbers one and three, respectively, on the Billboard country album chart. Her latest release is a greatest-hits collection for which she re-recorded two early hits with guests Kelly Clarkson and Pistol Annies.
Jewel will appear in concert June 14 at the Performing Arts Center at Kent State Tuscarawas in New Philadelphia. She phoned one recent afternoon from her tour bus “somewhere in Washington State” and could not have been more engaging and articulate.
Q. What is this tour like?
A. “It’s technically a greatest-hits tour promoting my new greatest-hits album. It’s solo acoustic, just me and my guitar. I don’t use a set list. I have over 500 songs, I take requests. It’s different every night. I tell a lot of stories. It’s kind of like being in my living room.”
Q. A lot of humor then?
A. “People are surprised I’m funny because a lot of my music is serious. But you don’t get through life without a sense of humor. I make fun of myself quite a bit and my family.”
Q. Is performing solo acoustic freeing?
A. “I love it. My whole career, I’ve always done solo acoustic tours, in between the other kind. It feels like home to me. No set list, no rules, very free form. It’s what I’ve done the longest, but it’s also the hardest. There’s nothing to hide behind. If you’re tired, there’s no band to back you up. I like that it’s difficult.”
Q. Are you sometimes surprised by your early songs and how good they are? You were very young.
A. “It does surprise me. There’s something to be said for naiveté. I didn’t mean to become a songwriter, it was more a medicine I could afford. And I liked short stories, I’ve always been a big reader. I didn’t really know what a pop song was, so I could tell my stories with genuine emotion and not be trapped by structure and clichés. It’s encouraging for anyone who isn’t a trained songwriter. The point is to touch people.”
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Q. Are there lyrics that you might not be able to write today?
A. “There are some. It’s that thing when you’re young and impassioned and on fire and you’ve got 24 hours a day to devote to it. I’d write five or six songs a day sometimes. You grow up and life gets much busier, but when you’re 17, there’s nothing better to do than sit there and chew on a song.”
Q. Ah, the simple days, huh?
A. “I often look back at those first songs to realize you don’t have to get too complicated, and you don’t have to let radio and record labels get too far into your brain. It’s nice to have that as a compass to return to. The industry can dilute an instinctual process. I’ve noticed that songwriters usually do their best work in their early 20s, while novelists tend to write best in their 50s.”
Q. Interesting. Why is that?
A. “Fame doesn’t affect their lifestyle as much as rock stars. You have to stay hungry and stay away from the warp that fame can bring to reality. I’m always moving between genres, taking my time between records, staying out of Hollywood, living on a ranch, continuing to read, just trying to keep myself alive as a writer.”
Q. You just played June Carter Cash in a TV movie (the made-for-Lifetime “Ring of Fire”). How did that come about?
A. “Someone called me out of the blue and thought I’d be right for it. I said yes because I like anything you can fail miserably as. I like when the stakes are high.”
Q. How did you prepare for playing June?
A. “It’s based on a book their son, John Carter Cash, wrote, and I worked with him the entire process. He wasn’t crazy about ‘Walk the Line’ (the previous June-Johnny biopic), I think he wanted to do something he thought really captured his mom’s spirit that his kids could watch. I felt very duty-bound when I was filming it.”
Q. A friend told me you were on Howard Stern’s show recently. Was that daunting?
A. “I actually found it to be one of the best interviews of my career. I think he’s very intelligent and deserves a lot of respect. He has a good instinct for when he’s on to something.”
Q. What’s it been like working in country music?
Page 3 of 3 - A. “It’s a wonderful community to me. They really respect and love songwriting in Nashville. They like storytelling, and I grew up loving storytellers. I grew up influenced by folk and country music. I liked Loretta Lynn as much as I liked Joni Mitchell. Country people like Loretta, singing about ‘The Pill,’ didn’t use art to make them seem more perfect than they were. They were always part of my legacy. But I did have to switch (record) labels to get anything played on country radio.”
Q. What kind of people do you see at your concerts? All kinds?
A. “I’m always fascinated by my fans. It’s wild. I get everyone from really little kids to the older Joni Mitchell fans. I remember singing ‘Who Will Save My Soul’ on a beach in Florida and all these Harley guys in beards and vests with no shirts singing every word. I’ve noticed quite a few bikers at my shows. It’s a hodgepodge. It’s always been this way.”