November 27, 2018 Interview – Jewel
Life will more than likely never turn out the way you expect. One minute you are down on your luck, the next, you find clarity and purpose just around the bend. It is really all what you make of it and how strongly you believe in yourself. That, in a nutshell, is the story Grammy Award-winning Singer-songwriter Jewel has to tell. Raised on a homestead in the open spaces of Alaska, like most of us, Jewel had her anguish moments growing up. The times that shape who we may become later on in life, when it came to writing, she found her calling – one that not only provided comfort, but also a voice for her restless soul.
At this point, over twenty years into her professional career, she has stayed true to her own artistic ambitions while finding success along the way. Selling over 30 million albums sold worldwide, from her roots in Folk Rock, to her experimentation with Pop and Country, Jewel has followed her muse from the very start, so why stop now? Continuing to forge her own way, she recently sat down to talk her approach to writing, the inspiration behind the Handmade Holiday Tour, what family means to her, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – As a singer, songwriter, and poet you have attained a tremendous amount of success over the last two decades selling multi-million records and winning countless awards. Through it all, how would you describe your journey as a performer?
Jewel – I feel really blessed that a kid like me, against a lot of odds, was able to make a living doing something I love. I was able to be myself, be authentic, and just be a singer-songwriter; I think that is very different than being just a songwriter. I think singer-songwriters have a sacred duty to try and hold a mirror to society without distorting the image of the people looking at that mirror, so people can see themselves clearly. Having been mentored by Bob Dylan and Neil Young, so early in my career, really enforced that sacred duty and privilege. The fact that my career has been able to be so successful as a singer-songwriter is very fulfilling to me. I didn’t think it would always mean there would be some sort of static line that constantly increases, because if you’re a student of nature you know everything is difficult. Following the advice of Bob and Neil, I decided learning, taking risks, and growing were my number one priority.
I guess I would describe my career as freedom. It’s given me the freedom to make a living, be myself, and really do whatever I want creatively. I have never felt bound to that I have to have a hit, or I have to do what’s expected of me, or I have to dress a certain way. Again, it is because of my mentors really reinforced that you have to follow your muse and you have to go wherever you feel like going. That’s what I’ve done and it’s really been a tremendous pleasure.
Cryptic Rock – You have done a lot with that wonderful outlook toward creating, aiding in your growth as both a singer and songwriter. Your success has been consistent through the years and one thing that you have always shown a lot affection for is holiday music. You released two holiday themed records along the way, and now you are embarking on your second annual Handmade Holiday Tour. Tell us about your love for the holiday season and what inevitably inspired the tour?
Jewel – I love singing holiday music because it allows me to sing a way that people are usually surprised by. I do “Ave Maria,” that is something that I’ve never gotten to do in my career. That, as well as Gospel music, a kind of Aretha Franklin styled singing. Also, I get to do a lot of the standards. It just lets me sing and use my voice in a way that my songwriting never let me do, I really enjoy that. Christmas music, like everyone else, reminds me of really wonderful memories in my life. It’s an excuse for me to get my entire family together and, what we have always done, which is sing together.
My family come down from Alaska and my son gets to be around my family for the holidays. This is basically just a big excuse to get my entire family together, and to have my son be around my family to see that our family is built of music, sincerity, and a certain lifestyle. The reason it is called the Handmade Holiday Tour is because we want to share that lifestyle with people. I was raised to buy presents, but we also made them for one another – there is so much more meaning when they are handmade.
My whole family is actually making gifts for the tour. When you walk into the lobby, it will be like a little Christmas village – my dad is so cute, he grew out his beard and looks like Santa Claus. (Laughs) He will be selling these handmade root bracelets that he made me and my brothers. My son made bath bombs from scratch by himself that he will be selling. I made jewelry too. I am also playing all these home movies behind me while me and my family sing. You really see how my family came to this country: how my dad was raised, how I was raised on the homestead. It’s just a really heartwarming show.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds very personal, much like your music. As you mentioned, you will be performing with your family, such as your dad. What is it like performing with him among other musicians on stage?
Jewel – My family are a part of a hit TV show called Alaska: The Last Frontier. A lot of people don’t realize that’s my family, but I am very proud of how my family was raised and how they raised me to live off the land and to be self-sufficient, etc. What they don’t really show in the show is how musical my family is – all my aunts, uncles, and cousins. We all learned to sing, my grandmother was an aspiring Opera singer before she left Europe during the second World War. She taught everyone to sing and it’s a huge part of our life.
For the concert, my dad and brothers come down, they start the show kind of like writers in the round. All three of them stand on stage, take turns singing and telling stories; they are all very funny. Then I come out and start singing, and we start singing in different configurations.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like fun. It seems like you have a lot of tradition through music in your family. Being that you began your career in music very young, was your family very supportive of you pursuing it professionally?
Jewel – Yeah. You know, it’s interesting: I have an interesting family dynamic. I think with a lot of families it’s just easy for us to think that family is perfect or that family has it all figured out – that has not been my family. My dad is very honest: he wrote a book called Son of a Midnight Land: A Memoir in Stories about a really beautiful childhood, but also a really harrowing one. In my childhood, my mom left when I was 8, my dad started drinking, became abusive, and I moved out when I was 15. It wasn’t like some easy path to a tight-knit family, it’s really been through love and healing that we’re all able to be where we are today.
We are close and it’s really a beautiful connection that stood a lot of trials. It took a lot of grit and tenacity for us to learn to be happier, healthier humans. People actually get to see that on stage. I think that’s everyone’s story. I don’t think any family is born that way. Some are, and I am so happy for those families, but a lot of us have journeys that haven’t always been a straight line. There can still be a happy ending.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly, we all have something in our lives that is not picture perfect. The holiday season helps remind us that we can heal, that things can be better, and we can be better as people. The Handmade Holiday Tour is a wonderful concept, and what better way to bring people together than to share special moments with others than with your own family playing music.
Jewel – Again, this show, for me, is kind of for me. I wanted to have my family together. My family is very emotionally courageous and we really share transparently the ups and downs of what it is to be alive and human. I think the holidays give people mixed feelings, and that’s okay. I think we are all learning to be the best versions of ourselves and to remember connections cure. For me, what I really wanted to create with this show was an experience of connections of sincerity and offerings from the heart; it heals. It reminds that love is simple and that love is kind; it doesn’t take much more than showing up and reaching out to one another. That is really what the mood of the show creates.
Cryptic Rock – That is a great sentiment. Beyond the holiday music, will you also be mixing in some of your other music?
Jewel – Yeah, I will play my own music, depending on what the audience wants that night and what I am in the mood for. It will kind of depends on what the crowd is calling out. (Laughs) It is different every night. It’s fun, and again, very vocally challenging for me, which is a lot of fun.
Cryptic Rock – That keeps things interesting and makes each show unique. As we spoke of, you have done a lot of different things in your career. While your music has been rooted in Folk Rock, you have also crossed over into other styles including Pop, Country, and even a Children’s album. Having that artistic diversity can be difficult for some due to restraints from a record label. Were you always given that freedom to spread your wings or did ever face any obstacles along the way?
Jewel – I never have, I was fine. It sounds kind of weird, but I was kind of Punk Rock. I was an odd signing. There was a bidding war over me when I was homeless, but it was an anomaly because there shouldn’t have been a bidding war over me. I was a Folk singer at the height of Grunge and my label knew exactly what I was.
I really fought for my authenticity and they never once asked me to be different, ever. They never told me how to dress, and when I decided to make a Pop record, they didn’t have a say or an opinion, they just supported me. It has always been of my own volition – for good, bad, or otherwise. It has been where I wanted to go and where I felt lead to go.
I think for an artist, you are as strong as your voice. You’re as strong as your clarity and vision of yourself. If your vision of yourself isn’t clear, people will surround you who have a clearer vision of you than you do, and that will overwhelm you. If you have a clear vision of who you are, then I believe you will surround yourself with people who support that.
For any young artist out there, it is about spending a lot of time in quiet to understand your own authenticity, and that authenticity has value. It’s not rigid, it’s just undeniable. You can’t stray from the authenticity, because it is your currency. That is ultimately what I believe leads to a long-term career.
Cryptic Rock – Great advice! You certainly have shown to be very authentic through the years with songs that cut more than skin deep. That in mind, are you working on any new music?
Jewel – I am starting to work on another album right now actually. I wrote a speech for Variety, if you want to Google it, and it kind of talks about why I am doing the next record. I’ve been working with homeless kids, and what I’m seeing on the streets in the last five years isn’t what I’m seeing reflected back in social media and music; there’s a huge gap. I think people are craving authenticity and that’s why I am going to make a record. I don’t know how it will do or where it will go. I do feel very called to address the gap and to hold up that mirror, as a singer-songwriter should to society, without distorting the image.
Cryptic Rock – It will be exciting to hear the new music. Obviously your writing goes beyond songs. You are also a poet and have penned several books. Expression through words is a very special gift. Is that something that you felt came naturally from early on?
Jewel – I think I started writing poetry when I was 6 or 7, for some reason it’s always called to me. Again, my family is very creative, so it wasn’t strange to express yourself through homiletics; everybody in my family wrote. I was always drawn to writing, it always made me feel calm and relaxed. I had a very stressful life, moving out at 15 was hard and writing constantly put me in a state of being less anxious.
It was sort of like following a north star: the more I wrote, the more I saw patterns in myself. The more I relaxed, the more I was able to come up with solutions for resilience and overcoming obstacles. My writing has really been the snakeskin of my soul. Reading has also been a tremendous inspiration, there are so many tremendous writers out there. Even though I’m not educated, I was educated by reading great work. Although mine wouldn’t compare to my favorite authors, it gave me a good education and a benchmark to constantly aim for.
I see all writing is pretty interchangeable as an expression. Poetry isn’t the same as song structure, they are very different mediums, so I use them differently to express myself. I can’t express myself in a song the way I can in a poem and vise versa – the same with a short story. I haven’t released any of my short story fiction, but I probably will one day. I love writing. (Laughs)