Jewel Talks Her 12 Albums, Living in a Car, and ‘Picking Up the Pieces’
Jewel is the shit. In case you’ve forgotten—she’s been busy raising a family—she’s the Grammy-nominated Southern belle who penned radio chart toppers like “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant For Me”. Her debut album Pieces of You was one of the best-selling debuts of all time, essentially skyrocketing the singer-songwriter/guitarist/producer/actress/author to mainstream levels of fame. Since then, she’s released another eleven albums, topped things off with Picking Up the Pieces, as well as her memoir Never Broken—Songs are Only Half the Story. She’s currently on tour promoting both projects, which tie into one another beautifully. We chatted with Jewel about her current tour, the new album, and what you’ll find in the American treasure’s memoir.
With this tour, you’re actually covering all twelve of your studio albums. Why did you choose to go through the whole catalog of music?
Oh shit, there’s twelve of them? I don’t ever write set lists so I don’t honestly have a real plan. I usually just walk out on stage and between the side stage and the microphone I start to read the audience and get a feel for them. My fans have been amazing my whole career. They really allow me to be a singer-songwriter and to me that just means that they’ve always really supported and have been interested in the process of songs to play, new songs, songs that are really old, songs that are really obscure—they have as much interest in that as they do the hits. It’s fun for me. I love that I don’t have an office job and I love that I don’t have to have a set list and I don’t have to do the same show every night because I get really bored.
Is there really a lot of music we haven’t heard before?
I have these hardcore fans that probably know about 500 of my songs that have never been recorded, and they’ll request them and they’ll bring me lyrics and chords just in case I’ve forgotten them, and usually I have forgotten them. Sometimes I’ll invite people on stage and they’ll just sort of whisper the lyrics to me while I’m singing. And it’s fun that way–every night is always very spontaneous and very authentic to whatever mood I’m in. I talk quite a lot. I incorporate a lot of my book. That’s what makes it really fun for me. It’s a very personal experience when you don’t have a set list and you’re just winging it.
You mentioned that you’re sharing words from your memoir as well. How does this fit into the show?
It’s between songs, and they do typically relate to a song. My book really isn’t about music. My life hasn’t really been about music. Music was a soundtrack to me trying to understand where I came from and where I’d like to be, and the discrepancy. You know, I moved out at fifteen and I knew that typically kids like me end up repeating the cycles that we were raised around. So statistically, I should have ended up on a poll about being on drugs or in an abusive relationship. It’s a very vulnerable thing to move out at fifteen and I knew I wanted to beat the odds and not be a statistic, and I looked at the ideas of nature versus nurture.
How can you know your own nature if your nurture was so poor?
You know, I was raised in an abusive household and I began writing as a discovery of trying to say, if I can examine my life, where I’m from, the emotional patterns that I was raised with, and I study other emotional patterns. Can I “re-nurture” myself? And my writing has been that experiment and it accidentally became a career. But I didn’t live in a car in San Diego to get famous. I was living in a car because my boss fired me for not having sex with him and then my car got stolen that I was living in, and I started writing songs because I was doing so badly. I was agoraphobic, I was shoplifting…and I realized that our hands are the servants of our thoughts.
Looking at what my thoughts actually were, it wasn’t quality. I was really suffering. I was doing well. I remember something that Buddha said: “Happiness doesn’t depend on who we are or what we have, it depends on what we think.” And my thoughts were very poor. So I worked on turning my life around one thought at a time because it’s basically all I had left. That’s what my song writing was about. One of the first songs I wrote was “Hands” during that time, which didn’t come out until my second record. But my songwriting has really been about that journey for me to find happiness, to find freedom. That seems to be what it’s been about for my fans as well. The music has been soundtracked to them trying to find that in their own lives. So I sort of talk about that in the book and also on stage.
Besides the book, can you talk about the other creative projects you’ve branched out to?
There are a couple. The most recent is a website I’m developing that will expand upon the book. At the end of the book, I do about twenty takeaways that were these paradigm shifts to help me overcome different obstacles, from agoraphobia to extreme self-doubt, to all kinds of things. I take those twenty and I elaborate on all of them with by making them into these exercises I invented for myself to help me create new patterns, and my hope is that the website will help anybody who is looking to become the architect of their own lives versus feeling like a victim to their circumstance. Because I don’t think your finances, who you’re married to, whether you have a family that cares or not, none of those things should determine your ability to be happy. It’s up to us.
I also founded a charity in ’97 that focuses on clean water. I had bad kidneys when I was a kid and couldn’t drink enough clean water because we couldn’t afford it. One of the first things I did was start to look into the water crisis.
Do you enjoy touring?
It’s funny. I love doing shows. I feel like I’m built to sing and be on stage and talk to people, but I hate getting there. (Laughs) I really do. I find it exhausting. I don’t sleep well on the bus, and it just weirds me out. I did a tour with my son who’s thirteen and I’ve always done these pretty intense runs where I’ll do twenty shows in twenty days, which by myself works fine—my voice is strong and I knock it out, which makes me happy. But with him it was really difficult because you’re getting up at 5am with a child and going hard all day with him and then getting him into bed and then going on stage and sleeping four hours…it was a mess!
That sounds brutal.
It was brutal. It ruined me for years. This kind of tour we did differently. I would just tour Thursday, Friday, Saturday and then go back to Nashville the other days. Hopefully it’ll be an easier schedule for everybody. It’s not as profitable but I hope it’ll be more life sustaining.
How is this album different than your previous work?
Picking Up the Pieces is the bookend to my first album, Pieces of You. It’s very in that vein. I didn’t go in thinking about genre, I didn’t go in thinking about radio, I didn’t go in thinking about tempo…I just went in and tried to open myself and let you see who and what I was without any pretense. It’s been described as a bracingly honest record. It’s a lot of guts, love, sweat and tears, and learning and joy, all sort of wrapped up. It’s an emotional record. It’s a pretty poetic record—there are a couple of six, seven-minute songs that I haven’t done since that first record. It was just important. It was the right time in my life to do that. Some of these songs are very old and some are these famous, underground hits that I’ve had that my band has been requesting at every show like “Carnivore” and “Nicotine Love,” which I never had a real chance to record to they’re finally on the record. And I don’t know what I’ll do next! I have no idea what direction I’ll go. (Giggles)