by Eric Ginsburg
There isn’t a whole lot that can be accomplished in a 10-minute interview, especially when the two parties aren’t talking face-to-face and have never previously met. When the interviewee is a household name who’s been interviewed a half million times, the odds are not ever in your favor.
But there are a few tidbits from my short conversation with Jewel that possess staying power, a little insight and even a bit of advice that her fans might appreciate.
Picking Up the Pieces — Jewel’s latest album, released in late 2015 — is sonically raw. Jewel recorded it live and produced it herself because she didn’t want a clever, filtered or interpreted record, she said. She wanted a snapshot.
It makes sense considering she was going through a divorce. Jewel recorded most of the tracks in a take or two, but the opening opus, “Love Used to Be” took much longer because she kept breaking down and crying, messing up the taping, she said. The pain and freshness of the situation forced her to regroup, and return to lay down the track later.
The song, and the album more broadly, is a eulogy for her marriage, Jewel said.
Even without knowing the back-story, that emotion is evident. The track is easily my favorite on the album, though Jewel said it’s impossible for her to pick a favorite of her own because they’re all so different, part of a larger whole.
And it’s true. Jewel described the album as “pretty genre-less,” adding, “I guess you’d call it folk,” but there are also some tracks that lean towards country, pop or poetry.
Fans will quickly notice that the album’s title motions to her breakout, Pieces of You, but may not be aware that it is, in a way, inspired by Neil Young.
Jewel said that Young mentored her and that she holds his albums Harvest (1972) and Harvest Moon (1992) in high regard. The latter signaled a return to the former, and Jewel said she wanted to make a similar overture with her latest record.
It’s the first live-recorded album she’s put out since Pieces of You, she said, adding that there’s minimal overdubbing and cutting on the new album.
Jewel has no interest in reclaiming her previous pop throne from the ’90s — she’s intentionally going with a smaller label that won’t require as vigorous touring and radio promotion because she places great value on spending time with her kid. And working with an indie label like Sugar Hill Records in Nashville, which has put out albums by the likes of Doc Watson and Lee Ann Womack, enabled her to exert more control over the process and release something more emotional and raw, she said.
Now some quick trivia about Jewel that you don’t already know:
-She doesn’t really like eating breakfast.
-She thinks you should check out Jason Isbell’s music, calling him “an incredible singer-songwriter,” and she’s a big fan of Zac Brown’s latest album in part because he took chances on the record, she said.
-She doesn’t want to talk about her presidential pick. “Oh gosh, don’t even get me started,” Jewel said. “Yeah, no comment.”
-She met Joni Mitchell once, briefly, but was too shy to ask the legend to hang out or grab coffee. Jewel regrets not being more assertive at the time, and wishes she had been.
The rest you can probably find in her music. After all, Jewel refers to the medium as her diary, a space to figure things out. And if that isn’t enough, she released an autobiographical book a few months back that explores some of the things people ask her about the most, like her past homelessness or career setbacks as they relate to her mother. But it also addresses how to beat the odds as a girl born into her station in life, her experience opening for Bob Dylan and later losing his phone number to a hole in her pocket, and countless other stories.
If the book is as good as “Love Used to Be,” “Pretty Faced Fool” or “Carnivore” off Picking Up the Pieces, it’s worth the read.
Jewel performs at the Carolina Theatre in downtown Greensboro on Thursday. Find more info at carolinatheatre.com. Above photo by Matthew Rolston.