Jewel Has gone country — but then she says she always was.
The Grammy Award winner and judge on NBC reality singing contest Nashville Star argues her newest album, Perfectly Clear, isn’t so much about a reinvention of her sound as it is a return to her roots. Released earlier this month, the album is full of Loretta Lynn-influenced narratives, swaying acoustic melodies and piano accents — a touch of city slicker sophistication to her largely self-produced down-home sound.
Jewel Kilcher penned much of the record growing up in rural Alaska, playing honky-tonk roadhouses with her dad and living on a ranch with no running water, a coal stove for heat and an outhouse for a toilet.
“I grew up writing this,” says Jewel. “This is my life and my history. I didn’t wake up and become someone else or get a new sound. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to pick a team or something. I’ve liked what I’ve always liked, which is storytelling.”
The album belies Jewel’s past incarnations, and maybe for good reason. Her 2003 album 0304, commercially successful though considered a misstep by critics and purist fans, fused big band with urban dance beats. It was certainly a far cry from 1995’s Pieces Of You — one of the most successful debuts of all time. Jewel says the album was branded as alt-pop by a music industry riding the crest of the grunge rock tsunami caused by the success of bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden, and should have been considered a country work if anything.
Now, at 34, Jewel has mixed memories of her time at the top. As a 19-year-old living in a car in San Diego, she wasn’t ready for the ruthless realities of life at the top of the charts. She recalls frequently fighting uphill battles for creative freedom (which might explain away 0304.).
“I’m not trying to be a martyr or anything, but it is something to go from being homeless to being rich overnight. I was just not prepared for that at all. I don’t think anyone would be. I certainly had rock ’n’ roll clichés happen,” she says. “The good news is that the more you’re in control of everything, the safer you are.”
Lesson learned — after more than a decade as a major label artist, Jewel says educating herself on the business has led her to a position where she can do what she wants, when she wants, and she warns up-and-comers to do the same.
“It’s a complicated business, and it’s not set up to help the artist win. It’s set up for everyone else to make money off of you,” she says. “The industry runs artists into the ground. You see these talented kids and they’re broke. It’s heartbreaking, and it happens over and over.”