Jewel discusses the “Handmade Holiday Tour”

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Singer and songwriter Jewel
Singer and songwriter Jewel
What Jewel has learned from musical legends and LGBTs

If there is anyone that has made their impact felt in the music industry over a multitude of genres, it’s Jewel. From pop to country to acoustic, this Alaskan super talent has stormed the gates of the recording industry, guitar and massive talent in hand. I sat down to chat with her about her upcoming show at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, N.J., her memories of her kitschy and fantastic “Intuition” era, and what the LGBT community means to her.

Michael Cook: The Handmade Holiday Tour is the perfect holiday activity for the entire family, you just performed at the Wellmont Theater in Montclar, NJ. I have to ask; what is an Alaskan Christmas like? 

Singer and songwriter Jewel
Singer and songwriter Jewel

Jewel: Well, we have a television show about my family called Alaska The Last Frontier which chronicles my family and how we were raised, and I was raised on a homestead. A lot of my childhood was spent without running water. We had a cold stove, so Christmas in Alaska was very idyllic. We handmade presents because we did not have money to buy presents, so we spent a lot of money making gifts for one another. One of the reasons I wanted to do this tour, and why I call it the Handmade Holiday Tour is because I wanted to share some of my heritage, how I was raised, and a real sense of heart and connection that the holidays meant for us.

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So it sounds like this tour is a true family affair right? 

J: Absolutely. We all decided to make handmade gifts that you can also see in the lobby. My dad made hand woven bracelets, my son made bath bombs from scratch, and I made jewelry. We wanted to share meaningful handmade gifts with people. We tell stories on stage, we sings songs together in different configurations also. A lot of original songs, as well as a lot of Christmas songs too.

Receiving gifts that are handmade and made truly from the heart truly must mean something store bought I would assume.

J: Yes, it definitely does mean a lot, and I think people will recognize that. When they come into the lobby they will see that also. It has been so good for my son to have his own little business and learn the value of working hard and interacting with people in the lobby. He is also donating a quarter of his proceeds to a foster home orphanage in Nashville and it is so amazing.

It must be so great to be able to perform like this with our family during the holiday season as well.

Singer and songwriter Jewel. Photo by Linda Churilla
Singer and songwriter Jewel. Photo by Linda Churilla

J: It’s wonderful, especially for my son to be a part of it, and to be able to understand what our family is about, and what it is to bring heart and authenticity and sincerity to everything that you do. That really means a lot. I am so excited for people to hear me; you know I don’t write for my voice. I am a much better singer than my songwriting indicates (laughs). This Christmas show lets me do arias, and Aretha Franklin gospel style versions of songs, and there are American songbook versions of songs as well. I am really tickled for that, the show really lets me stretch out vocally.

Your 1995 “Pieces Of You” debut was monumentally successful and helped define a genre of music that has continued on through today. You have gone through numerous iterations and styles of music, and continue to be making music that so many people love to hear and relate to. What do you attribute your success to? 

J: You know it’s interesting; I got signed when I was 19 years old. I did not think I would get as famous as I did. And I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I wanted to have a career; And I wanted to have a fan base that was built for a singer songwriter. That is what I always went about doing; I always tried to pick art over fame. When I got incredibly famous, I never thought that I would stay famous forever. Because no one does. But I was going for longevity. I always tried to make decisions that would allow me to grow as an artist, which meant that I would have to stay very curious. Hubris is the antithesis of creativity. I had to continue my education, so that hopefully I could write well further down into my career. I think I am singing now better than I have ever sung. You also see that in the Christmas tour I think. These are a lot of songs that I did not write, so there are standards also. I sing everything from a classical aria like “Ave Maria” to Aretha Franklin’s version of “Silent Night”. It is a very range-y show vocally and it shows off my vocals in a way that has been really fun for me as well.

You have dabbled in all types of music, from acoustic to country to pop; how do you curate your music for a concert like The Handmaid Holiday Tour or a whole album? 

Singer and songwriter Jewel.
Singer and songwriter Jewel.

J: You know I was really lucky to have been mentored by Bob Dylan who took me out on the road. He as well as Neil Young who I toured with next, as well as Merle Haggard, all really shared this belief with me that you really just have to follow your own persona; muse wherever it takes me. You have to be true to that. And you cannot sell that out. Anything that I have ever done creatively has been done from a place of curiosity and joy or challenge or something that made me uncomfortable or scared. And pushed me down to my limits. It has never been out of marketing or something that I thought would be a great career idea. That is how I have approached everything also. My heart is my heart. No matter what style of music I am doing, you hear me in it. It is authentic.

When I am curating it, it is what is turning me on. It’s a challenging thing for me to sing. What do I feel like sharing? it’s not too complicated; it’s do I enjoy it?

You mention not doing things solely for commercial purposes, but the Jewel we knew with the single “Intuition” and the album 0304 took you in a definitely pop-centric style of music. What do you recall about that unique and wonderful era of your career? 

J: I loved it. I think I needed that record in my life. I was going through a really intense time in my life and I loved Cole Porter growing up. I loved thinking of these intelligent pop writers of their day and I thought of the clubs during war times. We were in war then and still are now to some point. I wanted to dance. And I wanted to have fun, but I wanted it to be intelligent. I wanted it to be a commentary on pop culture with the lyrics, and I have integrity as well. I had a blast making the record. It has some of my favorite songs, like “Stand” and “intuition,” a lot of those I really love. I like challenging the idea that in the 1990s smart girls were not supposed to be pretty. I hated that. It felt like we get to be whatever we are and we get to dress however we want to dress. I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot do. And I don’t want anyone telling any child what they can or cannot do. You have to be authentic and who you are. Bucking up against that was really fun and it really struck some nerves. It was a very interesting time.

You have such a rabid fanbase with the LGBT community. What do you attribute to love that the LGBT community has for you, which is still so dedicated to this day? 

J: You know, I don’t think I have ever not had an instant affinity for any gay man that I meet. I don’t know what it is (laughs). It’s always immediately like, we need to best friends! The thing that I love about the community is that anyone grappling with and owning who they are, knowing that it may not be socially acceptable depending on their situation, but to have the courage to do it anyway. And live their life with authenticity; I just have a lot of admiration for it. I’m not gay, but I struggled with that exact same issue, as we all do — in our own ways. To me, I just find that LGBTQ community to really be courageous and have a raucous sense of humor. I don’t think you make it through without a great sense of humor. Adversity requires being able to laugh at ourselves and not being too precious. I think that is why I have always identified strongly with the community and probably why they have identified with me. A ferocious belief in your voice and value; that you matter.

Bob Dylan is an icon in our world. What do you think is the most important piece of advice that he ever gave you? 

J: Overall, the gestalt that was passed on was to keep doing what you are doing. No one liked me at the time. My record wasn’t selling, and my label wanted me to make a second record, but he really encouraged me. He liked that I was singing solo acoustic and that I was going on stage solo, and trying to command crowds. I was kicking people out of his shows, that is why he wanted to meet me (laughs). The people were not listening and I would tell them that they could go wait for Bob in the lobby (laughs). He liked that, he is kind of like the original punk rocker and is a natural contrarian. It is almost an art form for him. I’m not sure how to describe it, but it is a genuine thing for him. I have a bit of that in me as well. And he really supported and believed in me, and really told me to keep going and not worry about radio. He told me to worry about my songwriting and my authenticity and that it is a long road. I think that really helped me.

As your career and voice have both matured, do you think your songwriting has as well? 

J: You know, I am writing a new record right now, because I find it quite heartbreaking to see the gap I see in pop culture. Have been working with at risk youth and teaching mindfulness and giving anxiety solving skills to people. There is a website that is worth mentioning, it is called jewelneverbroken.com. It is for emotional wellness. These are exercises that I invented when I was homeless.

Neuroscience has actually proven that they actually do help rewire your brain. They help for anxiety and help create a habit out of happiness. Suicide is up 70 percent since 2006 in almost every demographic, and that is unacceptable really. I have created this charitable website to help give really practical solutions that anyone can really can use and adopt. This gap that I have been seeing of what people are dealing with on the street, the unrest and also the heroism, is not really being reflected in the art. People are still being told that just being paid and getting laid are the most important things in life. I am waiting for singer songwriters to come back and hold up a mirror to society so that we can see ourselves without a distorted lens of what we should look like. That may or may not be attainable. I decided to come back and write a record, and I am also writing for my voice as well. I am singing much rangier and much bigger so we will see. It’s been fun writing!

For upcoming shows visit jeweljk.com/tour