It’s been 18 years since Jewel broke out with her debut album Pieces of You. Since then, she has sold over 27 million albums worldwide, won four Grammys, and come out with 11 more albums, including her Greatest Hits collection, which dropped on Tuesday. But while her career and personal life have moved forward, there is still a part of her that remembers the time when she was a young girl living in a van and playing coffee shop gigs. Today, one song in particular reminds Jewel of her rough beginnings and how far she has come since that day.
That song is “Who Will Save Your Soul,” Jewel tells Hollywood.com backstage just hours before she is about to do a special concert at iHeartRadio in New York City. “It was the first one I ever wrote, and the one that really started it all for me.” After all these years, the song still has the same meaning for Jewel that it did when she wrote it as a free-spirited 20-year-old. “With time, [the message] is just more true: Your destiny is in your hands,” she says. “If you are looking to other people to save you, you are probably going to be waiting.”
But whereas the meaning of her song has remained consistent, Jewel has witnessed the music industry itself change over the years. “There are cycles in the music business just like anything,” she says. “The business has had a tendency lately to maybe not cultivate careers as much as it has fashions, fads, or trends.” While this may not be bad for the record labels, it can hurt the artists. “Record labels will still make the money,” Jewel says. “They’ll reap the reward, but the artists will be left without careers."
Sometimes, though, artists learn how to beat this rule. Taylor Swift is a good example of someone who knows the industry well. “She really gets the business,” Jewel says. “She gets how the game is played.”
But unlike Swift, Jewel never understood fame when she first started out. “I was just completely caught off-guard [by] fame,” she says. “I didn’t really have the personality for it.”
It’s Jewel’s free-spirit and raw talent that helped her build a career, much in the same way that Adele has in the past few years. “She really strikes you as an artist,” Jewel says. “There’s a real authenticity to Adele that I get.”
Authenticity helped both stars make it to the top. But at the base of Jewel’s talent, is the poetic side of her that allows her to create her music. “Poetry is just my soul,” she says.
For Jewel, the writing process comes as second nature to her. “I always have a stream of consciousness kind of rambling, like a little schizophrenic person, in my head that’s always thinking,” she says. “And something will strike me poetically. And if it’s a potent enough feeling, it’ll come out. It’s like an electrical current.”
The lyrics that end up on the page are what make Jewel who she is, and make her fans keep coming back for more. And her lyrics not only intrigue the minds of normal people, but also other musical superstars, including Bob Dylan. “I remember when I wrote ‘Who Will Save Your Soul,’ and I was touring with Bob Dylan,” she says. “And he was having me recite my lyrics to him, and he was like, ‘What does that mean?’ I was like, ‘I can’t believe Bob Dylan is grilling me and my lyrics!”
“I find it interesting that people are curious about it," Jewel continues. "Because it’s such a part of you that it's hard to sit down and go, ‘Well, what is it like?’ It's almost like you take it for granted in a way. And it's like [Frank] Zappa said, 'Writing [and talking] about music is like dancing about architecture.' There's really no way to do it.”
Jewel's career longevity proves that music runs in her veins. But when it came to making her greatest hits album, she wanted to add some extra vocal oomph to one of her more famous singles. That's where Kelly Clarkson came in. "I really wanted a great vocalist on this 'Foolish Games' recut," she explains. "She was my first pick, and she agreed to do it." Getting in the studio with Clarkson really blew Jewel away. "She's a freak of nature," she says. "I was singing as high as I could to hold up the one long note and then she went in there and sang a third above it in high harmony and it was in her chest voice. [She] just sailed through it. It’s not right.”
Jewel also got to work with country singer Miranda Lambert's group, Pistol Annies, on the re-cut of "You Were Meant for Me." Going into the studio, Jewel thought the re-cut would harness some of Lambert's country notes. But after all was said and done, the song "came out completely different" than planned. "We made it into like an alt-rock song," Jewel says. "That's what's fun about music: I have no control over it. You go in there and it’s like a genie in a bottle. You rub it and you see what appears.”
It's the allure of what lies around the next corner that seems to keep Jewel coming out with record after record. And while most artists would likely view a Greatest Hits album as a stopping point in their career, Jewel shows no signs of slowing down. “I thought it was a good middle point for me," she says. "I’ve always hoped to have a long career and that hopefully I’m still writing well and have a relationship with my fans to allows me to do that."
Jewel hopes to keep recording for decades to come, as long as the music continues to run through her soul. "My main goal is just to have another 20 or 30 or 40 years doing this," she says. "It's sort of like being a bloodhound, and if you get a scent and if it’s a strong scent, you want to follow it. And if it’s not that interesting of a scent, you tend not to follow it."
"I'm hoping that scent I have, when I sing it to you, you get the exact same strong emotion," Jewel says. "Whatever it is — that’s how I know I've done my job."
Follow Lindsey on Twitter @LDiMat.
[Photo Credit: Samantha Shrader/Retna]
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