We spoke with her about taking guitar and painting lessons, mentoring singers on The Voice, what she learned from Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and her affinity for the poetry of Charles Bukowski.
Westword: It seems like you've been up to a lot lately, with taking painting and guitar lessons. I read that when you first started out on guitar, you were using alternate tunings and didn't really know what you were playing.
Jewel: Well, I taught myself guitar, which had positives and negatives. It made me a very idiosyncratic player, because I didn't really know any rules and I really made an individual kind of style. It's a lot of tunings, and I didn't know any rules until I was able to write music that was, I think, original. But at the same time, I never knew what an F chord was, and I never could play with another band and just sit in.
There were a lot of things I just didn't know. Since I've been home with the baby, I thought I might as well try and learn some of the foundation that I never got. Learning a lot of it is technical but kind of boring, honestly -- just scales and charts and kind of the boring stuff that I never put the time into when I was a kid.
And you're also getting back into drawing and painting as well, right?
I can't believe I've made a living being creative. The tendency is to be more successful, but the less truly creative you get to be. And, then, honestly, what seeds creativity is learning. And then you have less time to learn, so the flow starts to stop. It's like damming up; it's like having great output but not feeding the source, if that makes any sense.
For me, it's always been really important. I've always been able to keep reading and learning about writing. I love to learn. I studied art when I was as kid at a private arts high school. I go back to that because I think painting and things like -- anything I learn -- helps with my writing, my songwriting, my poetry and creativity in general.
You've been on The Voice with Christina Aguilera?
For the whole month of March, I was a mentor with Christina. I love mentoring talent. I was mentored by my heroes. Bob Dylan took me under his wing when I was twenty. Then Neil Young and Merle Haggard. It's hard doing this, and nobody's really looking out for the artist. And if artists don't help each other, then nobody's really helping you. I'm really happy to pay that back and try and help another generation and help clue them in on what it takes to be successful.
What kinds of things did you learn from Bob Dylan and Neil Young?
Bob just really encouraged me with my lyrics and my songwriting. He really liked what I was doing, and it was at a time when my record was considered a failure -- my first one. I really didn't have the courage to keep going and keep being myself and not to conform. He always gave me the advice of, "Don't care what's popular. Don't care what people will think. Do what you think."
And that's what made me want to venture into pop music and into country music and to really push myself, stylistically, no matter what critics say and not matter what radio does or thinks that I should do. I just to do what I think is right. Neil was the same way. Neil Young said, "Don't care about radio. Don't care about hits. Don't care about singles. Be great live, be authentic and let everything sort itself out." That's how I've tried to run my career.
Are those pieces of advice you try to pass on to younger songwriters?
Yeah. I think that talent trumps everything. A lot of people want to know who do they need to meet, who they need to shmooze and kind of wrangle things out of the record label. None of that matters if you aren't the best at what you do, so they focus their energy on being great and earning it. I think there's no entitlement. Nothing comes quickly that's worth lasting. So, if you're the real deal and you think you have talent, keep your head down and work your tail off and let everybody come to you.
Since you've been singer-songwriter, as well as doing pop to country, is there one particular genre you feel more comfortable in, or is it all just sort of music to you?
I find I'm most comfortable with non-commercial music [laughs]. My quirky, Leonard Cohen-y, folky, poppy, country songs -- I don't know what they are; they're just a weird amalgamation of everything -- are my favorite. That said, I've always written country songs, and I've always written pop songs, and I've always written rock songs.
It's just that I don't understand the big deal of why people think that's weird because fans listen.... They have AC/DC records, and they have Bob Dylan records, and they usually have Johnny Cash records. So my writing just came out of my listening and my life. It's not some crazy thing. It's like a clothing closet. One day you wear sweats, and the next you wear a suit. It doesn't mean you're a different person.
I know you've taken some time off from touring since having your son, but I also heard you're working on a Christmas album.
Yeah, I'm not sure if I'll get it out this year or not. I have a kids' book coming out. I just put out The Merry Goes 'Round, which is a self-released indie kids' record. I've been working on a Helping End Child Hunger campaign. So I'm mainly doing things that I can do from my house. I want to be a good mom. I don't want to be getting more famous and more rich. I want to be a good mom. I want to be here for my kid.
Do you have a studio at your house where you can lay down ideas when they come?
Yep, I have a studio. It's a pretty cool studio. I've made three records at it so far. I live in the middle of nowhere. I have to bring everybody in.
Is this show in Denver one of the few shows you'll play this year?
Yeah. So far it's the only one.
What made you want to do this particular gig as part of the Women's Final Four?
I was flattered that they asked. I like to support women. There are a lot of ways... I'm a female in a male dominated industry. I've never held back because I'm a woman. I feel like I can accomplish anything a man can accomplish in my field. And at the same time there certainly are differences and women are still looking for equality in many places, and sports is certainly one of those. I'm really glad to be part of supporting women and in sports and women everywhere.
Going back a bit, I saw you play in the mid '90s at the Winter Park Music Festival, and you played in between Brian Setzer and Peter Murphy. Kind of strange line-up.
That was funny. It was a hard tour. I think I even paid Peter Murphy to take me on the road with him because nobody would tour with me [laughs]. Not only was I not getting paid, I think we paying like $500 a night or something to tour with him. That was a big festival, but a lot of those were smaller clubs with his goth fans. And there I was singing folk songs, and I remember rolling up my sleeves and trying to win a crowd over.
Your son's middle name is Townes, after Townes Van Zandt. Are you a big fan of him?
Yeah, of his songwriting. I don't know what it's like naming your son after a heroin addict...
He was an amazing songwriter.
Yeah, I love his writing. I've loved him since I was really little. And that's a great name on top of it.
What other songwriters were you into early on?
It's funny. I had a weird, odd mix at a young age. I really got into Cole Porter. I loved his writing. I loved his melodies and all the lyrics, which were very uncommon for that era, that Tin Pin era. I really loved Joni Mitchell. I loved Merle Haggard. It was real varied. I like every spectrum, as long as it was lyrical. I was very lyrically minded, anybody from Loretta Lynn to Leonard Cohen.
Was there one particular thing that they all had that you gravitated toward?
To hear people be honest about who they were, and not sell themselves. So I was never a Madonna fan. I was never a pop culture fan. I liked people who told me about who they were. I liked that Loretta Lynn talked about being glad that she got The Pill so she wouldn't have to have any more babies. It was amazing that a woman said it out loud. I loved that Joni Mitchell talked about her love life and her loneliness.
I loved Bukowski, his poems, for the same reason, and not because I could identify necessarily with a sixty-year-old ex-postal worker that was a drunk and a whoremonger. I liked that he was really honest. As a young child, it was looking for honesty in my own life. It gave me the courage to be honest about who I was and not to feel bad or ashamed about any of my feelings, because I had role models that were being honest about their feelings too.
Honesty has been a big thing with your music as well, right?
Yeah. For me it's about being true to what I'm interested in. And it's funny because people look at three or four pop albums... If I was really trying to be smart in marketing media I would have written "You Were Meant For Me" take two, take three, take four, take five over and over. So I did what I'm interested in. I think you can be brave about it. If you're smart with your money, you don't have to have a hit, and you can do whatever the hell you want.
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