2015 marks two decades since Jewel released Pieces Of You – which kicked off her musical career with a bang, selling 12 million copies in the United States alone. Even then, longevity was something she had in mind.
“My goal when I started was to have a 40 or 50 year career,” she tells CMChatLive. “I didn’t know if was possible, but I knew I wanted that. Some of my favorite jazz singers kept singing great, but a lot of the pop and rock singers lost their voices. I made sure that I trained my voice to people like Sarah Vaughan. I wouldn’t say that I practice every day in a traditional sense, but I woodshed every day. It’s not for an hour a day or anything, but I’m always humming and pushing different aspects of my range. I love singing, and I’m hoping my voice gets better with time.”
That is very much an understatement, as her new album, Picking Up The Pieces, contains some of the best vocal work of her career. A collection of songs written over many years, some of the content was inspired by the aftermath of her recent divorce from rodeo superstar Ty Murray. With that in mind, it’s a very sparse sounding album – one that doesn’t necessarily mesh with what is being played on country or pop radio these days. That’s OK, she reasons. She didn’t cut this one with airplay in mind.
“I was wanting to give myself permission to get that out of my head. You don’t realize you’re doing it, and all of a sudden, you realize you’re pushing tempo and you’re wondering why you’re doing that. I feel lucky. My life kind of prepared me to get to this position in a sense of telling myself that I didn’t ever have to do it again, and I hate repeating myself. If I’m not pushing myself as a human, I’m not happy. That’s just the way I was built.”
She says that rolling the musical dice and experimenting is something that she takes very seriously, admitting that she loves keeping listeners guessing what her next musical move might be.
“In a lot of ways, some people thought I sold out with my pop record. But, to me, selling out would be doing another ‘You Were Meant For Me.’ To me, being authentic is about pushing your boundaries and doing what you think is right in your heart.”
She did admit that words like “demographic” and “charts” didn’t totally disappear from her mindset. “I had an attitude that really lent itself to that, but at the same time…I’m a professional recording artist, and I’m looking at record sales, and how things debut. You do look at those things. So, getting that out of my head was a difficult challenge, There were times where I would think about it and get scared. You don’t hear this on the radio. Maybe nobody will ever hear this, and would that be OK with me. I had to ask myself that if it sold 12 copies, would I be OK with that, or would I feel like a failure. That answer was no.”
She says the reason for that change of thought is that she’s a totally different person now.
“I made the record that I wanted, and I know I’m not willing to work it the way I would if didn’t have a child. If I wasn’t a mother, I would go try to get it on the radio – and I’d work a year to do it. I think they would sound good on the radio. I would have to create a tide change like I did on the first album, because that’s not where radio is. But, I don’t have that in me. I don’t know how to do that as a mom and not drag my son around the country. That would be a little selfish. So, I made a record that I really believe in. I know it’s a hard sell, and not very commercial, but I hope that as a singer-songwriter with a 50-year career, I can look back and say that’s who I was as a poet. I made the record that I needed to.”
While she is promoting the album, Jewel is also making the rounds as an author – with the just-released memoir Never Broken — Songs Are Only Half the Story. While she has written books of poetry in the past, this was a little bit different.
“I had never written long-form before. I didn’t know if I had the skill set or the patience. My training as a writer is based on a very few words. It’s potency – a lot of meaning with a very few words. When you write long-form, you just talk a lot, and that goes against my ethics as a writer. To have that many words meant I wasn’t that good of a writer. So, I had to reset myself and reconfigure – learn how to find timing and spacing. When you’re writing an essay or a short story, your pacing is different. So, to be able to create story arcs, and to foreshadow without giving it away, and to come back and leave some questions unanswered, while building trust in your writing style that you’re going to answer those questions to keep them engaged so that they don’t abandon it – and learning how to use my poetic style differently. If I wanted something to be really poignant in the book, I would be more poetic and lyrical and really slow down and create a real picture. It was a really neat process.”
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Jewel – Picking Up the Pieces