Jewel gets into the groove

 

Jewel gets into the groove

SHE HAS sold 30 million albums and scored a batch of pop hits, but in the country-music world Jewel is happy to be a new artist.

By (New York Times)

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Published: Sat 9 Aug 2008, 2:22 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:49 PM

The singer/songwriter, born Jewel Kilcher, is happily in the midst of a full-fledged genre crossover. Her first country album, ‘Perfectly Clear,’ came out in June and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Top Country Albums chart, It also placed No. 8 on the pop-album chart, the same position occupied by its predecessor, ‘Goodbye Alice in Wonderland’ (2006).

‘Perfectly Clear’s’ first single, ‘Strong Woman,’ peaked at No. 13 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, and Jewel has been tapped to open Brad Paisley’s summer tour, another sign, she says, that she’s being accepted in this new market she has chosen to explore.

Seven records

“Everything so far has been really positive,” says the 34-year-old singer/songwriter, who lives on a Texas ranch with her longtime boyfriend, bull-riding champ Ty Murray. “You know, I’ve been ingrained in that community. I made five of my seven records in Nashville. I’ve made a lot of friends there. Merle Haggard took me under his wing ...

“I just feel like a lot of people in (country) are familiar with me,” she says.

“There are a lot who aren’t, too. I think some of the radio programmers are scratching their heads, but they’ve been very open-minded in letting me come in and talk to them and introduce myself and show that I have a serious commitment to the format.”

Jewel didn’t walk into country expecting to be treated as a known commodity: Prior to the release of ‘Perfectly Clear,’ she visited country radio stations in 20 cities every week for nearly two months. By the end of her ‘tour’ she had hit more than 200 markets, representing more promotional work than she had needed to do at any time since hits such as ‘Who Will Save Your Soul?’ (1994) and ‘You Were Meant for Me’ (1994) established her in the pop world.

Pop background

“I really look at this as a building kind of thing,”

Jewel says. “Country has been a wide-open format now. There’s traditionalists like George Strait and stuff that’s really pop like Rascal Flatts, people with a pop background plus really Southern roots. Miranda Lambert, that’s really rock-’n’-roll but comes from her perspective, which is very country.

“There’s just all kinds of (music) that’s part of country right now,” she says. “It reminds me of what alternative music was like in the ‘90s, when I broke. So I want to show that I’m serious about this thing, and I’m willing to pay my dues.” That fact hasn’t gone unnoticed by the country establishment.

“Jewel is more of a folk singer to me than a pop singer, so it makes sense that there would be an audience for that,” says veteran country star Trisha Yearwood, Jewel’s new labelmate on Big Machine Records, in a separate interview. “Most country fans grew up like I did, with Bob Seger and the Eagles.

That music transcends the genres, and so does Jewel’s.”

Jewel is quick to point out that she’s no country-come-lately. Born in Utah, she was raised on a rustic ranch near Homer, Alaska, by a father whom she calls “a cowboy listening to very traditional country music.” Jewel herself was influenced by Linda Ronstadt’s 1970s country-rock synthesis, as well as by Bob Dylan, Haggard, Brenda Lee, Joni Mitchell and Tammy Wynette.

Female torch songs

“I’m just a fan of that genre,” Jewel says. “It’s all about storytelling, which I love, and some of the best female torch songs have lived in that genre.”

Her own songwriting, she says, grew out of that tradition, although her influences widened as she migrated, first to northern Michigan on a two-year scholarship to the Interlochen Center for the Arts and then to San Diego, where she was discovered as a beachfront troubadour, first by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and then by local musician Inga Vainshtein, who became her manager and got her a deal with Atlantic Records.

Jewel was 19 when she recorded her first album, ‘Pieces of You’ (1994), on Neil Young’s ranch with members of the Stray Gators, the group that had backed Young on his own countrified albums ‘Harvest’ (1990) and ‘Harvest Moon’ (1992). It sold 12 million copies, spawned three Top 10 hits and earned Jewel a Grammy Award nomination as Best New Artist.

Her second album, ‘Spirit’ (1998), sold more than 4 million copies, and Jewel also began to publish books, ‘A Night Without Armor’ (1998) was a New York Times best seller, and act, most notably in Ang Lee’s film ‘Ride with the Devil’ (1999).

30 million records

“I can’t complain, you know? I went from being homeless to selling 30 million records,” Jewel says.

“I had a label that really did fight to get me on any radio format. ‘You Were Meant for Me’ got on radio when the Spice Girls and Hanson and Ricky Martin were happening and I was an oddity storyteller.”

Nevertheless, Jewel says, she and Atlantic remained at odds over her desire to cross over into country. The label encouraged producers to strip her music of country elements, “a lot of times producers took the twang out of my song arrangements or melodic structures,” she says, and rejected her attempts to remix the songs or even simply add instrumental touches that would have made them more sonically palatable for country audiences.

“I have a lot of songs that I thought would’ve been great on country radio, especially as country radio has opened up as a format and pop has narrowed,”

Jewel says. “I thought ‘You Were Meant for Me’ would’ve been great for country, ‘Foolish Games’ (1994), ‘Hands’ (1998), ‘Fragile Heart’ (2006) ...

‘Standing Still’ (2001) had a few (country) stations asking to play it.

Country ambitions

“I was just signed to a label that didn’t want to take them that way,” she concludes. “It was very frustrating.”

The title track for ‘Perfectly Clear,’ in fact, was first written when Jewel was 18, and she recut ‘2 Become 1', from her album “0304" (2003), for the new set, which was produced in Nashville by Big & Rich’s John Rich after Jewel decided to leave Atlantic to pursue her country ambitions.

“I think having a lyric and a story still sells country at radio,” Jewel says. “It’s fantastic, you do not have a song that’s beat-driven as a hook.

The hook is always going to be a lyrical hook and a story. That still is what sells it. As a songwriter, that’s heaven.”

And she’s pleased that this particular heaven seems to have a spot for her, even if she has to pay a few more dues.

“I just feel like this is a great continuation for me,” Jewel says. “I don’t really feel like it’s a musical switch. I’ve been here all my life, now I’m just getting a chance to really do it. I’m excited about that.”



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