With the arrival of 2020, this year will mark a major return for acclaimed, multi-platinum singer/songwriter, Jewel. She will be releasing her first new album in five years, and she has just released an excellent new song called “No More Tears,” that she wrote for the documentary film, Lost In America. Notably, Jewel is one of the executive producers of this film, which takes an in-depth look at the issue of youth homelessness in America.
Also this year, Jewel will be commemorating the 25th anniversary of her breakthrough debut album, Pieces of You. This album (originally released in 1995), launched Jewel’s career and sold over 12 million copies in the U.S., making it one of the best-selling debut albums of all time. Pieces of You contained her first hit “Who Will Save Your Soul,” plus the follow-up hits “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games.” Jewel was subsequently nominated for three Grammy Awards for this album, and she won an American Music Award for Favorite New Artist.
During the past few years (since her last album, Picking up the Pieces, in 2015), Jewel has found a new creative energy, writing many new songs. Impressively, she has written about 200 new songs, some that will be featured on her upcoming new album. The first of these new songs to be released is “No More Tears,” a beautiful, heartfelt ballad that she wrote for the film, Lost In America. “No More Tears” also showcases Jewel’s soulful, strong lead vocals, that is one of her best vocal performances.
Lost In America is a special project that Jewel can closely relate to. The movie is about youth homelessness, which Jewel herself experienced, when she was homeless in San Diego for a year prior to signing her record label deal. This film was directed by Rotimi Rainwater (who also directed the 2013 film, Sugar) and was also executive-produced by Halle Berry and Rosario Dawson.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Jewel. But before we get started, here’s a brief rundown of her other credits.
After her Pieces of You album, Jewel followed up in 1998 with her second album Spirit, which included the Top 10 hit “Hands” and was certified quadruple platinum. Her third album This Way was released in 2001 and went platinum, and featured the hit “Standing Still.” Her fourth album, 0304, went gold and included the hit, “Intuition.”
Here’s the audio of Jewel’s new song, “No More Tears.”
Jewel has also written a best-selling book called Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half The Story. Published in 2016, this is an inspirational memoir that covers her childhood to fame, marriage and motherhood. Jewel is also a successful actress, who made her film debut in director Ang Lee’s 1999 Civil War drama, Ride with the Devil. She then went on to star in the lead role of June Carter Cash in the Lifetime original movie, Ring of Fire.
Here is our interview with Jewel. She discusses her new song “No More Tears,” the film Lost In America and her own experiences as a homeless person. She also talks about her songwriting, and the 25th anniversary of her debut album, Pieces of You.
DK: You’re an executive producer on the film Lost In America, which is about young homeless people. Can you talk about the film, and your own experience of being homeless when you were young?
Jewel: Sure. I was homeless for a year in San Diego, because I had turned down the sexual advances of a boss. At the time, I was working in a computer warehouse answering phones, and my boss propositioned me. [When I turned him down]…I didn’t think it would cost me my job. But the next day, he wouldn’t give my my paycheck. Then I couldn’t pay my rent, and my landlord kicked me out, and I started living in my car. I thought it would only last a couple months, and I would get a new job and save up for a deposit on a new apartment. But I had anxiety attacks, and I got sick and I couldn’t hold down a job. And then the car I was living in got stolen, and it was nearly an impossible situation to get out of.
I started singing to try and just get enough for my rent money—[I wasn’t trying] to get discovered. But it ended up working out though. I ended up getting discovered (laughs) and it was amazing. But no kid is on the street, especially the children, because they want to be. It’s that they feel it’s safer on the street than in their home lives typically. A lot of kids on the street were so abused at home, that the streets seemed safer than the system they were in. It’s a lot of LGBTQ kids that are disowned by their families or abused. And so this film Lost In America tells the story of some of those kids, so that you can start to see this very invisible problem—homeless youths are very good at staying hidden, and not trusting adults. And there’s no legal way to have work when you’re an underage person. It’s very difficult to get a legal job. So it’s turned into this problem, and it’s something to build compassion and understanding around.
Here’s the video of Jewel’s hit “Who Will Save Your Soul,”
from her classic album, Pieces of You.
DK: I read that you’ll be releasing a new album soon. When will it be released, and did you collaborate with other writers or producers for the album?
Jewel: The new record will be out, probably in the spring. I’ve been producing the record with Butch Walker (who is known for his work with Pink, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy).
DK: I read that you’ve recently written many new songs. Can you talk about your songwriting process for your new album?
Jewel: Yes, this is the first album I’ve written from the ground up. I’ve always had thousands of songs in my back catalog, so I never had to specifically write a record, as much as curate through my catalog. I could have done this for the new record, but I didn’t want to. I wanted it to be entirely new. And it was a new, pretty difficult process to get to a place where I thought was really emotionally honest and raw, and also new and not repeating things that I’ve done before. I probably wrote a couple hundred new songs, to get 11 or 12 that I liked.
DK: Can you tell me more about your new album?
Jewel: The record is definitely a new style for me. I tend to think of all my records as having the same heart, and I’m a singer/songwriter at the heart of it. And my focus on lyrics is always there. But the way it gets dressed up (laughs) if you will…it changes, and I was surprised that this record has come out much more like a full record. You can hear the gospel flavoring in “No More Tears.” So that was fun…I’m singing in a new style that I don’t think people have heard me use my voice like that before. That’s been fun about this project.
DK: Next month (February 2020), marks the 25th anniversary of your debut album, Pieces of You. Will you be commemorating or promoting this album, and can you talk about the making of Pieces of You?
Jewel: Yes, I’ll be doing some press around that. Making that album was great…life-changing. I was discovered while I was homeless. There ended up being a (record label) bidding war over me, which was very unexpected. I was offered a million dollar signing bonus as a homeless kid. I turned it down because I’d read the (music attorney) Donald Passman’s book called All You Need to Know About the Music Business. I learned that with an advance, it will come recouped out of your sales. Basically, it was a bounty on my head. I had to recoup that much to not get dropped from the label.
Here’s the video of Jewel’s hit “You Were Meant For Me,”
from her classic album, Pieces of You.
I didn’t think it was wise (to accept a large advance), because while I was homeless, I really fell in love and discovered an authentic nature and a happiness about myself. [I was writing] very raw and honest songs, and I didn’t want to sacrifice that. And I knew I was probably going to make a very unpopular record—a folk record at the height of grunge. The odds of that succeeding were really low, so I turned down the money and I took one of the biggest backends anybody had done, figuring that with a successful record, [the royalties] would go to me. And it ended up being a great decision. I ended up making a very honest record. I wanted it to be a snapshot of who I was. And interesting, looking back, navigating through the million decisions of the new artist—meeting famous producers…fancy, incredible producers, and settling, finally on Ben Keith, I think was just a fortuitous event.
I don’t know how on earth I navigated it, but it ended up being a really wise decision. You know, I had eight minute-long songs that had no chorus (laughs), they were just long poems. And [other producers] wanted to shorten them and turn them into 3-minute songs, and that made me nervous, because I just wanted to be honest about who and where I was. Then Ben Keith, who did Harvest and Harvest Moon with Neil Young, never asked me to shorten the songs, never asked me to edit anything, never asked me to change. So I felt like it would be an honest representation, and he surrounded me with musicians that were champions of the singer/songwriter, and what that means, which is like a sacred thing. And I didn’t know how to protect what was sacred about it, but they did in a way. So whenever I was like, “Is that good enough?” They just said, “Do you like it? Is it honest?” They just kept putting it back on me in those terms and were very supportive.
Pieces of You was primarily (recorded) live, because it’s funny—to this day, it’s still how I sing best. If you see me in person, it’s a very different experience (laughs) than hearing me on the record. And I’d hoped to have a career like a John Prine…that was my goal. [I wanted to] be a troubadour and singer/songwriter, and hopefully find a following.
DK: Were you surprised by how successful Pieces of You would become?
Here’s the video of Jewel’s hit “Foolish Games,” from her
classic album, Pieces of You.
Jewel: I didn’t know that it would get as big as it did…I just went about it. I toured…I probably did five or six shows a day. I did high schools in the morning; I did two or three radio shows, one record in-store appearance, opened for Bauhaus or the Ramones…all these different punk and grunge bands. And then I would do a midnight coffee shop show on my own. So I was doing a lot of shows a day, and I did it for years. I just did things that were very grass roots and slowly I got the tide to turn.
DK: On Pieces of You, besides your big hits, are there certain songs that are your favorites?
Jewel: I don’t know…they’re just really different. “Painters” probably. I really appreciated how people gravitated to more untraditional songs like “Painters” or “Adrian,” that were short stories put to music, basically.
DK: Thank you Jewel for doing this interview. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about, that you’d like to mention for this article?
Jewel: I guess as I look at overall arcs of cycles, in the zeitgeist if you will, I see an odd similarity to where we were in the ‘90s, to where we are now. What I felt like in the ‘90s, was that people were in pain…I think grunge gave a really incredible, authentic voice for that. Nirvana was a lightning rod, because they were saying we weren’t a happy, shiny material world…we were in pain. And I feel like you can only be in pain so long until you kill yourself? Or you say…Now what? And I was asking the question, Now what?…because I have been in so much pain and I didn’t want to kill myself. That I had to figure out what to do about it. And I feel oddly similar now. I feel like the world is in a lot of pain; you know suicide is up 70% since 2006. Depression and anxiety are at all-time highs. And I think people are asking…Now what? Again. And that oddly gives me a lot of hope, because when people are in pain, they’re very open to change. So it can be a very magical window in a culture. And if I could encourage people to do one thing, it probably would be what I was trying to encourage people with my first record, which is to have heart. We’re a very mental world, and I don’t think it’s helping us be any happier. And if we can more heart and treat one another with heart, I think it will help solve a lot of the complexities and make them simpler. And so my goal with this record is just to have heart (laughs).