Interview: Jewel Kilcher

Crown Jewel

Genre-bending Jewel’s concerts bring together gays, bikers, and conservatives, but her something-for-everyone persona doesn’t keep her from having opinions on gay marriage, Sarah Palin, and Lady GaGa.


for the Advocate

It has been nearly 15 years since Jewel, the Alaskan ingenue with a voice as clear and sweet as simple syrup, launched Pieces of You, one of the most successful debut albums in history. Since then, the artist has released folk, rock, pop, spiritual, dance, and country albums, penned a best-selling book of poetry, and costarred in Ride With the Devil,a film by Brokeback Mountaindirector Ang Lee.

On May 5, Jewel released her first independent album — a collection of lullabies. (In a quick-fire word association game, she says “lullaby” means “music for the soul.” Her associations with love, equality, her guitar, and Lady GaGa are at the end of this interview.)

The charming singer was characteristically chipper at 7:30 in the morning, with a half hour to talk before her next appointment. Are you always up and working this early?Jewel: I’m an early person!

The songs on your new album, Lullaby, include “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” and “Angel Standing By,” a song from your first album, Pieces of You,as well as 10 new tunes.I’ve always covered the gamut musically. I’m just really interested in exploring music, and I wanted this album to be a compilation of songs that have kind of helped to soothe and relax me over the years. I’ve always written lullabies for myself when I was anxious, to help me fall asleep. I wrote “Angel Standing By” when I was homeless, and I would sing it because I was obviously really scared at night. I’ve always used songs to unwind; I never drank or did drugs. [Playing music] has really helped me through difficult times, to keep my spirits high and keep my hopes up. I decided to collect all these songs that I’ve loved. I thought there must be other adults out there who would like an album to fall asleep to or that would help them relax at the end of the day. I didn’t want anything too up-tempo. I made everything along a certain mood even though it covers all sorts of genres.

This album seems to put more focus on your voice than some albums — for example, your foray into dance music, 0304.I love doing different styles. It’s just like with clothing: Some days you’re feelin’ sassy and others you just want to wear sweats. This is my first self-produced album … I did it at the ranch, and I think that helped me. I don’t like singing in the studio. I like singing live, and that’s how I approached this album with the vocals. I just sat down with my guitar and sang the songs all the way through, and then I would arrange and produce around those recordings. It was a lot more natural way for me to sing and I was more relaxed in the studio. It was fun!

You produced this album yourself. How was that different?It was so much fun. I love my label and I’ll do another album for them in the fall, but as part of my contract I negotiated this little independent side project and I loved it. This album won’t produce a single for the radio. Don’t get me wrong — I hope to have another song on the radio and all that. It was just nice not to have to serve any master except art, to make an album that didn’t have to be defined in that way. It was a passion project for me. It was also really a fun challenge business-wise to see how far I could take it, you know, and to get it out there and get people to hear it.