“I think people are always surprised at my live shows—I do a lot of stand-up comedy,” Jewel says over the phone. “And I like any opportunity that lets me show my sense of humor outside a live show.”
The famed singer-songwriter is a favorite on Howard Stern’s radio show; fans will recognize her versions of satirical songs “Tiny Actor” and “Silver Nickels and Golden Dimes” on the show. In fact, she is known for her storytelling and comedic interludes onstage.
Jewels’ “Picking Up the Pieces Tour” kicked off on March 4 in Lake Charles, LA, featuring past hits and soon-to-be-favorites off her new album. One of her next stops includes the Cape Fear Stage at CFCC’s Humanities and Fine Arts Center on March 18.
“Picking up the Pieces” was released in September 2015 and acts as almost a followup or bookend to her debut album “Pieces of You” (1995). The latter’s most famed singles, “Who Will Save Your Soul” and “You Were Meant for Me” encompassed influences of Jewel’s folk upbringing—a counter-culture to the popular grunge scene of the time. Jewel’s music and story dominated MTV and VH1 “Storytellers” in the mid-to-late ‘90s: Everyone learned quickly how she was raised in an Alaskan homestead and—not long before her popularity—she lived in her car.
“When I was homeless I was very lonely, very isolated and not doing well,” she says of her experience. During that time she battled with agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder in which she feared leaving her car or going anywhere would lead to something terrible happening.
“I really knew I had to start changing my life,” she says. “I realized the only place I told the truth was in my journal. No wonder I was alone and isolated; nobody had the opportunity to know who I was.”
Then she lived in San Diego and sung in a local coffee house called “The Inner Change Cafe.” She had a small following, but no one knew she was homeless. Though Jewel admits its was scary letting people into her world to learn about her perceived flaws, she allowed her songs to guide her story. “I was very surprised,” she states. “It felt better to tell the truth than hide it. It took less energy.”
“Picking up the Pieces” is sort of a return to the “wildness” of “Pieces of You.” She wanted to get back to where she was when she made her debut album, sans 20 years experience in the business, and return to her core nature: unproduced, poetically lyrical and raw.
“At some point I became domesticated poetically,” she explains. “You don’t know the rules when you’re starting out in any given field, and you’re just sort of raw and wild. Then you start to learn the rules, you start to learn the architecture that you’re living in—and you learn how to succeed within those rules.”
“Picking up the Pieces” reintroduces listeners to her Alaskan folk yodel in songs like “A Boy Needs a Bike.” It was written as a fictional short story when she was 19. In fact, the record is a combination of old songs she put to paper years ago (“Carnivore”) and those more recently penned (“Love Used to Be,” “Plain Jane”).
“I’ve always done that with my records,” she tells. “I have all these songs, so I’ve never had to actually write a record. Depending on the catalog and depending on the style of record I want to make (pop, rock or whatever), I already have a lot of songs written.”
Among the tracks is “My Father’s Daughter,” written about five years ago. It features vocals from Dolly Parton, whom Jewel always admired for her work and similar life story. However, the most emotionally charged song on the album is “Love Used to Be.” Jewel describes the recording process almost like a eulogy for her marriage with now ex-husband Ty Murray.
“That was definitely the most gut-wrenching thing I’ve had to do was sing that song,” she divulges of the seven or so takes during a teary-eyed session. “I don’t know if that makes it more special or dear to me, particularly, but it was the most difficult one to get through.”
Though she’s produced two other albums, “Lullaby” (2009) and “The Merry Goes ‘Round” (2011) for children, Jewel unexpectedly had to produce “Picking Up the Pieces.” In the end, she says, it probably came out a bit more straightforward. Like her previous work, the album is mosaic.
“I try to make a record as a whole piece, where each song individually means something, and then if you look at the record together (hopefully) it says something more complete,” she explains.
Though Jewel’s written about extraordinary life events, she maintains they are not unique. Homelessness, abuse, phobia, and so on, are nothing new; they’re just not talked about often. The Grammy-nominated songwriter is now a New York Times’ bestselling author, too. She has shared even more of her life in “Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story.”
Also released in September 2015, in her memoir Jewel has given readers somewhat of a self-help book. She talks about everything from her family to an encounter with Bob Dylan and his nose. Memories and anecdotes span from childhood to career to motherhood. It’s linear storytelling of her life experiences, and includes interludes of her life lessons. Even as her celebrity status has grown, Jewel says it never was harder to share skeletons.
“When we talk honestly about our lives, we start to think we’re the only ones going through it,” she continues. “I think people in the public eye do a great disservice by using art as propaganda to make themselves seem more perfect. It creates this great distance between the masses that feel imperfect and the celebrities that seem perfect.”