Listening to Jewel’s debut Pieces of You, one of the things that really stands out is the power of her voice. A large chunk of that landmark album (which turned 20 years old earlier this year) was recorded live in an attempt to crystallize the same live energy that led to her success in the first place.
“I’ve never sung great in the studio,” Jewel admits. “It’s always been a vexing thing for me. If a person sees me live, I’m about 300 times better. I’ve always felt the audience, and I sing from my heart. I don’t sing the song the same every time. I get so much feeling and emotion from the crowd, and I really live the songs. I don’t know how to do that in a sterile studio environment where you’re looking at a wall. It’s a hard thing for me to get emotional about.”
So when the time came to make a new album, she wanted to get back to the vibe she captured on her debut and close the loop on Pieces of You with a bookend called Picking Up The Pieces. The result is a remarkably raw, bracingly honest set of folk and Americana tunes that tap into both the remarkable spirit in her voice and her incredible lyrical honesty. She recruited a lot of the same players who performed on her debut, cut the bulk of it live, and even produced the thing herself in order to get an unadulterated version of her vision.
“Originally I had Paul Worley, who is a great producer in Nashville, set to help me with the record,” Jewel says. “I knew my goal, and I thought he had a good sensibility for me and for the record. He backed out right before we were going to start the record, and I went over to his office completely flummoxed, and he said, ‘I think this is something you need to do. Anybody producing would just be a filter you get heard through, and you don’t need a filter.’ I thought it was a cop out and he just had another project, and I was really pissed. He said one day I would thank him for this, and sure enough on my liner notes, I’m like ‘Thank you, Paul.’ So my goal was to try to be as undiluted and pure and emotional as I could.”
The same idea fueled her forthcoming memoir Never Broken, which chronicles the many ups and downs of her personal life. “People are aware of a lot of my background, but they don’t really know a lot of what really happened,” she says. “The darkest of my moments were at the heights of my fame. There was an incredible betrayal that I suffered and had to keep picking myself up from that nobody ever knew about.”
Like most of her previous albums, Picking Up The Pieces contains a handful of tunes that have been lurking around the corners of Jewel’s world for years. “I have a catalogue of 500 songs probably,” she says. “So on every record, there are songs I wrote when I was 18, 20, 25.” On Picking Up, that includes a stunning cut called “Nicotine Love.” “I wrote before I was homeless, so right after I graduated from high school. I’m always amazed at what I was writing in high school and when I graduated. It’s obviously a reflection of the life I was living—I wasn’t a normal teenager writing about crushes and things going on in school. I grew up in barrooms and left home when I was 15. I wrote about what my life was. I wrote a lot of short story fiction before I began writing songs, so I kind of approached songwriting as a short story writer in the beginning because I didn’t know much about songwriting. This is short story fiction about a woman who was sexually abused as a young girl, and she decides to get revenge by seducing him and killing him. Monster came out years later, and I was like, ‘Boy, that would have been the perfect theme song for that movie!’ It’s been a fan favorite for a long time.”
Picking Up The Pieces is out Sept. 11, and Never Broken arrives Sept. 15. Jewel launches a book tour beginning Sept. 14.