Events INSIDER Interviews Jewel On Music and Life

Jewel “Greatest Hits” Tour to Coming to the Wilbur on March 12

Jewel “Greatest Hits Tour” at the Wilbur Theatre, 246 Tremont St., Boston, MA Tue, Mar 12, 2013 08:00 PM. Tickets $55-$75.

By Mike Hoban

When Jewel checks into the Wilbur Theater on March 12 to support her new “Greatest Hits” album with a solo acoustic show, the singer/songwriter will be making a homecoming of sorts to the Boston area. She appeared at the Kendall Cafe in Cambridge very early in her career as part of a residency tour where she played at the venue “every Thursday night for one or two months,” she says.

We had the opportunity to speak with Jewel last week as she prepared for the tour that will open in New Jersey on March 7th before touching down in Portland, Maine on the 10th and Boston on the 12th. In the interview she discusses her approach to doing a greatest hits tour (it’s all acoustic and she’ll do requests as well as her hits), her musical influences (it’s not who you’d think) and where she’s going next musically. She also discusses how the early struggles of her own life (and her observations of the lives around her) influenced not only her early work but how she learned to work through adversity and continue to evolve as a performer and person.

Events INSIDER: How long has it been since your last tour?

Jewel: The last tour was a couple of years ago, just before the baby [son Kase]. He’s 19 months now. I quit touring to get pregnant, so I took quite a bit of time off the road. I did some shows when I was pregnant, but I didn’t really tour. I wanted to take time off to see what it was like being a mom, until he was old enough to come.

Events INSIDER: So he’s coming on the tour with you?

Jewel: (laughs) Yeah. He’s got a bunk on the bus.

Events INSIDER: What was the impetus for releasing the greatest hits now?

Jewel: The label has wanted me to do it since I was 25 or something [she’s 38 now], but there were a lot of styles of music I wanted to get out and I wanted to have a body of work. It was time. I also wanted to give the fans something that they couldn’t get anywhere else, and a lot of [the songs on the album] are unreleased radio edits that were on the radio but you were never able to physically buy before. We also added new versions of “Foolish Games” [with Kelly Clarkson] and “You Were Meant For Me” [with the alt-country group the Pistol Annies], as well as a new song called “Two Hearts Breaking”. I really thought it would be fun to do “You Were Meant For Me” in a darker mood with the Pistol Annies.

Events INSIDER: Your music has really evolved from folkie, to poppy, to country and children’s music. Do you have other genres you’d like to tackle?

Jewel: I’m doing a Christmas record right now and I’m exploring [different styles]. I’ve sung jazz my whole life but people haven’t heard me do it except at shows here and there, so I’m pushing that more on this record, as well as some light classical arias. The Christmas record is sort of an excuse to be able to do those kinds of things (laughs).

In the future I’d like to continue to do [all styles]. One thing I’d really like to do is a record of standards, where I could really push myself as a vocalist and perform at a higher level than I have been.

Events INSIDER: Are you a fan of the American Songbook?

Jewel: Yeah. What got me into being a songwriter was Cole Porter, and the great singers are what made me want to be a singer. I turned into a folkie when I grew up, but I cut my teeth on Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn and the great singers. The American songbook is a national treasure that we have.

Events INSIDER: Are you going to stay with a set list for the “Greatest Hits” tour?

Jewel: I don’t ever do set lists. When I’m with a band I have to, but not when I’m solo. I don’t think I’ve ever done a set list in my entire life. I just like to read the audience and I think that’s what makes my job exciting, because I don’t have to do the same thing every day (laughs) and I really try to embrace that. I think it’s important to be honest, and if I’m not in the mood I don’t sing something.

I’ll definitely be doing the hits, and I’ll take a lot of requests. My fans know all 500 of my unreleased songs and they actually made me a book with all of the lyrics, so there’s absolutely no excuse for me to not sing them when they ask. So sometimes I have to take a minute and run through it, and then I’ll sing it for them.

Events INSIDER: So are you in rehearsal with a band?

Jewel: No. This tour is acoustic, the entire tour. So it’s sort of like an “unplugged” or storytellers [session]. I love to [communicate] with the audience. I talk a lot. Sometimes I’ll get bored in the middle of a song, so I’ll stop and quit (laughs). It’s really just random. I like that each crowd is different and you’ve got to feel each audience out and give them what they want and they need, so the shows are really tailored to the crowd. My crowds talk to me a lot. Sometimes they ask me questions. It’s like being in my living room.

Events INSIDER: A lot of your songs sound very spiritual – not religious – in nature, and it reminds me of other [artists] that are in recovery from drugs and alcohol. Where does that come from? Are you in recovery?

Jewel: I’m not in recovery. [But] whatever wounds someone has that causes them to become an addict, once they take being an addict away then they’ve got to deal with the wound. And my life was wound-inducing – my childhood was. So when I moved away when I was 15, I realized that the odds were that I was going to be a statistic – that I was probably going to become an abuser or marry someone abusive and I would repeat the cycle unless I did something to change it. So I got very serious at an oddly young age about how to change and fix and heal my wounds so I could become a more functional human. And I think the reason that I was so serious about it at such a young age was that I grew up singing in bars and I watched, and realized that you never outrun your hurt, you just avoid it. And then your hurt gets bigger and bigger and bigger. And then when you’re 50 or whenever you hit your bottom, you then not only have to deal with your original hurt, but a whole mess of other hurts, so I tried to be as logical (laughs) as I could at a young age and said, ‘Why don’t I just skip that part and get right to fixing these wounds while they’re somewhat manageable?’ And it’s been a real process.

I was down and out. I supported myself at 15, I was homeless at 18 and I was dealing with real serious problems, so it was sink or swim. It wasn’t like this luxury of ‘tra-la-la-la-la’. I had to figure it out. I had to [either] commit suicide or figure out how to be happy. And a lot of my music and my writing are notes to myself about how to try to find courage or to try to find peace because I was in anguish. And I think that’s why people find peace and find calming and find comfort in my music because I was writing it for myself.

Events INSIDER: (That makes sense). Because I did the math and at 21 you were already singing about the types of things that people who have done recovery work talk about. It sounded like you had already begun the process of trying to figure out how to live without hurting yourself anymore. So I kind of figured out that you weren’t a recovering drug addict or alcoholic.

Jewel: I think that when I was homeless that I didn’t really get into drinking or drugs, because I don’t think I would have made it. I really don’t. I don’t know what part of me was that wise that I was able to avoid it (laughs). I had enough problems – I was agoraphobic and I had all kinds of problems and I just couldn’t have added being an addict on top of that. I think I knew I would have been dead in three months.

Events INSIDER: I guess that means you’re really not an addict because if you were, you would have done it anyway (laughs). Your name shows up on recovery sites because apparently people in recovery like to listen to your music to help them (stay on track).

Jewel: That’s interesting, because I have a song, “Amen” on my first record. It’s about a friend that overdosed. I know what it feels like to have a brush with hell; I know what it’s like to want to escape yourself at any cost. I know those feelings. And I understand addicts. I think because of the pain, I had the same hurts. A lot of us do.

Jewel comes to the Wilbur Theatre on March 12. For tickets and more information, see