By simultaneously releasing a memoir and a new recording that strips away much of the pop ornamentation she has spent two decades constructing, Jewel is ready to talk.
"My goal, at least with the book, was to answer the question that I've been faced with for the last 20 years," Jewel says.
Specifically, that inquiry dealt with how the artist born Jewel Kilcher could go from homelessness as a teenager to one of the most recognized pop stylists of the 1990s. The answers are spelled out in her autobiography Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Story, which hits stores Sept. 15.
As the early chapters in the book detail, the initial answers are to be found in Alaska, its landscape and its people. A Utah native, Jewel spent much of her childhood with her father in the Southern peninsula city of Homer.
"I dedicated a sizable part of the book early on to the time I spent in Alaska," she says. "I really took a lot from the pioneer spirit of the people there. It filled me with a feeling of self-sufficiency and capability."
Though she was writing songs at age 16 and later attended the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, she was living out of her car at 18 on the streets of San Diego, driving herself to gigs. After a disc jockey aired one of her songs, popularity began to mount. By 21, Jewel was all over pop radio with her debut album Pieces of You. The record spawned the hits Who Will Save Your Sou, Foolish Games and You Were Meant for Me, and went on to sell over 12 million copies.
"I look at the book as part memoir and ... I was going to say self-help book, but I'm hardly qualified to do that," Jewel says. "I just wanted to articulate myself in a way so that my story might bring about a positive change in people's lives. I'm quite happy to share what I've learned."
The publication of Never Broken comes only four days after the release of Jewel's 12th and newest album, Picking Up the Pieces. A recording with a dramatically folkish feel, it peels back much of the pop sound of the records that followed Pieces of You while offering a more up-to-the-minute level of soul-searching. That translates into songs written about personal milestones both wildly uplifting (the birth of her son Kase) and devastating (the breakdown of her marriage and subsequent divorce).
"My first job these days is being a mother," Jewel says. "My second is to approach my divorce with dignity. The book and the record are kind of the culmination of that process. The goal of both was integrity with intent. They're different projects and processes, obviously. You're just using a different lens within the same body. You're still speaking from the same heart."
One of the guiding inspirations for Picking Up the Pieces was Ben Keith, the veteran pedal steel guitarist and four decade-long collaborator of Neil Young. Keith served as producer for Pieces of You. Although he died in 2010, his presence was very much a part of the session for Picking Up the Pieces. Several of his co-horts in Young's 1970s band, particularly drummer Chad Cromwell, also contributed to the recording.
"I think that helped me come up with some of the best poetry and lyrics I've ever written," Jewel says. "Some of these songs I've been playing for years but never recorded until now. They became kind of underground favorites, but I'm sure a lot of people will view all of them as new songs. That's fine. Our goal is always the same — to create real stories and real art."