JEWEL SPREADS HER WINGS
Last month, singer Jewel walked the red carpet at the Academy of Country Music Awards without missing a beat. Wearing a tight-fitting mermaid gown, it seemed nothing could ruffle the feathers of the four-time Grammy Award nominee whose debut album — at age 20 — sold more copies than Nirvana’s Nevermind. But not so fast. “It was probably the first time at an awards show that I felt relaxed!” she says. “I used to have severe panic attacks. I remember one time arriving at the MTV Video Music Awards and not being able to get out of the limo. The driver kept unlocking the door and I’d just lock it again. I did it over and over! I’ve always been shy and introverted. It’s something I’ve struggled with all my life.”
Enter motherhood. Jewel credits her son Kase, 1 1/2 years old, for making her feel “more comfortable in my own skin.” So this time, instead of being anxious, she spent the ride to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas perusing photos of her son, who was at home in Texas with his dad, rodeo star Ty Murray. “It puts everything in perspective,” she says about being a mom. “I feel more at peace.”
That peaceful existence is a lifestyle Jewel covets. Despite selling more than 27 million records, the singer and her husband, a nine-time World Champion rodeo cowboy, live quietly on a secluded 2,200-acre working ranch in Stephenville, Texas. Here, surrounded by about 200 cows, 20 horses and rolling hills, Jewel feels at home. She’s not the first artist to shun the celebrity sideshow and overt consumerism that often goes hand-in-hand with Hollywood success. But the singer, who was raised on a ranch in Alaska without running water or electricity, is one of the few who has managed to stay on top while being true to herself.
Jewel is grounded and soft-spoken, yet has the kind of drive and burning passion for life that’s the mark of a real artist. She doesn’t let things happen to her. She goes out and makes them happen. When her first album, Pieces of You, sold only 3,000 copies, she hit the road playing a grueling four shows a day in 40 cities. Seeing her perform live, captivating an audience of thousands with merely her guitar and exquisite voice, is a revelation. Earlier this year, she released a Greatest Hits album featuring duets with Kelly Clarkson and the Pistol Annies. And this month, she takes on the lead role as June Carter Cash in Lifetime’s original movie Ring of Fire premiering May 27.
In an exclusive interview, Jewel opens up about transforming herself — and her voice — for her role as June, the benefits and drawbacks of living in a secluded spot, raising her son with the same values she was taught as a child and her thoughts on adding another baby to the family! Plus, at the end of the interview she revealed a secret skill when she started talking to me in beautiful Swedish, a language she picked up from a Swedish boyfriend when she was 18. Here’s my interview with the lovely Jewel:
Ulrica: What was your first reaction when you were offered the role as June Carter Cash?
Jewel: I was surprised! I had only done a little bit of acting and I had given it up a long time ago. I’ve seen enough marriages crumble from the pressure of juggling two careers, and I didn’t want that for my life. I thought my music career was demanding enough. I had also just given birth to my son, so I wasn’t looking to take on something new. But this role came out of the blue and it was such a great script that I decided to try.
Ulrica: What was it like for you to portray another famous singer-songwriter?
Jewel: I didn’t really focus on the things June and I had in common. That came natural. The thing that fascinated me about her were the dramatic highs and lows of her life. It was such an incredibly story, and it was a rare opportunity for me as a woman to play a real, consuming role. I tried to tackle this not as her being a musician, but as someone who was in a relationship where drugs and co-dependency were central themes.
Ulrica: You dyed your hair dark brown and wore prosthetic teeth to look more like June. But what was it like performing and singing like her?
Jewel: I was good at imitating her voice and singing in character, but then I had to perform like her! That was harder. I couldn’t sing like myself and move like myself on stage. I was so lucky that there was a lot of footage of her performing. If you’re playing Abraham Lincoln, you don’t really have that advantage! I was able to watch her move on stage and perform with Carl Smith. I’m naturally a very curious person, so researching this role was a lot of fun.
Ulrica: You were raised in Alaska by parents who didn’t have a lot of material wealth. What’s it like to for you to be able to give your son such a different upbringing?
Jewel: Ty and I talk about this all the time. We were both raised poor, so it’s a little weird. I don’t know of a lot of spoiled, wealthy kids who turned out well-equipped for life. I look at our son as a little gift we get to take care of until he’s 18 years old and starts life on his own. Ty and I want to raise him to be self sufficient. I want him to be able to take care of himself and live a happy and rewarding life, so I think spoiling him would be doing him a disservice. We try to do our best and teach him that he can earn things by helping out. We’re very conscious about it. I’m so glad we’re able to raise him on our ranch. He gets to learn how to take care of and love the animals. He’s still very little, but he loves sitting on the tractor and help feed the cows. He’s a wonderful little boy, and I’m so grateful he can grow up in such a beautiful place.
Ulrica: Kase must have one of the best lullaby singers in the world as his mom. What’s your bedtime routine like?
Jewel: He’s a wonderful sleeper! We’ll have bath time, then we put on his pajamas and I’ll read him a little book. I do sing for him, but he really loves when I tell him stories. That puts him right to sleep.
Ulrica: Is there anything you miss about living in such a remote place?
Jewel: Sure, I miss having a Whole Foods Market and a yoga studio! But I love the world I live in. I feel very happy here.
Ulrica: Do you think you’ll have another child?
Jewel: I was getting acupuncture recently, and the acupuncturist said, ‘You need one more!’ You always hear the first child is for you and the second child is for your first child. I’m very happy with one, but we’ll see!
Please follow Jewel on Twitter at @jeweljk.
Photographs courtesy of Jewel ©2013.