Photo Credit: West Kennerly
As an artist, Jewel was destined to succeed her own terms. Having grown up in Alaska, without running water or heat (“we mainly lived off what we could kill or can,” she later recalled), she learned from a young age how to be self-sufficient. By the time she graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy, in Michigan, and drifted down to San Diego, the girl born Jewel Kilcher was pouring a lifetime’s worth of experience into her songwriting. As a fixture on the local coffee house scene she quickly gained a following, deftly capturing the intimacy of these shows on her debut album, Pieces Of You.
Partly recorded live at San Diego’s Inner Change Coffeehouse, and partly during sessions held at Neil Young’s own Broken Arrow Ranch, backed by Shakey’s Stary Gators band, Pieces Of You is so emotionally honest that listening to it is like reading a private diary. Jewel was still in her teens when she wrote songs like “You Were Meant For Me” and “Foolish Games,” and, over two decades since hitting No.2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and topping the Adult Contemporary charts, they continue to encapsulate the innocence – and intensity – of young love.
Much has been made of Jewel’s age at the time Pieces Of You was released, on February 28, 1995. Still only nineteen, she was wise beyond her years, playing and singing with a commitment – and confidence – few artists command in the formative stages of their career. Those songs captured at the Inner Change, like “Near You Always” and the album’s title track – show just what a connection she’d made with her audience before Pieces Of You was even complete. By the time she was invited to tour in support of Bob Dylan, in 1997, resulting in a major boost for both her profile and the record, Jewel was ready leap into a whole new stage of her career. Her growing fanbase was ready with open arms.
Twenty years after San Diego helped put her on the map, Jewel discusses those early days with the city’s most prominent lifestyle mag. “I started writing down all my worst fears and shameful secrets,” she reveals. “It saved my life.”
Jewel talks mindfulness–why it’s especially useful now, and how it’s influenced her music all the way back to Pieces of You.
Jewel discusses how she found herself homeless at the age of 15, the ways in which her core values have informed every stage of her career, and why vulnerability can be a saving grace.
DEEP CUTS WE LOVE…
“Pieces Of You” - Unrelentingly scathing, Pieces Of You’s title track finds Jewel tackling inhumane behavior in various guises. Bullies and bigots, racists and homophobes are all in the singer’s crosshairs as she levels a charge at those who project their self-hatred onto others. Complex themes delivered with youthful simplicity, the roots of much of Jewel’s later humanitarian work can be found here.
“Near You Always” - Just Jewel and a guitar on the Inner Change stage: the painful honesty of this appeal to an all-consuming love is about as heart-on-sleeve as things get. But what appears to be a plea from the depths of helplessness is, on closer listens, actually a validation of emotional honesty – vulnerability displayed as virtue for those scared of their own feelings.
“Daddy” - Even accounting for the fact that teenagers often have complicated relationships with their parents, “Daddy” is a startling examination of Jewel’s relationship with her father. Beginning with confessions of her own questionable behavior, the song turns into a coruscating attack on her father’s failure to live up to his responsibilities.
DID YOU KNOW?
- One of Jewel’s formative experiences as a performer was learning to yodel from her father, with whom she performed as a singing duo.
- She has had a parallel career as an actor, with notable appearances including Ang Lee’s 1999 Western, Ride The Devil, and starring as June Carter Cash in the 2013 TV movie Ring Of Fire.
A dedicated philanthropist, Jewel has raised significant awareness and funding to help tackle homelessness, breast cancer and environmental issues.
- In 2015, Jewel told her life story in the critically acclaimed memoir Never Broken.
- Three years later, Cirque De Soleil adapted it for a stage show, in aid of the clean-water charity One Drop Foundation.
Listen to Pieces Of You in its entirety on your preferred streaming platform or purchase on wax below.
Words: Jason Draper