Jewel knows without being told that when fans are listening to her new album Picking Up The Pieces, they are likely going to be connecting the emotional dots. “Yeah, that’s probably going to happen,” she said. “My ex-husband is going to get blamed for a lot of songs.”
While the singer says that some of the 14 tracks on the album were influenced by last year’s divorce from rodeo star Ty Murray, quite a few of the songs on the disc were written years ago. She says that stems from the fact that her pen is always writing — whether she’s recording for an album or not.
“I was really lucky to be mentored by Dylan, Neil Young and these people who drummed into my head when I was 19 or 20 that I had to follow my muse as a songwriter. It was your sacred duty. So, I’ve tried to do things that kept me alive as a songwriter,” she told Billboard. “My first record [1995’s Pieces Of You] became so popular that I felt a lot of pressure, but then I realized that I had a lot of money and didn’t actually have to have another hit again. So, that took the pressure off and if I saved my money, I could spend the rest of my life doing whatever the heck I liked musically. That’s what I set about doing — asking myself ‘What do you feel like being now? Who am I now as a songwriter, what do I want to say and how do I want to say it?”
She said that has allowed her to approach her music exactly the way she wanted to — sometimes defying conventional wisdom.
“I’ve taken left turns when I should go right, right when I should have gone left, took years between records and had breaks in momentum,” she said. “But, I felt that’s what I needed to do as a writer and I feel like it has kept me alive. I feel like I’m writing better — or at least as good as I ever have and that was my goal. When I was 18 and being signed, I asked myself why the best novelists write their best work in their 50s and why do songwriters write their best in their 20s. I thought it was lifestyle. I thought it was fame. That’s why I never tried to surround myself with cronies. I tried to never do anything by the book or idolize fame or keep the momentum going if it didn’t serve me as a writer. It’s taken me on a hell of a journey.”
But, while some of the lyrical content was written before she married Murray, that’s not to say the emotional attachment to the songs were any less when recording it.
“A lot of people will think this is a break-up record,” she said. “And it is in a lot of ways. I wrote some of it going through a divorce. Though I wrote ‘Everything Breaks’ 15 years ago, I felt everything I was going through when I sang it. But, a lot of them aren’t written about him…. but some of them are.”
And, the album is definitely full of emotion, from a duet with Rodney Crowell on “It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now” to the stunning “Carnivore.” The singer said that while preserving her inner muse was important, it was also a way to grow as a mother to her son Kase.
“I realized after I had a child that there were parts of me that went to sleep and there were parts that I needed to wake up.” she said. “There was a part of me that felt very confined in the life I had built for myself. It’s one thing to do that at 18, but another when you are building a family. A lot of that was about giving myself this internal permission to say, ‘Am I the woman I want my son to know and what do I have to do to be that?’ Not just for him…. but for myself. Am I the woman that I want to look back on?
“There’s things I let go of that I feel compromised me. That was an intense and personal journey that lived itself out in the writing of the record and I learned to do this archaeological dig and peel away the things that I don’t feel added to me and might have covered up a light of mine that I burned brighter in some aspects. In a lot of ways, it was like time travel making this record. It was my 18-year-old self that wrote some of these songs tapping me on the shoulder and saying, ‘This is the ways we’re brave and this is the way we are courageous.’ My 40-year-old self got to talk to the 18-year-old and say, ‘You’re going to be OK and I know how to do this. It was a very interesting healing process that forced me — because I was recording some older songs — to meet myself both as a younger woman and an older woman and to let them have that conversation.”
At the same time she was preparing the album, she was also working on her memoir, Never Broken: Songs Are Only Half the Journey, which will be released on Tuesday. She admitted that the creative process for the book was much different than writing a song or poem.
“I wrote it three hours a day while my son was at school,” she said with a laugh. “But, whatever it is about me, I will be thankful that if I sit down for three hours, I can do it effectively and then do it the next day. It wasn’t until the last couple months that I buckled down and wrote six and eight hour days.”
Picking Up The Pieces is out now.