Interview: Jewel Talks “No More Tears,” ‘Lost In America’ & New Album
Last week Jewel returned to the fold with “No More Tears.” Her first single in four years is a heartfelt ballad that celebrates humanity’s resilience. “As long as there’s a beating in my chest, there’s a willingness to try,” she declares. “There are no more sad songs, just blue skies.” It’s a message that is doubly powerful when you learn it was recorded for an upcoming documentary called Lost In America. Directed by Rotimi Rainwater, the project shines light on the issue of youth homelessness and is expected to arrive in 2020.
Not only that, but it has received the backing of celebrities including the likes of Jewel, Halle Berry and Rosario Dawson. All of whom signed on as executive producers. Recently I had the opportunity to speak with the “You Were Meant For Me” icon about what drew her to the project. Furthermore, she explained how the children she worked with inspired her to write “No More Tears.” The single will serve double duty as we move into the new year. It also lands on the tracklist of a new album, tentatively due in the first quarter.
Conveniently, that’s right around when the hitmaker celebrates the 25th anniversary of her debut album Pieces Of You. I also spoke to Jewel about how it feels to approach the landmark celebration. Not only that, but she shared some insight about her constantly evolving sound and thoughts on the current state of music. That includes naming one of 2019’s stars that she finds inspiring. Catch up with everything the legend has going on and revisit “No More Tears” below.
I wanted to start by asking you about Lost In America. How did you get involved in the project?
I have a mental health foundation that works with at-risk youth and offers mindfulness tools to every age category. We have a physical location where we work with all the kids in Las Vegas. And Rotimi, the director of the film, reached out to us and came to visit us in Vegas. Where they also filmed and decided to join forces and become an executive producer because it’s a cause that’s close to my heart.
When you got involved what would you say was your biggest goal to achieve?
To raise awareness and help combat stigmas and misunderstandings around the youth homeless problem. It’s a very invisible problem. I mean, kids a great at hiding frankly. They know not to trust adults in their life experience, and there’s no legal way to get a job. So often they have to turn to illegal ways to support themselves. And being hidden is being safe. When we started there wasn’t even a great accurate number of how many kids were on the street.
We now believe there’s over 4.2 million on the streets. And about a half a million die every year from overdose, exposure to elements, human trafficking. It’s a very big problem that a lot of people don’t understand. And there isn’t a kid that’s there who doesn’t believe… It’s safer on the street than it is for them at home, basically. And that’s a sad thing.
I think this is going to be a very important documentary. Everything I’ve seen so far makes it very clear. It looks like it’s going to be very powerful. And I think it’s great that you are getting involved with it and are bringing your name to the project because it brings more attention.
Thank you. There’s a lot of great people that have definitely leant their name to this. It’s great. I think a lot of people will be surprised by some of the celebrities who they didn’t realize had struggled.
That actually leads into “No More Tears,” which you recorded for the documentary. Going into the experience did you know you’d be writing a song or did that come later?
It came later. It wasn’t my first thought by any means. And it just happened over the course of learning the stories of some of these children. They’re just unbelievable. You know, a lot of the kids that are in the documentary were horribly abused by their family. Or were disowned because they were LGBTQ+. The stories of what these kids… Their life is an act of defiance. Choosing to live is an act of defiance.
I felt that way, and that’s what really inspired me and brought me in touch with reliving some of my experience from when I was homeless. What it takes to believe in yourself when nobody else does. To be told you’re insignificant and you really have no value. And you have no worth. You’re told that by everyone around you and yet you choose not to kill yourself. That’s an act of defiance when you choose to live and say “I believe tomorrow will be better. I believe I can find love.” It’s a fight. And it’s courageous. I wanted the song to reflect the strength and defiance and hope kind of all wrapped up in one.
I think that comes across so perfectly. There’s such a sense of perseverance in every line. But the line “they say God only gives you what you’re strong enough to handle well I must be pretty god damn strong.” That is just chill-inducing. And it’s so powerful to see that human resilience and to have it emphasized musically.
I’m really glad.
It’s been a while since you’ve released music. That being said, you’re coming up on your 25-year anniversary. Do you still get as nervous or excited about a drop now as you did when Pieces Of You came out?
I don’t know. It definitely changes over the course of your career. My first time I had no expectations, you know? I made a folk record and hoped I would have a career like John Prine as a singer/songwriter. It took me on a journey I would have never been able to predict. I still feel that way. I love being a singer/songwriter. I felt like it’s my job to… When I was signed I was homeless and had a lot of emotional difficulties.
And I knew if you added fame to that it would probably mean a very predictable path sadly. I mean, you watch a lot of celebrities and it’s not a real healthy lifestyle. It’s why you see a lot of celebrities kill themselves or develop addictions or psychological breakdowns. I was very determined to not be that statistic and to try and go about my career where I really focused on my health and my happiness. And my artistic health. I feel proud of that. I feel really proud of what I’ve done and that investment that I made. So every record is different. Everyone changes.
I love every project that I do. If I’m not moved to do a project then I don’t do one. I’ve never been about the fame or the money. I’ve really been about the art. I really love how it’s been a process of discovery. Every record is so different. This new one surprises me with which way it went.
I really want to talk about that. But another thing I wanted to touch on first in regards to “No More Tears” is that this is the first song you’re dropping via Words Matter Media. Which is your own imprint. What drew you to making an imprint and how did that come about?
Gosh, I don’t know how long ago. Ten years at least. I was watching the Food Network. I know it sounds silly but I was watching I forget who. Let’s say Paula Dean. She was selling a ham I think probably. This is before her whole scandal now that I think about it. But I thought that was the future of the music business. I know that sounds so strange, but I knew that record sales would start declining. And that musicians had to find a way to connect to their audiences directly. That we probably wouldn’t make money on records anymore. That it was probably going into finding other revenue streams. Granted not ham. But, you know. Whatever works for each artist.
So I started looking at direct to consumer. My first album was one called Lullabies that I did direct to consumer. I was able to sell a half million copies, which was insane with no distribution or the label. It was a really affordable record to make. It cost about $17,000. I produced it myself and did really well with it. I know that I’m not the only one to think this obviously. You can obviously in this day and age go and create your own imprint. I felt really great to have the help and support of other systems certainly. But I love that it’s a brand new world, and it’s a different way of making music now.
It’s a new way of working and a new way of thinking. And it sound like you’ve adjusted so perfectly. To get the inspiration from the Food Network… Very relatable.
So silly [Laughs]!
You’ll drop the new album via Words Matter Media, too. Right?
Speaking of the record, does “No More Tears” give us a hint of what to expect sonically or are you working in a different sound?
Yeah, I think it does give you a hint of it. I definitely was wanting to write more for my voice this time. And the record is taking on a soul quality. It’s not something I’ve done before. Again I was a little surprised by how the songs kept coming out. But they kept coming out.
Do you know when we’ll have the first taste of the project? Will it all come at the start of the new year or will we get another taste of new music before 2019 is over?
“No More Tears” is on the album. I wrote that song for the documentary so it’ll be on both. So in a way it’s kind of a tease of the album. The first people will hear of it. I think the record will come out in the beginning of the year. Sometime first quarter-ish.
That’s coming up quickly! I can’t believe we’re at the end of the year.
I know! It’s crazy.
Another reason that 2020 is a big one for you is that you have a very important anniversary coming up. Can you believe that you’re at 25 years since your first album dropped?
In some ways it feels like the blink of an eye. And in other ways it seems like twice as long.
It’s interesting because I have some very clear memories of growing up listening to songs like “You Were Meant For Me.” I’m wondering has your opinion on any of those songs changed over time?
I didn’t like “You Were Meant For Me” when I wrote it. I was worried it was dumb. I liked stuff like “Who Will Save Your Soul.” You know, I was an angsty singer/songwriter. I wanted deeper lyrics. But I’ve really obviously grown to appreciate “You Were Meant For Me.” I feel so thankful for it. I had no idea when I wrote it what it would become in my life or in other people’s lives. And to have that kind of hit, it’s life changing. It changed my life. It changed my co-writer’s life. It’s a song that 25 years later everybody still sings. That’s an amazing thing. Not every artist gets that, and I feel really blessed to have that.
It’s really incredible to see how diverse your sound has been over the years. Another song that I’ve been obsessed with since the first time I heard it was “Intuition.” What would you say has inspired you to explore so many different sounds while you’ve been writing? It would have been so easy for you to just stick to one thing. But instead you have pushed yourself.
It was funny. When “Intuition” came out there were critics that were saying it’s a sell-out. And I thought what a funny thing. To me being a sell-out would be doing the same thing over and over because it’s safer. You wouldn’t get criticized for it. To me taking risks is something I was really encouraged to do by my mentors. I loved fearless artists. Writers like Bukowski. Bob Dylan mentored me in the earliest days of my career. And so did Neil Young.
They just instilled in me that ferocious defiant right to be whoever the fuck you are. Nobody gets to define you. Nobody gets to limit you. If you are pigeon-holed as an artist it’s probably your own fault. It’s because you lack whatever courage you needed to break a mold. So it’s certainly not easy but it’s really fun. I’ve always really disliked what I’ve called fascism in music. That they think somebody should be the same thing for forever. That they think an artist should be static.
None of us are. If I looked in your closet you’d have silly things and comfy things and dressy things. Music’s that way to me. Sometimes I just want to be shiny and silly and have fun. Other times I want to be moody and angsty and brooding. My music tends to reflect that. But I don’t see that as a departure. I just see it as an expression of my rainbow if you will.
I like that. And I hope now at least that we’re seeing more of that musically as well. I’m wondering as you are getting ready to drop new material what your thoughts are on the state of music today?
You know, music’s cyclical and uncontrollable. And I love that. In some ways there are some cycles that are predictable. We will go and play happy, shiny, poppy, vain music. Then we’ll go into moody, brooding, deep music. It’s a beautiful cycle. And it’s been that way since the beginning of time. I love every area of that; I love all aspects of it.
I am a little surprised that with as much social unrest, as much anxiety and political unrest there is in culture I was really expecting punk rock and folk music and singer/songwriters to really come through with a vengeance. I was a little surprised that that’s been a bit of a void. But also in places you certainly find it. There are truth-tellers in almost every category right now that you can look to and find.
It’s such a rapidly changing and shifting landscape right now that it’s fascinating. Nobody in the industry, these sort of experts, know where it’s going. Where it’s heading. How to predict it. So I think it’s kind of a wild rodeo, which I think is cool.
It’s always a surprise to see what’s coming. Who would you say you have been inspired by in the last year or two?
When I heard Billie Eilish I was like “wow.” It just didn’t sound like anything else. Some people thought it would just be small or a YouTube fad. And I really thought it wouldn’t be. Along with a bunch of other people. I appreciated that. I also kind of like that she took her look and her entire image very counter to how most females are representing themselves. I thought that was very interesting.
Awesome! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Thank you! I really appreciate it. It was very nice to talk to you.