Soft as a lullaby

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By Gary Graff  

With her album Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, Jewel Kilcher marked her first decade as a recording artist. The Utah-born singer-songwriter paid plenty of dues before that, including time spent living out of her car and busking in San Diego's coffeehouse scene. Those days are long gone, though. Since the release of her 1996 debut, Pieces of You, Jewel has sold twenty-five million albums with such hits as "Who Will Save Your Soul," You Were Meant For Me," and "Hands."

Outside of music she's hardly been standing still. She's published two books, made her acting debut in the Civil War drama Ride With the Devil, and has been the subject of the occasional fashion photo spreads.

Q: Is there a thematic string at work on Goodbye Alice in Wonderland?

Jewel: I really see this record as a bookend to my first record, Pieces of You, because it was a really similar time in my life -- in a completely different way. I was turning twenty during my first record. I was just closing this period of my life where I was living in a car and scrambling my whole life, to signing a six-record deal and looking forward to this crazy road that I was going to embark on. And on Alice I was turning thirty. I'm now at the end of that six-record deal. My life has changed so utterly, completely and thoroughly, but the thought process and emotional process I was in was really similar. I was trying to really see where I wanted my life to go, and if I was happy with where it all was.

Q: Did the success of Pieces of You create a commercial pressure you'll always face?

Jewel: I've always tried to concentrate on good work, and I think good work is rewarded. So is pop sensation. Pop sensation is very well-rewarded. Going to the right parties and being followed around by paparazzi, getting in a magazine and helping people sell records, that isn't necessarily about music, but that's okay too. I don't feel like it affects my job, or my living. I've had unbelievable success on every record, and it's been thrilling for me, and my whole goal is just to ride all of it out. I just keep my little blinders on and keep my eyes focused on what I think good writing is, and what I think good art is. I hope that in forty years that will pay off.

Q: Is music your preferred form of expression?

Jewel: For me, music really is an intimate art form. I believe in the power of music, because I've experienced it as a fan and there's still something very special and unquantifiable that takes place between the listener and the singer. As much as the music industry can fabricate it or distract you from that very special exchange that takes place, it still can't be denied how it bonds a musician and a listener. So, I've tried to really focus my career based on that. That's why I've toured so extensively, because I really still believe that when I get on stage and the lights come on and there's real living, breathing humans in front of me, they're going to hear my heart and they're going to hear my hurt and they're going to hear my hope, and there's no shortcut to that, and there's no way of fabricating it. I still think it's really special.

Q: How do your other endeavors, such as the books and modeling, factor into your artistic ambitions?

Jewel: I can look at everything as an extension of my creativity. I'm even quite comfortable with making a mistake if I make one. It's sort of a learning process, and I find the fans and people don't really care. They want to see a dynamic, living person. I don't think anyone wants to see a fabricated politician for a musician. My whole point is just always to try and live my life as honestly as I can and never pretend about anything. It seems to have worked quite well.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.