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New Jewel album is a return to her roots

Fans will find her folk-tinged ‘Goodbye Alice in Wonderland’ familiar
/ Source: The Associated Press

She got her first record deal while she was living in her blue Volkswagen bus. Now she's a multiplatinum, multifaceted artist who only needs one name: Jewel.

She was just 20 years old when, with nothing more than her voice and an acoustic guitar, she got the world wondering "Who Will Save Your Soul."

Five albums and nearly a dozen years later, Jewel (born Jewel Kilcher) is back with another introspective, acoustic guitar-driven album, "Goodbye Alice in Wonderland," which hits stores Tuesday.

Much like her 1995 debut, "Pieces of You," Jewel's latest record explores where she's been and where she's headed through reflective, folk-style storytelling. Only this time, she's inspired by the wisdom of experience and backed by a modern rock band.

Over lunch in an Italian restaurant, the poet, painter and singer spoke with The Associated Press about creativity, self-expression and living a full life.

Question: This new album seems like a departure from the dance-flavored sounds of your last record, '0304.'

Jewel: I definitely see this as a bookends to my first record. For my first record, I was turning 20, I had gone from a homestead to living in a car to all of a sudden getting a record deal, so a whole new phase of my life was beginning. With this record, I was turning 30, and I'm now at the end of that record deal that I signed. So it's like the end of this phase, in a way, and then looking forward to what's going on in the future, so I think a similar process emotionally is taking place.

Question: Was it an intentional return to your roots?

Jewel: I knew people would say that but it isn't how it happened for me. When I made '0304,' we were just heading into war. The world was so serious that I was tired. I was so stressed all the time, I just wanted to relax and have fun. The birth of big band music was during wartime, because everybody wants an escape. It was really an exciting challenge to try and combine modern dance music and make a modern big band record. It's just what I was interested in. And the same thing for this. It's just the way the last couple years went down, turning 30 and that process of looking back at your life.

Question: It's been three years since your last record. What have you been up to?

Jewel: If you're not in the public eye everybody thinks you're just lying on a lounge chair. I didn't travel as much, which was really nice. And I actually let go of my acting career. I used to think art was the only goal in life, that everything in life was supposed to fuel art. And I was really merciless about it. About five years ago I started thinking I don't want to die unhappy. I don't want to worship just the god of art. I don't want to look back on my life and go, 'Ooh, 25 million sold.' I've spent a lot of time just trying to keep a balance.

Question: You sing about this on the new album. Was fame disillusioning for you?

Jewel: I never expected fame to be fun. I was actually petrified. I was in a unique position of seeing some of the darker parts of humanity by the time I was 18. The same sharks and predators that were in civilian life, I expected them to be in the music industry. I certainly didn't think it was some rainbow that was going to deliver me to some happy place.

The other part of that answer is that, and part of what I really tried to explore on this record, is we're told a lot of fairy tales as children, things you're taught to believe in that you might reevaluate when you get older. From a young age I felt like I was faced with this decision: Does the cruelty and poverty of life make you bitter, and how can you resist it? A lot of my music has dealt with that since the beginning of my career and this record has really made a point of it. So it isn't that I found the music business disillusioning or not disillusioning. It's just at some point you become very willing to let go of any lies and any fairy tales in exchange for the truth.

Question: What's next for you?

Jewel: I'm working on a cartoon for Nickelodeon. It's called 'Punk Rock Angel Girl.' I drew it and invented it or whatever you say. I don't know how many more records I'll do. I don't know if I'll do another record. It's funny, when the record label came to me and I was living in my car, I thought I was in the best negotiating position, because you couldn't take anything away from me. And then my first record sold 11 million records, and I was in another great negotiating position. I didn't need money ever again and I didn't care if I was famous, so I've always been able to go, 'What am I into? What's challenging me?'

I want to write well. I don't want to be embarrassed for myself ultimately.