Singer-songwriter Eilen Jewel says she didn’t see many concerts while growing up in Boise, but her dad’s record collection that was hidden away in the garage attic helped expose her to a variety of musical acts.
“It was a lot of ’60s folk and blues revival stuff,” she says during a recent phone interview. As part of Independent Venue Week, she performs with local singer-songwriter Thor Platter at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 10, at the Beachland Tavern. Her forthcoming album, Gypsy, embraces a classic country sound while updating it for the modern era. It’s a terrific collection of finely crafted tunes. “There was Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi John Hurt and early Dylan records and some really good stuff. That was really influential for me. I grew up listening to the oldies station, which, at the time, only played ’50s and ’60s music. Seventies music wasn’t considered vintage yet. That’s what I grew up listening to, and that’s still what I really love.”
She says she initially hated country music because she only heard “the stuff that people would play really loud in their pickup trucks.” Once she heard “classic country music,” she was hooked, and that influence comes across clearly in her music.
After moving to Santa Fe, NM, Jewell began writing her own songs and performing on the city streets.
“I started playing in the farmers market there,” she explains. “If it weren’t for that, I’m not sure I would have ever performed. I had thought I had hated performing. When I had to do a piano recital as a kid, you’d think the world was ending. I hated it so much. I was just so nervous and had such bad stage fright.”
In 2006, she released her debut, Boundary County, and assembled a makeshift band to cut the album.
“We didn’t have a set band at that point,” she says. “Everyone who later became part of my band was on that record. It solidified us as a band and added a focus to what we were doing. We had been gigging casually. It was released to a fair amount of praise and gave us momentum to become a real band. We got our record label on board and the same thing with our booking agency. Everything clicked into place.”
For Gypsy, she used the theme of “restlessness” as a springboard for the songs.
“I often have this feeling of wanting to go somewhere,” she says. “And there’s often inner conflict. In the song “Crawl,” I feel torn in two different directions. I want everything to be turned on its head. I keep feeling that kind of restlessness. I’ve been looking for the words for it for a long time. Of course, there’s political themes. I don’t like to call them political because I think the political is personal, especially these days. I could not help but think about more political leanings and themes this time around. It feels like a line has been drawn in the sand, and you have to stand on one side or the other. Even if you stand on the line, that’s a stance. No one can call themselves apolitical anymore.”
She recorded the album at Audiolab in Garden City, Idaho, which she says is “just down the street” from where she lives.
“It’s become our home away from home,” she says. “We feel super comfy there have a good relationship with the engineers there. It was very fun recording process, and I don’t use that term lightly. For me, it’s often not fun, especially with original material. I tend to get self-conscious in the studio; I think everyone does. When you show the band the songs for the first time, you keep asking if it’s the way you want to say it and if it’ll come across correctly. This time, that wasn’t how it went. Maybe I’ve learned about how to write songs and record them. You’d hope so by now. It just went really smoothly, and each song was a revelation for me and the band. The band didn’t even know I had been writing songs, and some of them were only ideas for songs. Rather than it being a painful process, it was really rewarding and actually fun.”
One album highlight, the twangy, slide guitar-driven “You Cared Enough To Lie,” is a cover of a song by Pinto Bennett, a Boise musician that Jewell says is an underrated songwriter.
“His songwriting is similar to Loretta Lynn,” she says of Bennett. “It’s classic country with words that manage to be simple and concise and poetic. I love that sensibility, and with classic country, there’s also a sense of humor and I love his sense of humor. It comes across how much of a character he is. We got to know him. We don’t talk politics with him, but he’s such a great guy. Jason [Beek], my husband, produced what he’s saying is his last album. It’s called The Last Saturday Night. Jason drummed on it, and Jerry Miller, my guitarist, plays on it and I sing back up. I thought that to put one of his songs on my album would be a good way to get his name out there. I wanted to spotlight him as an artist who never got what he deserved.”
These days, the record business doesn’t offer much in terms of monetary rewards. So what keeps Jewell going?
“I’ve been at it for so long by now that it’s become part of me,” she says. “It’s who I am now. I do have days when I fantasize about having benefits and always sleeping in your own bed, and some kind of financial stability would be nice. But when I think about what else I would do, there’s nothing else that comes to mind. I feel like what you do habitually in life becomes who you are and informs you and shapes you. At this point, there’s no turning back. I’m in it for the long haul. It’s a hard life but it’s a good life. Our little girl comes with us. As long as she can hang in there with us, we’re going to keep doing it. Somehow, it works. We’re fed and that’s really all I ask.”
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