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JEWEL KILCHER


Lifestory

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Born: May 23, 1974

Birthplace: Payson, Utah, USA

Current residence: San Diego, USA

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Lifestory

Soon after she moved to an 800-acre homestead in Homer, Alaska. Since the age of five she has been performing, starting out with her parents doing numbers for tourists, in Eskimo villages, etc.
According to Jewel, she was raised as a Mormon until the age of 8. Apparently her father, as described in her song Nikos, had an illegitimate child and was excommunicated from the church.
When Jewel was 12 she convinced her parents to let her "see more of the world" by spending some time with an aunt in Hawaii. Needless to say, the blond Alaskan was quite an anomaly in Hawaii, but Jewel yodeled her way out of any playground disagreements. She was there for a few months and then returned to stay with her mother in Anchorage, Alaska.
Her junior and senior years of high school were spent at Interlochen Fine Arts Academy in Michigan. This is an expensive private school, and 70% of Jewel's tuition was paid for by a vocal scholarship. She thought she'd be going to sing the blues, but they had her sing opera instead. The remainder of the expenses were raised at what turned out to be Jewel's first solo concert. The citizens of Homer were supportive enough to cover the rest of the first year tuition, and summer jobs filled the gap the next year.
After high school, Jewel came to San Diego to stay with her mom. After a brief sojourn to Colorado, she returned to San Diego, which she now calls home. She worked a variety of jobs including waitressing, but generally lost them when her interest in chatting with the customers surpassed her desire to do the actual job. Eventually she decided that working unfulfilling dead-end jobs was an unbearable way to live. She moved into her VW van, and with lots of peanut butter, carrot sticks, and a guitar, settled down to write songs. She soon started performing to sparse crowds at a coffeehouse in Pacific Beach called the Inner Change. (This was probably early 1993 by now.) Word started to spread, and soon she had a regular Thursday night spot and an ever growing audience. Her name began to show up in the local press and she nabbed a few choice opening spots. She took an extended trip back to Homer at the end of the year, and things really took off when she returned in early 1994.

As an interesting side note, Jewel yodeling is a breathtaking sight. Live she frequently sings a rocked up version of a yodeling song she knew as a child - "Chime Bells". At first it's entertaining to hear yodeling mixed into a song, but as she repeatedly picks up the pace, yodeling at speeds faster than I'd have thought possible, the audience is always left slackjawed or cheering. Maybe this will get officially released some day. On the original release, Jewel avoided novelty or funny songs to avoid being pegged as "the girl who yodels" or "the girl with the cute race car song".

At the start of the year, the coffeehouse was roughly 60% full, and a mere $3 got you a 3-4 hour set of original material, with the only exception being an occasional cover of Tracy Chapman's "Behind the Wall". Always a prolific, versatile songwriter, Jewel regularly debuted a handful of new songs at each show. These shows were a hotbed of local acoustic talent, and Jewel was regularly joined by frequent collaborator Steve Poltz (lead singer of the Rugburns). Fellow Rugburns Rob Driscoll and Gregory Page also joined them, as well as other local musicians including Joy Eden Harrison and Byron Nash. Everyone who saw her must have told five friends, since each week the crowd continued to grow. Soon, people were being turned away, while a few hardy souls could be seen staring through the large windows at the packed house inside.

Jewel's early performances were quite unlike her shows now. The later shows were so packed that she often had to walk across thetables to get up to the stage. Lacking the professional polish she's now acquiring, she often rambled off stories and spent quite a large amount of time tuning her guitar (and flaring her nostrils) between songs. Her set lists were often improvised and filled primarily by requests. She inevitably forgot to bring a pick, and when someone from the audience offered her one, she'd complain that it was either too thick or too thin. When anyone would get up to leave (or go to the bathroom), she'd ask "Are you leaving?" and if so, have everyone in the audience say goodbye. She'd play long sets--often up to 3-4 hours, debuting songs she'd just written and stumbling through the lyrics or making them up as she went along. She also inevitably drank water from a large jug, while making jokes about someday receiving a corporate sponsorship from a water company. (She still found it unreal that people had to pay for good drinking water). She ended every show by saying "Remember to blah blah blah blah and always get perfect moments stuck between your teeth."
As the crowds appreciation grew, so did the length of the applause, and Jewel would often blush and say "Stop it, you're embarassing me!" After the show, Jewel would rush to the door, and shake everyone's hand and thank them for coming.
Around this time, the news of the young (19!) singer had gotten to L.A., and record executives started driving down to sleepy San Diego to catch the shows. They immediately recognized the quality of what they were seeing, and soon the limos were directed towards Jewel's van/home. After a brief courtship, she was signed to Atlantic Records, and started making the trek up to L.A. looking for producers and musicians to record with. The advance on the record enabled Jewel to rent a house with her mother, a new car (a used Volvo) and a new guitar (a steal due to an imperfection in the finish).
All this added exposure continued to draw crowds to the Inner Change, which first added a second show, and then upped the admission price to $5. By this time, Jewel had written over a hundred songs. On July 28 and 29, 1994, a sound crew descended on the Inner Change to record 4 sets of Jewel on her home stomping grounds. All the live recordings on Pieces of You come from those two sessions. (Notably absent is a brilliant bongo accompanied version of Sometimes It Be That Way. Maybe someone can steal that tape from Atlantic's archives?)
By this time, Jewel had outgrown the tiny Inner Change and began looking for larger venues to play in. She ended up doing two shows at the Wikiup Cafe in Hillcrest. A whirlwind of activity followed in preperation for the release of Jewel's first album. This included a series of residency tours where she would play four different coffee shops in four different cities for four weeks, building up a fan base much like she did in San Diego.

Jewel's first album, Pieces of You, was released February 28, 1995. A CD Release Party was held at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theater in her adopted hometown of San Diego. It consisted of two sold out performances.

Jewel's musical tastes are varied and her influences broad. Notable influences include Ella Fitzgerald, John Prine, Tracy Chapman, Yma Sumac and San Diego-based band The Rugburns (whose lead vocalist Steve Poltz co-wrote several songs with Jewel, two of which, Adrian and You Were Meant for Me, appear on Pieces of You). At various times, Jewel has mentioned the poet Pablo Naruda, Dr. Seuss, and classical philosophers, particularly Plato's Symposium as being influences in her work as well.


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