It’s impossible for me to remain objective when talking about Eilen Jewell (pronounced EE-lin). She’s an artist I unabashedly recommend to most anyone who will listen and one whose music I enjoy on a regular basis.
In the last eight years, the Boise, Idaho-based singer, guitarist, pianist and songwriter has released six authentic and wonderfully diverse records (including a tribute to Loretta Lynn and a gospel album under the name the Sacred Shakers). Her voice is a formidable gem, quietly breaking your heart on a ballad one minute and leading the charge on a barroom rambler the next. She’s impossible to pigeonhole -- country, swing, rockabilly, gospel, rock & roll and jazz all take turns here -- and her band is so tight they could back-up Legba himself in a late-night battle for souls at the Crossroads.
Best part of it all? She’s coming to San Diego. Finally. Jewell and her band -- guitarist Jerry Miller, upright bassist Johnny Sciascia and husband/drummer Jason Beek -- will make their first ever local appearance at AMSD Concerts on Friday night. In preparation for her San Diego debut, I spoke with Jewell from her Boise home during a recent 24-hour tour break filled with laundry and gardening.
Here’s what she had to say about ...
A follow-up to 2011’s Queen of the Minor Key:
“I’ve started writing for the new record. I haven’t shown anything to my bandmates yet, but the creative process has begun. We’re hoping to record by the end of the year and release an album early in 2014. At least, that’s the goal. We have our fingers crossed.”
Why constant touring has delayed the new album:
“I’ve found that I can’t really write on the road. I used to try, but gave it up pretty quickly. I’m really a ‘one thing at a time’ kind of person. I’m best when I give all my energy and focus into one thing. When I’m on the road, that’s all I’m thinking about. When I’ve been at home lately, all I’m usually thinking about is my garden. [Laughs] So I have to leave home not to be distracted. Then I write furiously for the days I’m away from home, and when I have something I want the guys to hear, I bring it to them and they help me work out -- how to start it, end it and where the solos go. And that’s the most significant part of the process. When I share it with the guys, that’s when the songs come alive and take on a personality.”
Not being an easy artist to classify:
"I give a lot of thought to that. It’s something that does come up, and a lot of people are puzzled on how to categorize the music. I never really know quite what to say. But I think that part of it is that, deep down, I do have a bit of a fear of being placed squarely in a category because I don’t want to have to stay put or be confined at all. I don’t want to be known as a rockabilly or folk artist. I guess if Americana is a catch phrase for all different kinds of American roots music, then I think we might fit into that miscellaneous term. But even Americana is starting to develop a specific sound. So maybe miscellaneous American roots is a better way to say it. I hope an artist wouldn’t say, ‘No, I can’t listen to that part of me just because it doesn’t fit with what I’ve done before.’ And I do know some artists get nervous about incorporating a new strand to their music, but doing what you want to do is what being an artist is all about. But I admire people that feel comfortable within a specific genre. I just can’t do that. And part of it is my band. They can play anything. I just love so many different kinds of music. I don’t ever want to have to narrow it down."
Getting back to the piano:
"I think about it a lot. I really consider the piano my first love. And I’ve been able to sneak it in here and there – on [2009 album] Sea of Tears, all the organ playing is me, and I did some electric piano on (2005 debut) Boundary County. I am completely infatuated with keys of all kinds. It’s lame to say, but we just haven’t figured it out logistically yet. Our van is full as it is. I’m content with it just on the records for now, but I do fantasize about one day bringing it into the live show."
Having her husband in the band:
"We honestly don’t have anything to compare it with. We got together as the band was forming, so we don’t know any better. [Laughs] And it does work. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s great. That 1 percent when we’re not getting along and on the road, it’s pure hell. But I think that’s the case with any relationship. When you don’t see eye to eye, it’s gonna be hard. For us, being in close quarters forces us to resolve things more quickly. And I can’t imagine life any other way."
"I’ve always said that we demand a lot of our fans and expect a lot of our listeners. They kind of need to be OK with that uncomfortable ‘What is this?’ feeling. But I think the best audiences really are, and they do appreciate that variety. They see where we’re coming from. I try not to worry about the rest."
Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com