Alaska Interview: Jewel

Jewel1 copyGrammy Award nominated singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and actress
—As told to Gerry Strauss

You grew up near Homer without running water or a lot of other conveniences. Did that shape your approach to your life and career?

I think that being raised on the homestead had a profound impact on the type of career I've had. I moved out [on my own] when I was 15. I didn't have a lot going for me, but I was raised by my aunts... really confident, can-do Alaskan women. I didn't have a mom around because she left us when I was 8, but I had so many aunts that were so self-sufficient. That's really the spirit of Alaska.

My aunts always figured out how to do everything from shoeing horses to building their own houses. They didn't wait around for men to help them, and I don't think that anyone ever talked to me about it. It's just what I saw as an example in my life.

I felt very confident as a woman that, even though I didn't know everything, and I wasn't very well educated, that I could figure things out. I think that was so profoundly important...one of the reasons I was really able to find my way. I didn't even realize how special that was until I came down to the southern states, where there were very clearly defined gender roles and women didn't change their own tires. That's the first time I started really noticing how differently I was raised.

It also really helped me because I think Alaskan's have such a grounded spirit. It's not overly inundated with pop culture. It's friendly. There's sincerity and earnestness. Everybody that comes and visits Alaska that I bring up there are always like, "Wow. The people are so nice. They are so friendly." I love that about it, and that's how I was. I didn't show up jaded or cynical. It's something I've worked really hard to maintain and retain.

The last thing I would really say is my work ethic. I never thought in my job I was the most talented person, but I thought I could outwork anybody, because I was raised working hard. I was willing to work really hard. I didn't mind rolling up my sleeves. I didn't expect to be pampered. That gave me a real competitive edge in a lot of ways. I was very durable. I worked hard. I just was willing to grind it out.

When you began playing music locally as a teenager, what was your idea of success?

I didn't have any. I saw it as more of a blue collar job. Five-hour sets in lumberjack joints, fisherman pubs, family restaurants, bank openings. It was a job. It's funny, I've heard of a lot of girls looking in the mirror using their hairbrushes as microphones and pretending they were famous. I was never like that. I loved practicing. I loved singing, but I never had this great goal of, "Oh. I'm going to be famous one day."

When you were 15 years old, you had an opportunity to go to Interlochen Arts School, and your town came together to help you put on a show to raise money so that you could attend. Was there a strong sense in your community that there was something special out there for you?

I don't know. I think that if any kid showed that moxie and wanted to put something together like that, I think that town would rally around anybody and support it. It's a great community that way. I don't know if they thought I had anything special, but it was very touching. It was amazing to see that town rally for me and so many businesses donated little items for me to auction off. It was really lovely.
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