As she began to write regularly in her teens, Jewel found that some of her biggest influences weren’t songs at all, but literature, like Plato’s Symposium, a favorite in her younger days. “I was really into the classics–then I got into poetry–which was really good for me,” she says. “It really changed my writing from a dry kind of intellectual crap drivel, to more emotional-based writing.”
Nowadays she counts a lot of Latin poets among her favorites (Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz), as well as English poets like Charles Bukowski and essayist Anais Nin. She still writes quite a bit of poetry on her own, especially at a time like this, when she’s promoting an album and a little tired of talking about music all the time. Rarely, though, do those poems morph into songs.
“Sometimes a line might stand out or work its way into a verse,” she says.
“But generally, I wrote it in that form because I thought that was its perfect form. Otherwise, I would have written it as a song. I’ve never really been able to take a poem and set it to music or anything. It’s like trying to put a building into a fountain or something; they just don’t fit.”
Jewel gets a chance to take a breather from her own music by co-writing, which sometimes brings her to Nashville. Though she writes the bulk of her albums solo, she’s teamed up with other songwriters on tunes for other artists such as up-and-coming country singer Jason Michael Carroll and Australian Idol winner Kate DeAraugo. It’s a process she enjoys immensely, and a breath of fresh air from the promotional grind.
“For me, it’s like I get to write stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily get to do myself…because when you write for your own records it’s all taken so seriously and it says something about you,” she says. “When you write for someone else, it’s just an exercise in writing, for the pure skill of it, the pure love of it. It just lets me stretch out.”
But there’s also some adjustment involved. In Nashville, songwriting is often done by appointment, with a group of people sequestered in a room for hours trying to dream up a hit. It’s very different from the process of her writing her own songs, which can happen any time, any place. She frequently sits down with “just a feeling”–no title, no words, no thought of style or structure–and just lets it come to her organically. But not all songwriters operate that way, especially when they’re working in groups.
“Some writers really hate the unknown,” she says. “They want to sit down with something solid, which is fine…I can totally go with that. But I know that if I start with nothing I’ll end up with something. I’m fine sitting down with a perfect stranger and just finding it–following that invisible thread.”