Jewel, Ty Murray Live the Small Town Life

They Discuss Songwriting, Rural Texas and Knowing When to Quit

Music fans admire Jewel for her introspective and melodic hit songs. Rodeo fans recognize Ty Murray for his skills at staying put when a bull doesn’t exactly want a passenger. They’ve been a couple for five or six years now, making their home in Stephenville, Texas.

On a recent morning in Nashville, they settled side by side in the CMT Radio studio to talk about her new album, Goodbye Alice in Wonderland, and their life away from the spotlight.

CMT: What was your frame of mind when you wrote your new single, “Again and Again”?

Jewel: It’s a song that reminds me of one of my first singles, “You Were Meant for Me.” It has a similar shuffle to it. “You Were Meant for Me” was this hopelessly romantic song. When you were little, you hear about love, and you think, “Oh, all I have to do is fall in love and life will get perfect.” And you actually fall in love, and you realize that it’s harder than anybody tells you. It’s like life’s cruel joke. If you keep looking for this fairytale fantasy of “love should never be hard,” then you never really stick around and fight through it. And I do think it’s worth it. “Again and Again” is like a grown-up love song. You know you’re in love when you actually stick around because otherwise you would leave when it gets that hard. But if you can, find romance in the struggle and passion in that. I think it’s really rewarding.

Ty, do you take songs like that literally?

Murray: Not really. I don’t think she’s a real literal writer. I think there will be reflections of things that are on her mind, but she doesn’t go, ’OK, we experienced A, B, C, D and E, so now I’m going to write about A, B, C, D and E.’ It’s more about an emotion. I think she writes from a perspective that can relate to everyone. It’s not, “This is me and Ty’s relationship.” It’s more about the emotions that maybe you experience in love — or whatever it is that she’s talking about — that relates to everyone. I think that’s why so many people connect with her music.

“Stephenville, TX” is very biographical. For people who have never been there, how would you both describe it?

Murray: Well, it’s a town of about 15 to 20,000 people. I say “15 to 20,000” because the sign has said 15,000 people for 15 years, so I know there are more people there than that now. It’s just a little agricultural community. There are farms and ranches and dairies there. For me, I was drawn to it because I grew up in Arizona. I came there and saw all the rolling hills and the huge trees and water everywhere and lakes and rivers and streams and a lot of grass. I was really drawn to that type of country coming from the desert.

Jewel: It’s good cow country. Just like Ty said. I really like it because I really like to be outside and write. I don’t write real good when things are too noisy and too busy. We’re both kind of hermits. We pretty much stay on the ranch all the time. There’s like one movie theater, so we’ll go to the movies. But we really don’t do anything, so a little town suits us both pretty good.

There seems to be a kind of longing in that song. Is that you missing Alaska?

Jewel: Yeah, I actually wrote that song when I was 25. I had just moved to Texas with Ty, and I had taken a break. My first record did so good and my second record did really good, and it just took off so much that I was a bit unprepared for it. I never thought I’d do that well. It was such a different lifestyle. … I took some time off. I really wasn’t ever one of those people who thought, “Boy, I can’t wait to get famous one day.” I’m a writer. I’m a voyeur, so I like to watch people. Becoming famous and having people watch me was a bit incongruous with my whole process. So I wrote that song [when] I was tired. That line — “It’s not the end, but it’s sure not where I began” — that kind of thing. It just took me this long to get it on a record finally.

On the whole, this album is more like your first one. Is this you coming full circle and finding yourself again? Is this more like what we’re going to hear from you over the next few years?

Jewel: I’ve never really thought about losing myself or finding myself. Music to me is the exact same as painting. You want to use yellow sometimes. You want to use blue another time. To me, it’s all my prerogative to do with as I see fit. It’s really my joy. I really enjoy it. … I was turning 20 on my first record. A whole phase of my life was ending, and a whole other one was beginning. With this record, the same thing was happening. Now, this is the end of my record deal. I’ve now come to the last 10 years of being on this wild amazing ride, and sort of a new phase of my life is beginning.

As for the future, I’m not really sure. I have a lot of songs with country leanings on them, and I’ve always wanted to do a more country kind of record. I’ve always tried to put kind of country songs on the record, but it hasn’t always worked out. “Stephenville TX” is kind of more country-ish, but I probably have a whole record’s worth now. I might put them all on one record. I’d like to do a jazz standards record, where I write the songs, though. That’s one of my first loves — standards music, Cole Porter-style stuff. I’ll probably keep changing around, I’m not sure, but hopefully the thing that remains the same on all of my records is the lyrics and the storytelling.

Ty, do you get caught up in the media circus?

Murray: No. I’m real happy to see her doing what she likes to do. I think sometimes it becomes a grind, but that’s the way it is with any job. In the end, she’s getting to do what she loves to do — and that’s create. The whole key to happiness is finding something that you love to do and figuring out a way to make a living at it. I understand through my involvement with the Professional Bull Riders that your fans are your consumer, and you have to get out and make it available to them. I really understand how the game is played, and I think that makes it a little easier to kind of relate to each other.

Since retiring, do you feel that urge to get back out there and compete?

Murray: No. No, not at all. I retired three years ago, going on four years. Throughout my career, even as a little kid, I was really aware that this isn’t a sport that you do until you’re 65 and then you get a gold watch. … I’ve seen too many other athletes that are the last one to know when it’s over, so I was really always conscious of that. I didn’t want to be that guy. I made a deal with myself that I would really monitor that. If I saw things starting to slip, that’s when I wanted to quit. It really worked out different than I had planned it because my drive and my desire and my love for it is what started to slip.

I think that’s because I was able to be out there long enough to do the things that I set out to do in the sport. I won the championships I had wanted to win. For me, it just started to feel like a hamster on a wheel. After a while, it was like, “What’s the point?” I felt like I had done what I wanted to do. Riding bulls is not something you want to go into half-hearted or if your mind is somewhere else. Throughout my whole career, that wasn’t ever a problem. I was so driven and it was all I thought about day and night, every day. … When I was 32 years old, it started not being that way to me anymore.

I feel real fortunate to be able to walk away from that sport and not have that longing to get back out there because I’ve seen other athletes go through it, and it looks miserable. It almost looks like somebody going through a divorce from the perspective of the one that didn’t want the divorce. For me, I’ve really never missed it a day. When I was active in riding, I would dream about it three or four nights a week, and I haven’t had a dream about it since. That part’s gone.

Jewel, do you ever feel that you didn’t want to get back out there and work?

Jewel: I’ve never wanted to stop writing and even singing for people, but the level that I’m at, that I have to do it at, what’s required at a major label and to push — yeah, that part. I sometimes take pretty long breaks. It’s been three years since my last record, and I had plenty of people saying, “You’re gone too long. You’re gone a year too long. You’ve been out of the public eye too much,” but I tend to take off as much time as I need to feel like I can sincerely gear up to do it again. What’s nice is, I can write for my whole life, and I will. I enjoy that aspect of it.

CMT Radio producer Harry Lyons contributed to this interview.