With her sweet smile, flawless skin and short blond curls hanging loosely as though to frame her face, it's hard to imagine Jewel ever traveling anything other than a smooth road. Though her journey hasn't always been easy or ordinary, her chart success in several musical genres has led to her home in country music.
Her new album, Sweet and Wild, is currently in the Top 10 of Billboard's country chart, and she recently introduced a new single and video, "Satisfied."
During a recent interview with CMT.com, Jewel revealed the inspiration behind Sweet and Wild as well as her eternal quest to find -- as she likes to call it -- her "pursuit of liberty."
"I take our founding fathers' words pretty literally -- the right to pursue liberty and pursuit of happiness," she said. "For me, that means having a varied and fun, happy existence -- and learning what makes you happy -- is really important."
For example, "Satisfied," a song she co-wrote with Taylor Swift's frequent co-writer, Liz Rose. Jewel and Rose crafted a song focusing on the emotions of knowing what leads to personal contentment. As the song suggests, the road to satisfaction and ultimate happiness is to love one another. Her lyrics boast, "'Cause the only real pain your heart can ever know is the sorrow of regret when you don't let your feelings show."
"When you're a kid, you think you've got to do these things to figure out how to be happy," she said. "Not everybody learns how to be happy naturally. Some people have to learn it. I had to learn how because I wasn't necessarily raised in a happy household, and I think if you aren't raised learning how to be happy, you don't really know how."
"I had to teach myself how -- and that's like learning to walk," she explained. "When you learn to walk as a kid, you take it for granted. But when you're 30 and you have to learn how to walk all over, it's difficult. And that's how learning to be happy is. I think if you want to be happy, you have to figure out what is happiness, and so it's kind of a two fold-problem."
Jewel worked to find happiness within her own life. Through an introspective process, she was able to discover her inner peace. She explained that her contentment consisted of finding a certain balance between creative expression and, as she describes it, not letting that art "become the gilded cage you feel beholden to."
In fact, she has always been drawn to writers who have made her feel as though she were looking in a mirror and seeing her own reflection in their words. Attracted to those who weren't afraid to expose their darker emotions, she fancied writers such as Charles Bukowski and Anais Nin.
"I like the gritty writers that wrote about the not-so-pretty parts ... that weren't afraid to show you their ugliness as well as their heroism," she said. "I think a lot of writers and artists can use art to make themselves seem more perfect than they are, and I think it can create the illusion of a distance between you and the listener or you and the artist. They seem perfect and beautiful, but it can feel isolating as a listener."
Admiring bold artists such as Loretta Lynn with her daring tunes like "The Pill" and "Fist City," she tried to intertwine this assertive style with her favorite poetic undertones.
"But always tell the truth," she said of crafting a song. "I always try and tell the secret when I'm writing. My heroes were singer-songwriters. To me, that's different than just being a songwriter or just being an artist. I think a singer-songwriter has the responsibility to tell the truth about what's happening in their life and in society.
"To me, what separates a singer-songwriter from the rest is that sort of responsibility to do that. And whether you're talking about Merle Haggard or Bocephus [Hank Williams Jr.] talking about their life, you also have Joni Mitchell and Neil Young talking about their life -- and I think it's courageous and something I've tried to do my whole career as I've grown and changed."
Throughout her current 11-track album, Jewel intersperses upbeat and wild mixes like "No Good in Goodbye," "I Love You Forever" and her first single from the album, "Stay Here Forever," with sweet songs such as "Summer Home in Your Arms," "Satisfied" and "Ten." The deluxe edition of Sweet and Wild also provides the rare opportunity to hear each song broken down acoustically on a second disc titled Sweet and Mild.
"When you hear the song -- just the song -- it's like seeing a kid," she said. "They aren't told yet what they have to grow up and be. When you produce a song, you are going to pick a genre because you're going to pick where it's going to get played on the radio. So it gets dressed up in clothes -- either blue jeans or it's a business suit -- and that's where it really gets defined. A genre can get defined in the production for me. When they're just a song, they can go any way. You could hear them as a rock, a pop song, a folk song or a country song because it's just writing and storytelling."
To promote her new album, she condensed what would have been months of weekend touring by hitting 20 cities in June. The solo acoustic tour wrapped up Sunday (June 27) in Seattle.
"It's really hard to move people to tears and make them just fall over laughing when you're with a band," she said. "And when I'm solo acoustic, I can do that."
Jewel, who married rodeo champion Ty Murray in 2008, says she's especially grateful to do what she loves for a living while being able to balance her creativity with life and family.
"For me, really simple stuff makes me happy, and a lot of it's just having the people you love around you and sometimes it just takes realizing what actually makes me happy and what is really satisfying to me," she said.
Using Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck as an example, she said, "Steinbeck, one of my favorite novelists, I think died estranged from his family. And so what cost is great art? Seeing what kind of life I want to have -- what I want to end up like -- my decisions now are going to affect that. Because you can spend your entire life chasing the wrong thing and get down the road and be on your deathbed and look back and go, 'I missed the point.'"