Alaska’s finest-ever export, Jewel Kilcher, is known for her deeply personal lyrics, buoyant melodies, gorgeous singing voice, and guitar-playing skills. It’s frankly annoying that one person can be so multi-talented, but it also makes sense considering how her early, raw promise was given attention and some spit ’n’ polish by both Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
To be mentored by even one of those guys would be something special. But for two of contemporary music’s greatest-ever songwriters to offer their assistance is phenomenal. Now, 22 years after Jewel recorded her debut album Pieces of You in Young’s own studio, she’s embarking on a tour performing mostly (but not exclusively) Christmas songs.
Jewel released Joy: A Holiday Collection, her first Christmas album, back in 1999 and then, 14 years later, released Let It Snow: A Holiday Collection, in 2013. This year’s tour — which brings her to San Jose on Wednesday, Nov. 29 — sees her playing her first holiday concerts, and she says that she keeps coming back to Christmas songs because she considers them part of the great American songbook. Christmas music has always been a big part of the holidays for her family, both growing up and now that she has her own child, and she sees these shows as a chance to literally spread that joy.
“My family’s coming out on the road, which is a completely self-serving excuse to be around my family and get them out of Alaska — have my son be around them,” Jewel says. “For me, it’s a win-win on this Christmas tour.”
That desire to create music that she can enjoy with her family also led to her two albums of children’s music: 2009’s Lullaby, and 2011’s The Merry Goes ’Round, both of which are a blessed release for parents of small children who can’t bear to listen to one more second of Barney or The Wiggles.
“I felt like, for whatever reason, people tend to throw these types of records away,” Jewel says. “They don’t always spend as much on production, or they don’t spend as much time with the arrangements. So they can be a bit difficult to listen to and consume, for me. I try to make records with a warmth and a tone and a sound and production that I would enjoy hearing. I was listening to the children’s records and it was literally like stabbing my ears out with a pencil because it was so bright and tinny, and just unbearable.
“Your poor kids don’t know better,” she adds. “I wanted to make records that were well-written, well-crafted, that hopefully have lyrical turns and twists, and that were well enough produced that the whole family would like them. Not constantly trying to turn it off every other song.”
It would seem to be a no-brainer that children growing up listening to Jewel sing lullabies would later be attracted to her “grown-up” music, but it’s too early to check on those results. For now, the musician is content to see people so young loving any of her music.
“It’s bizarre to see 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds saying that they’ve listened to my lullaby albums every day,” she says. “Gosh, time flies. Little infants being raised on the music, and it’s fun to see parents who love my music, that are sharing that with their children in this way. And it’s been effective — their children really love the music, and it helps them be soothed. I’ve had a lot of college kids say that they listen to my lullaby records in traffic or when they’re studying.”
College kids self-soothing is a new concept on us, but it does sound strangely feasible, especially with the mood on college campuses being what it is. With Jewel considering her next album of original material, the follow-up to 2015’s Picking Up the Pieces, she’s forced to contemplate how much impact current political and social issues will have on her writing.
“Bob Dylan and Neil Young took me under their wings, and they really instilled in me that a songwriter’s duty is to talk about society but not to be dogmatic,” she says. “I’d rather encourage people to ask questions than tell them what to think. In today’s environment, I would just encourage people to realize that our political leaders have never determined our personal happiness. There isn’t a bureaucracy that can govern that, and if you want to give that power away so quickly, to any leader, no matter what side of the fence you’re on, I would question it. Oddly, because of the way I encourage people to look beneath the surface and get to know one another, I actually have a really diverse fanbase that tolerates one another. I really hope it’s something that we can continue to work on as a country — instead of seeing us as separate, see us as what does make us the same. What are our values underneath our political leanings and the type of hat we’re wearing?”
Jewel plans to work on that album next year, though she hasn’t started writing it because she’s working on countless other things, from her Never Broken Foundation, a self-help guide with the tagline “Make happiness a habit, to her Hallmark movies, The Fixer Upper Series, which she produces and stars in. Add to that the fact that she’s raising a child, and it sees impossible that she’ll ever record another album. But she will.
“I’ve really been wanting to focus on singing, so it’ll probably be a very singer-driven record,” she says. “I’ve been looking for alternative ways in the destabilized music industry to create an income for myself that doesn’t rely just on touring, as a mom. Because I have a 6-year-old.”
When she gets to the Bay Area this week, Jewel will be excited to hang out with the friends that she has made here over the years. She’ll have her family with her, because some of them, the fellow musicians, will be up on stage singing and playing with her at certain points. But that’s what this tour is about: a celebration. But if you’re concerned about two full hours of Christmas music, don’t be.
“I come from a very musical family, and so I’m excited to have them open and they’ll each be highlighted during the show,” Jewel says. “I’ll do some of my hits for sure, and then maybe one off the last record. So it won’t be all holiday music.”
Jewel, Wednesday, Nov, 29, 8 p.m., City National Civic; 135 West San Carlos St., San Jose; $49.50-$69.50.