Idaho singer/songwriter Eilen Jewell has quite a bit in common with the songstress of a very similar name. They both hail from less populated regions; both blend rock, pop, folk and country; and both made a go at busking to support themselves early in their careers.
Jewell hasnt written a hit as big as Jewels Who Will Save Your Soul, but at least music has never driven her to living in a van.
It was a low-risk way of experimenting with a life as a musician, she said. I made enough money to scrape by on.
She made the transition to full-time performer using the basic lessons she learned playing curbside for change and spare dollar bills.
Its where I realized that playing songs can really put a smile on someones face, Jewell said. It helped me learn how to play in front of people. I had never really done that before. It was easing into performance and figuring out if this was something I really wanted to do.
It took a little hopping around to find the proper place to foster a career, however; she began experimenting with music during college in Santa Fe, N.M., then moved to Los Angeles to perform on Venice Beach once she opted for a guitar instead of an office job. Eventually, she found her way to Boston, where she assembled both a following and her first recordings.
It was my identity in Boston.
People didnt know me as any other person, Jewell said. I like that anonymity, and a certain amount of that is required to be creative.
There, she also found her sound, or lack thereof. The endlessly genrebending songwriter began indulging in every whim: Americana, honky-tonk, rockabilly, blues and more.
Its kind of like vintage rock n roll, cowgirl noir, she said. I dont get hung up sticking to one particular genre. I just follow my gut, and luckily, my band can keep up. I tend to write to test them and keep them on their game.
In the past five or so years, shes released four studio albums, including summers Queen of the Minor Key.
This newest record sees her doing even more toying and tinkering, not only with genres, but recording her first two instrumentals, bringing along a guest singer and injecting a little whimsy and humor into songs that had previously sounded a little more sorrowful. Even the discs title is a self-deprecating jab, plus a look at her coming legacy.
An old friend on a co-bill introduced me that way. I tend to write a lot in the minor key, and at first, it almost felt like an insult, but sometimes the best way to deal is to run with it, Jewell said. Rather than shy away, I decided to make it my thing, to own it.
Photo by Erik Jacobs