As the national ambassador for ReThink, Jewel is currently working on getting people to rethink their perceptions of public housing. Star caught up with the singer about her involvement in the campaign, her personal story of homelessness, motherhood, marriage and more. And don’t forget to check out ReThinkHousing.org by May 14th to tell the singer “why housing matters,” and she’ll use it as inspiration for a song! The winner will get to fly to LA to meet her and hear an exclusive performance.
Tell us about your involvement in this campaign.
I’m working on a campaign called ReThink: Why Housing Matters and it’s really a public awareness campaign to encourage people and challenge people to rethink! It’s fascinating, you know? I grew up on a homestead for quite a bit of my life and I also lived in Anchorage, where my best friend was in public housing, and I lived with her for a few years. We were very aware of what people thought of us and were very aware of what people thought about the community.
I’m sure that you could name all of the stereotypes that I think are on the top of everybody’s list — They must be violent, they must do drugs, they’re lazy, it’s a free ride — and it’s amazing to know that none of that is true! There have actually been studies that show that it has more to do with the area code than the actual public housing. But there are plenty of public housing communities that are in good neighborhoods and there is no violence. There’s no damage to the neighborhood in any way.
So, I think that’s really a tremendous misconception that’s causing a lot of resistance from public housing being put in better area codes. There’s this real gap of people saying, “We love our neighbors, we love our nannies, we love our landscapers — but we don’t want them to live near us.” It’s really awful! And I think that people assume that people in public housing get a free ride, but that’s a complete myth and anyone who says that is wrong. They’re all paying rent, they’re all paying electrical and paying their utilities, and it’s not a fre ride, but it’s reduced affordable housing. It’s a really tall order and unless you have some help, you’re never going to make it.
You have been homeless before. Do you ever stop to think about how far you’ve come?
Oh, constantly! It’s been a lot of my focus and I’ve always been paying a lot of attention to try and make sure that I didn’t turn into a statistic, because I knew that was a distinct possibility for me.
What is the most rewarding part about helping those who are in the same shoes you used to be in?
For me, I love being able to talk with people and connect and help challenge perception. All of us are kind of aware of where America is right now and it’s very fractioned and it’s very polarized. The only way to fix that, really, is being able to see the whites of each other’s eyes. That’s one of the reasons why I really love this campaign.
There is a contest right now that we’re running and we’re asking people to write in what “home” means to them. They can submit a sentence, a paragraph or a few pages about having a home and what having a home means. We’ll pick ten winners and I’ll write a song based on what those ten winners have said. Then we’ll pick one finalist and they’ll get to come out to LA and hear me sing the song. It’s pretty fun!
Which one of your songs relates to this organization the most?
I would probably say “Pieces of You,” because that is the song that probably challenged people the most about how we label people. So I’m going to go with “Pieces of You” — may it shock a new generation!
You are currently working on a new album. What can we expect?
This is a bookend to my first album, Pieces of You, so it’ll have a similar spirit. It’s just by myself, no label — completely indie. No genre, no singles, no rules — and I have no idea what it’ll be, but it felt really good for my soul. I’ve been in a place in my personal life and obviously my musical life gets reflected in that. I was struggling and this album was really about me being able to reconnect with my own voice and my own thoughts and standing up for that.
Where do you pull inspiration for your music?
I think everything. For me, writing is sort of just a side effect of being alive. I’m alive, therefore, I write. It’s everything. It’s about my aspirations for what I want for myself as a human because I have a child and how much courage that gives you to try to be the best version of yourself that you can be so that your child has that as an example of an emotional, courageous person.
Everything — it all ends up in my music. For me, it’s learning how to partner with radio in a different way. It’s working directly with radio instead of going through a label. It’s using social media and engaging the social fan base that I have, and it’s hopefully making the right product first and foremost and letting the fans find their way to it. If you make good music, hopefully word of mouth should do its job. It will just take a longer process, but that’s fine with me.
How has being a mom changed you?
It’s really fortunate to be in this stage of my career where I am when I have a child. I’ve always kind of went against the rules. I think I took two years off after my second album. Like, people don’t do that! That’s what they call career suicide! I just don’t care.
I want my life to be my best work of art and I don’t want my art to be my best work of life. I think I’d feel like a total a–hole if I looked back and go, ‘My art was the best work of my life?’ I really hope my life is the best work of my life! And that means you really have to find a balance. you can’t do it all and you have to say no, and you have to turn extraordinary opportunities down, and you have to turn your greater celebrity down, but it’s been worth it for me.
Having a child has taken it all to a new level for me and I think it’s one of the big reasons that I’m not going back to a label. I just don’t want to do what it takes to promote a record for them and they deserve that if you sign on. I just don’t want to do it! I want to figure out how to release a record and be a mom and not be on the road for three to four months at a time. I want to be there for him and have a good, stable home life where I’m not gone all the time. I’m reinventing my entire career so I can do it, but to me, that’s exciting.
Has having a child affected your marriage in any way?
I really love the fact that having a child has change everything, you know? It’s like, you don’t know how a child will change things, but it really does and it effects on such a deep soul level. I know it’s made my husband and I really want to be the best versions of ourselves that we both can be. We both are really concerned about being the best parents possible.
Do you see more kids in your future?
You know, I don’t think that I will! I’m 40, so I figure my eggs are in wheelchairs. But we’ll see!
You looks flawless! What are your beauty secrets?
I’m going to be 40 in May, so I guess I just shouldn’t round up — I’m still 39! I drink a lot of water and I think that has to be really good. I love coconut oil and I eat a lot of fats. I really think that has to help my skin a ton! I ingest an unusual amount of fat. I take really good care of myself nutritionally because I’ve had bad kidneys since I was young, so I try to stay pretty healthy!
Being in Hollywood, you see so many of these young kids go down very dark paths. How do you and Ty plan to keep Kase on the straight and narrow?
You know, we actually talk about it a lot. We talk with other parents because we find ourselves in a position we didn’t ever think we’d be in. We were both raised really poor, and we’re affluent, and that’s a very weird thing — to be raising a child with money. I really believe that spoiling a child really erodes their ability to believe they can count on themselves instead of constantly being used to somebody doing things for them. Their confidence really suffers.
For me, it’s really committing myself to letting him learn and grow and experiment in age appropriate ways and not protecting him from age appropriate heartbreak. You know, scraped knees and failed experiences, because that’s really where we learn our character and start to have a relationship with ourselves. I want him to build a relationship with himself and learn what he’s capable of, and we rob them of that when we give them everything.
Who would you say are your best friends in the music industry?
Jennifer Nettles I really love! She’s a fellow mom and we get along great. Miranda Lambert I love. I met her back on Nashville Star and it was really neat to hear her know some of my songs, and her inspiration for songwriting is really great. I just love what she’s doing and the path she’s following. Blake Shelton and I did Nashville Star ages ago, so he’s great. Reba I really adore.
I love the country music side because everyone is so chill. The awards shows are so fun because your friends with so many of them and everybody’s down to earth and nobody is posturing, trying to be more famous than you. It’s really just filled with really down to earth, really great people. I’ll run into mega superstars like George Strait and he’s like, ‘How’s Kase doing?!’ and I’m like, ‘He pooped the potty for the first time tonight!’ I’m backstage at the ACM’s telling George Strait that my son just pooped like a big boy. That defines country to me. Nobody is trading on hipness and coolness. Everyone is trading on sincerity, and I love that. It makes me comfortable!
REPORTING BY: LINDSAY FARBER