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Big Balls

Love Jewel. Hate Jewel. Fear her manipulative mom. Laugh at her poetry. Give her props for not fixing that snaggletooth. Marvel at her staying power. Almost seven years ago, I interviewed the fresh-from-Alaska Jewel Kilcher, before she'd sold many copies of her first album. At the time, she'd just parked the van she lived in prior to her fabled rags-to-riches saga, was happy not to be a waitress anymore, and promised herself and her growing public a long career. Two albums and a book of poetry later, Jewel is still Jewel. Emerging from a hiatus with a bull-ridin' boyfriend (rodeo champ Ty Murray), a new Nashville-tooled record (This Way) recorded with producer Dann Huff (Celine Dion, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain), Jewel seems back in the saddle. Until, literally, she was thrown from a horse during an April riding mishap. While recuperating, Jewel again answered a barrage of probing questions.

Q: How bad was your accident? What happened, exactly?

A: We had a branding in Texas (at Murray's ranch). I have a colt that a cowboy gave me, and he bucks with you a little bit when you first saddle him. So my boyfriend got on him and rode that out of him. But it wasn't out of him. As soon as I got on him, he bucked me off. Pretty wicked. I broke my collarbone and a rib.

Q: What's changed since 1995?

A: Everything has changed, and nothing's changed. Whatever ghosts you have in your head follow you anywhere, which I knew before I got into this. So far, I've been able to stay true to my goals, which were to try and create a career that would give me longevity and artistic freedom. And somehow in the meantime, I sold a shitload of records!

Q: Did that success take something away from you?

A: If you stop ringing true, then people are going to stop being touched. You have to really, really fight in this business, and you have to keep writing true. You also have to take a lot of risks and not care about record sales and not care about radio hits yet really care about how you're evolving and maturing and how you're metamorphosing as an artist. I fight for that more than anything, and it's a hard thing to fight for.

By the end of Spirit, my second record, I'd had it. For years, I quit. That was it: no more chick singer. I didn't know if I'd ever come back. I started feeling more like a pop star than something useful. It wasn't very fulfilling, and I had to do something that would make me happy. So I quit until I knew what it was. I think part of it was extreme fatigue -- I worked endlessly. Another part of it was, you know, your head gets too full with other people's voices -- statistics and things that are just garbage. As long as I can get away to the quiet and a place like I was raised with open space all around me, I can rejuvenate and feel pretty gregarious and forthcoming again.Q: Did you really think about quitting music for good, abandoning your childhood dream?

A: When you're 18, you dream a dream, and when you're 25, it may not look like you anymore. And you've got to face that. I could have continued for quite a few more years, living on the vapors of something that truly wasn't me any longer. It would be like a tree that has died but is still standing. And unless I found something that made me burn again, that made me need it again, I just wasn't going to come back. It just makes me really unhappy to be that way. Fame was never enough to go, "Gee whiz, isn't this cool?" I've always been able to beat the system, whatever that means. I need to feel like I have integrity. But the game got boring -- constantly being on tour, never being home, never writing, always talking. But I do still enjoy it, and it's nice to know I'm still in love with this. I was definitely worried I wasn't.

Q: Why did you make your new album in Nashville?

A: I like it there because a lot of people just want to make a record. They don't care if your haircut's the coolest or what the Goo Goo Dolls' latest guitar tone was -- you know, all that shit that sort of insidiously creeps into a record. Or you suddenly have this producer trying to give you his idea of what radio sounds like. I wanted to get away from all of that and find a producer that would do nothing but, well, my bidding, really. And Dann was that guy. He has an ego that's really in check. He was there to make a record for me. That may sound strange to you, but I can't tell you how important that is. This is the first record that sounds like me.

Q: Have writers asked you about some of your chores on Murray's ranch -- like castrating bulls?

A: Yes, quite a few have asked. But I mean, I don't think it's a big deal. I mean, golly, it's just part of life. I got a letter from somebody saying, "Do you enjoy their pain?"

Q: How did you and Moby become friends?

A: He was playing a little show here in San Diego, no more than 200 people. A friend and I went backstage, and we just hit it off instantly. He's a fax friend: He draws cartoons and I draw cartoons, and so we send each other faxes.

Q: Doesn't he give you shit about rodeo's treatment of animals?

A: He's curious about it, but Moby's never given me shit. Moby's not didactic at all -- he does what he believes in, but he doesn't act like a Nazi. Plus, it isn't an issue because there isn't an unfair treatment of animals, in my opinion. A lot of that is mythology; I don't know how it got built up. I guess people just don't have any comprehension; they don't understand because they've never been around animals. They don't understand that people are managing animals in the most humane way possible. Those animals are -- those animals cost $50,000! That's like saying people are going to abuse a car that cost them $50,000. You have to take really good care of those animals, because if they don't perform, you don't get paid. So you can't starve an animal or hurt an animal. I think the funniest argument is that people think they always put something around the bull's testicles to make them buck. (Laughs) But if you had anything around your testicles, would you buck?

Q: I'm not sure -- would I?

A: No. You'd be very still.

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Jeff Stratton
Contact: Jeff Stratton

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