Jewel felt like she was able to channel her inner hillbilly for the role of country singing star June Carter Cash in the upcoming TV film “Ring of Fire.”
She had, after all, grown up in rural Alaska with very few amenities. And she knows something about country music.
“I grew up on a homestead with an outhouse as an Alaskan hillbilly, and I know June and her family (from Virginia) were hillbillies in their own right,” said Jewel, 38. “As an actress, it’s a challenging role. I know for actresses, the singing might make them uncomfortable. But for me, I can do the singing, but the acting is a challenge.”
The Lifetime movie, which is based on a biography of June by John Carter Cash (her son with Johnny Cash), is supposed to air this spring. But Jewel probably isn’t sitting around waiting for the movie to air — she’s got a pretty busy spring booked as she continues to find a balance between motherhood and her career.
She took the role of Carter Cash at least partly because she could have her baby, Kase, with her during filming. And on her current “Greatest Hits Tour,” she’s got Kase, now 18 months old, with her as well. In fact, she’ll have him with her when she brings her tour to Portland’s Merrill Auditorium on Sunday.
Jewel has been doing online research to find things to do with toddlers in southern Maine so she and Kase can have some fun together during any off time she might have.
“I’ve been looking for things to do with kids — children’s museums, things like that,” said Jewel, who is married to champion bull rider Ty Murray and lives in rural Texas. “I’m glad I’m able to have him with me.”
Although she is still relatively young, Jewel has been performing professionally since she was a teenager. So besides personal changes, like having a baby, she’s seen a lot of shifts in the music industry since her first major hit, “Who Will Save Your Soul,” in 1995.
A positive change for her has been the evolution of social media that allows her to interact, albeit electronically, with fans.
“For me, that’s been great. I love the Twitter,” said Jewel, who then let out a chuckle. “Huh. I said ‘the Twitter’ — just like my grandma.”
Jewel went out of her way to interact with fans about three years ago as a skit for the website Funnyordie.com, started by comedian Will Ferrell’s production company. In the skit, Jewel enters a Los Angeles karaoke bar disguised (dark wig, fake nose, enhanced rear end) as a woman named Karen who is in town attending a frozen foods convention.
After a while, her faux fellow conventioners convince her to sing, and what does Karen pick? A Jewel song, of course.
“I was a little reluctant, because I thought it might be narcissistic, but it turned out to be touching. All those folks were really pulling for Karen to make it,” she said. “It was very sweet. It reminded me of when I sang in bars and nobody knew me, yet there were people really pulling for me.”
Jewel says one negative thing about the music industry that has not changed during her career is the way labels continue to pigeonhole artists, trying to market their music narrowly so it fits into some sales report category.
She is still frustrated that one of her bigger pop hits, “You Were Meant for Me,” was never really marketed to country stations, even though she thought of it as a country song.
“It was because my label didn’t have a relationship with country stations and they just wouldn’t do it,” said Jewel. “And the industry is still that way. They want to put you in very specific boxes, but I don’t think fans experience music that way.
“Record labels are so far behind in how fans want to enjoy music. That’s why the Internet snuck up on them. My advice to bands today is to do it the old-fashioned way: Build up a fanbase, make a cheap record. Then when you do have a chance to get signed, you’ll have some leverage. Or you can get to the point where you can record independently.”
Although she doesn’t think her music fits neatly into a box — pop, folk or country — Jewel has made an effort in recent years to reach out to country radio stations and embrace country fans.
She recently did a new version of “You Were Meant for Me” with country star Miranda Lambert and The Pistol Annies that was slower and more “angsty” than the original.
“The country community is loud and proud, and they don’t want someone coming to them under false pretenses,” she said. “I didn’t mind going out and introducing myself to the country stations. I don’t feel like I’m entitled.”
Born Jewel Kilcher, Jewel grew up in Homer, Alaska, in a house without indoor plumbing. She and her father earned some of their income by singing in local bars. As a teen, she studied music at an arts academy in Michigan, and soon began writing songs and touring the country.
She was discovered in California around 1994, and her debut album on Altantic Records, “Pieces of You,” came out a year later, when she was 21. The CD became a smash hit, going platinum 12 times over and spawning three Top 20 hits: “Who Will Save Your Soul,” “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games.”
Although immediately bunched in with the sensitive female singer-songwriter genre of the mid-’90s, Jewel has preferred to experiment with different musical styles over her career, finding success each time. When she released her first country album in 2008, “Perfectly Clear,” for example, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard country charts.
For her “Greatest Hits” album, just released on Tuesday, she re-recorded some of her best-known songs, including the aforementioned “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games” with Kelly Clarkson.
One thing that has not changed for Jewel during her career is the strength of her voice, which she says she does nothing special to take care of. She doesn’t even limit the number of consecutive shows to give it a rest, as some performers might.
“I don’t like to spread a tour out too long, so I’ll do 18 shows in 18 days,” said Jewel. “I never really do vocal warm-ups. Maybe it’s because I sang in bars and did five-hour sets. I’ve just always been able to sing a lot.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: