If truth is what you seek in 2019, you’ll have a hard time finding it in anything the mainstream media has to offer. This pertains to the music world, especially, because most commercial artists appear disinterested in hitting people with even the slightest hint of insight regarding the complexity of the human experience.
Everything is alkalized and put into a package suitable for public consumption, which leaves some listeners with no choice but to seek out artists willing and able to satisfy their hunger for thematic substance.
For me, Eilen Jewell is one such artist. She’s rooted in the blues, well-versed in old-school country, and unafraid to put all of her influences into the pot en route to making something special. What you’ll hear on her forthcoming album, “Gypsy,” is the sound of a woman who not only knows exactly what she wants to say, but has the confidence to say it without apprehension.
I spoke with Jewell recently in advance of her upcoming show at 189 Public House on July 23, and, if you haven’t been to East Aurora yet this summer, consider this as good a time as any to make the trip.
MNOD: Your upcoming album, “Gypsy,” is the first collection of original material you’ve released since 2015. What was the recording process like?
Jewell: We tried to keep it live, meaning we all played together in one room. Sometimes, the process makes me want to pull my hair out, but this one was very rewarding. It was fun and enjoyable. I did a lot of writing during the session, so the songs were fresh in the studio.
MNOD: The lead single, “Crawl,” has a lot of thematic bite to it. How did that come about?
Jewell: I’d been working on that one for about 10 years. It really describes the tension within my personality and how I felt as if I was being pulled in two different directions. It’s a feeling that I’ve had for a long time, this sense that I want to turn everything upside down. The song captures how both sides of my personality were at odds with each other.
MNOD: “79 Cents (The Meow Song)” has the potential to be the album’s stand-out due to its political nature. Where did the inspiration for that come from?
Jewell: That started taking shape after the 2016 election, because I started thinking about being the mother of a little girl and having a president that says he grabs women by the pussy. I’m still shaken by that. There’s no particular angle or anything. I’m not pro-Democrat or anti-Republican, I just started processing why the president says the things he says and what it all means. The pay equality issue shouldn’t be politicized anyway, because it’s about doing what’s right. I’m not really a very political person, so the song was written from more of an emotional place of what it feels like to be a woman. The idea that women are worth 79 cents and men are worth a dollar is how that really came to be. I use humor as a defense mechanism sometimes to deal with difficult topics and this one worked out well.
MNOD: How did you assemble the band that plays on this album?
Jewell: It’s the band that I’ve toured and played with for a long time. My husband plays with me, so the core of the band has been with me for 14 years now. We’ve not only gotten stronger as a band, but also as humans and friends. We’ve definitely become very intuitive as a group.
MNOD: What kind of influence did Idaho have on your musical direction growing up?
Jewell: I’ve always thought of Idaho as home with a capital H. I spent my 20s and 30s away, but it was still my muse. Whenever I got homesick, I would write about it. I had every intention of coming back someday and, now that I am, I feel like Idaho is the canvas on which I paint as opposed to the place that I write about.
MNOD: Who were some of your favorite artists when you were younger?
Jewell: Bob Dylan, of course. Also, early rock ‘n’ roll and garage style music like Buddy Holly, The Kinks, and Jerry Lee Lewis. I spent the ’80s and ’90s listening to the oldies station, which primarily played songs from the ’50s and ’60s. When I was in high school, I got my first guitar at 15 and also found my dad’s record collection in the attic. There were records by Howlin’ Wolf and Mississippi John Hurt that I instantly got into. Our record player was broken and most of the music was being switched over to CDs by that point, so my dad said I could have the records. They were mine. Also, I always thought that country music was nothing but the modern sound we’re used to, but then I discovered that classic country was nothing like what we hear today. It’s like apples and oranges.
MNOD: What did your parents say when you told them that you wanted to be a musician?
Jewell: Surprisingly, they were OK with it. I knew what I wanted to do and didn’t have a Plan B. Strangely, I remember my brother telling them that he wanted to go to law school and they tried to dissuade him, but they didn’t bat an eye about me wanted to be a musician.
MNOD: You cover a Pinto Bennett song on this album. What kind of influence did he have on your career?
Jewell: He’s become a new friend of mine. I had heard his name a lot growing up, but never knew too much about him. He’s from Idaho, so we come from a similar place not only geographically but musically, as well. He made good, classic country music, so I just love his style. I wish more people knew about him. My husband Jason produced his newest album, “The Last Saturday Night,” which is said to be his last, but I hope it’s not. He’s up in age and his health is ailing. His star began rising in Nashville during the ’70s, but it just never fully took off for various reasons. He always said that he never had the whole cigar, just a few puffs. I wanted him to have the whole cigar and do my part to keep his name out there.
MNOD: What will your setlist look like when you come to East Aurora?
Jewell: We’ll be playing new songs as well as a healthy dose of the “Down Hearted Blues” album, which should be a fun mix.
Eilen Jewell plays 189 Public House in East Aurora on July 23.
See http://www.eilenjewell.com or http://www.oneeightynine.com for details.
“Gypsy” is due out in August 2019.