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Eilen Jewell: The World Needs More Americana

Eilen Jewell (pronounced EE-lin) will be bringing her brand of American roots music to the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival. She'll be on the bill with musicians from all corners of the globe and the musical world, like the Creole Choir of Cuba, the Orchid Ensemble, a swing band from Sweden and the iconic Mavis Staples.

She says her music, with its blues, rockabilly, country and jazz influences, will fit right in.

"We're an eclectic mix, just like world music is," Jewell says, speaking from her hotel room in Austin, Texas where she is relaxing before a show. She adds that her music is in some ways influenced by Mavis Staples.

Annie Corrigan: Let's say you run into Mavis Staples at the festival. What would you say to her?

Eilen Jewell: I've met her before, and she's extremely nice. She's really fun to talk to, so I really feel like having already broken the ice with her, I could say just about anything. I think it would be a really fun and positive experience just because she's that kind of person. She just radiates positivity and warmth, and she's just really really sweet. She signed my guitar, so maybe I would show her that and thank her for it.

Vintage Rock Groove

AC: "Queen of the Minor Key" is your new album. Just because the tunes on this album are in the minor mode doesn't mean they're all downers. Quite the opposite there are plenty of toe-tappers, and a lot of them have this infectious swing to them. Let's take Bang Bang Bang, for instance. Talk me through what you think gives that song its catchy and fun vibe.

EJ: It's one of my first attempts at humor in a song. It pokes fun at Cupid. Even though it's a little bit twisted and dark, because it talks about Cupid having a gun instead of a bow and arrow, it's still tongue-and-cheek. It's meant to be laughed along with, or laughed at, you could say. It kind of has a groove, like a CCR (Credence Clearwater Revival) song. It's kind of meant to be danced to, and it's meant to groove along with. It's not really cerebral in any way. It's my commentary on love.

Put The Hat Out

AC: You took piano lessons when you were a kid. I read that you were terrified of performing the regular piano recitals, but you've clearly found a way to harness your performance jitters now as a singer/songwriter/guitarist.

EJ: I think I just had an innate resistance to being the center of attention when I was a kid. I was and still am very shy, and it just took me a while to channel my nervousness and my shyness into something positive. I see nervousness today as more of an excitement as opposed to a real threat. When I was a kid, I didn't know what to do with those emotions. It's partly my youth, and partly my inexperience.

I did a lot of busking to kind of break myself out of my shell, because I knew I really liked playing music and I got a lot out of performing for people, but the jitters were just so much that I thought I could never willingly get onto a stage. Busking proved to be a really nice to transition onto a stage eventually. So, I think I needed something like that, some kind of training wheels like that, for a few years.

AC: Busking seems to me to be really tough, because you're at the mercy of any hecklers who happen to drive by. It seems to take a lot of bravery.

EJ: I would really not want to do it now. It sounds terrifying, but for whatever reason it was what I needed at that time. I kind of developed a thick skin from doing that. I found it very rewarding.

AC: I'm glad you talked about busking, because we have a great busking scene in Bloomington, especially at our weekly Saturday morning farmers market. Give some advice or words of wisdom to busking musicians.

EJ: I would say that if it's something you enjoy, keep at it and focus on the positive aspects of it. I know it can be difficult, but if you just follow your groove and do what feels right to you, then it'll always be rewarding. Don't get caught up on the people that pass by. Try to focus on the people who stop and listen and smile and enjoy what you're doing.

The Rigors Of The Road

AC: I was looking at your touring schedule, and basically for the entire month of September you will be playing a show in a new city every night. Then actually after you play the Lotus Festival here, you get a luxurious four days off before your next show in Virginia. First of all, how do you do it?

EJ: It is crazy. It's what we love to do, though, so it keeps us going. As it keeps us going, it also exhausts us as well. I think the way to deal with that is to just take it one day at a time and just focus on today and don't get too worried about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next day or the next, because if you start thinking too far ahead, you feel even more exhausted. So it's about being in the moment, being in the here and now, and not worrying about tomorrow.

AC: And then specifically, how do you keep your voice and your body in good condition through the day-in-day-out wear-and-tear?

EJ: I hate to say it, but I don't really do anything to help my voice. It's terrible I'm probably developing really horrible habits for my voice, at least for my voice's longevity, but I really never had any trouble with my voice. I did lose it one time in Europe. I think I just pushed it too far and lost it for a couple days. But for the most part, it's always kind of there when I need it to be. I've been really lucky in that department. I don't do anything good to help it.

AC: I hope I haven't' just jinxed you!

EJ: Yeah, maybe I should knock on wood!

AC: You have a very busy month ahead. You should definitely do that!

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