Having lived out of her car and on the street when she was a teen, it’s understandable why Jewel carries the issue of homelessness—particularly homeless children—close to her heart. The singer-songwriter, born Jewel Kilcher, started a nonprofit in Las Vegas working with at-risk youth and has lobbied on Capitol Hill for more protections for children.
The nonprofit, Jewel Never Broken, is what brought film director Rotimi Rainwater to Las Vegas several years ago as he filmed the experiences of homeless youth for a new project. Eventually, Jewel herself jumped aboard the film, “Lost in America,” as an executive producer. And now, as the film nears its theater debut (and subsequent Netflix streaming), she has released “No More Tears,” a song from its soundtrack. It’s the preamble to what’s sure to be a busy 2020 for Kilcher, who is releasing a book and her first new album in five years and marking the 25th anniversary of her diamond RIAA-certified debut, Pieces of You.
“Anything that can really serve as a good mouthpiece, that can reach a lot of people raising awareness for this issue, I find worthwhile,” Jewel said of the film. “A lot of what we struggle with and what works against us is a lack of awareness and empathy for who and what these kids are, and what they’re going through.”
“Lost in America,” which Jewel co-produced with actresses Halle Berry and Rosario Dawson, tells the story of youths who live on the streets and how they got there. Those who have a choice typically choose the street over the alternative because it’s safer than the alternative, she explained. Many have been abused, disowned because of their gender or sexual orientation, and in most cases, unable to find work because there are strict limitations on how much youths can work.
At the same time, other people pigeonhole them as being lazy, something Jewel said she’s heard over and over again. She’s followed the conversation over the growing homeless epidemic in the Bay Area and has partnered with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, who has also lobbied for more rights and protections for the homeless in San Francisco.
Jewel also said she has a relative in the Bay Area who works to improve the lives of disadvantaged people here, including homeless youths.
“They’re incredibly vulnerable to being leveraged and taken advantage of and abducted—500,000 a year, I think, die on the streets,” she said.
Jewel wrote “No More Tears,” also the first taste of her 2020 album, specifically for the film. As she saw the stories of the children pieced together, she reflected back on her own experience. She grew up poor in Alaska before making her way to California to pursue music. Before she was discovered and incited a label bidding war, she was destitute.
“You know those moments when you think there’s just no way things are going to change or turn around for you,” she said of the heartfelt piano ballad. “The resolve it takes for any of these kids not to have killed themselves means that they have a tremendous capacity for life. They want to live.
“When you invest in yourself and you invest in that humanity; when you assign yourself some value when nobody else has, it’s a real act of defiance. Life does get better; life can turn around if you stay tenaciously focused on that. There really is a beautiful future waiting, and that’s what I wanted to write this song about—to give them hope.”
The song will also be on Jewel’s new album that will be released in March or April. She described her new songs as emotionally and lyric-driven, which has been her niche since the beginning, but also more soulful.
Thematically, the songs cover the gamut, from the personal to more socially conscious numbers. She said two of them are called “Half Life” and “Nothing But Love.”
“As a singer-songwriter, I’ve always felt like it’s my privilege to look at the world around me and reflect it from social commentary,” she said.
For the first time ever, Jewel wrote all of the songs from scratch rather than picking and choosing from a bank of existing material.
“I’ve never actually had to write a record [before] and I didn’t want to do that for this one,” she said.
Jewel has previously written a book of poetry, a memoir and children’s books, several of which became New York Times Best Sellers. To mark the silver anniversary of her breakthrough debut album, she has written a new autobiographical book.
“It’s about change and looking at the metrics of what change [is] and how most of us grow and become different, but we don’t actually achieve change,” she said. “It’s a book about … neural wiring and how we create our reality through a series of emotional bonds and how to detach those and reattach them.”
The idea came to her after inspecting the apparent change in her own life. On the outside, she went from homeless to successful. But behind the scenes, she continued struggle with the same demons.
“You know, I went from a girl in Alaska with an outhouse and no running water to the cover of TIME magazine,” she said. “But at the same time, I was having the same experiences over and over. … It went from mountain scenery to, you know, beach scenery. But I was on the same road, sort of having the same experience. And some of those experiences weren’t great. I was experiencing betrayal and loss over and over to the point where mathematically they couldn’t be a coincidence. There must’ve been something I was missing. I wasn’t actually changing. That’s what really prompted the book.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.