Singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell always knew she’d write
When singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell was a child, she had a hand-me-down T-shirt emblazoned with a quote from English poet John Oldham: “ ‘Tis my fate to write.”
“People would ask me, ‘Is it true? Is it your fate to write?’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, I think it is,’ ” Jewell laughs. “I was about 8 or so. I think it’s always been in my blood.”
Jewell, who plays the Magic Bag on Sunday, has left behind the plays she preferred to write as a child. But she’s remained a remarkably prolific artist, churning out almost an album of dusky, contemplative alt-country per year since making her recording debut in 2005. Even before that, she spent nearly a decade busking in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Los Angeles and Boston before conquering a long-running fear of performing onstage.
Although Jewell cites her childhood in Boise, Idaho, and her college years in Santa Fe as major musical and lyrical influences, her hometown played a particularly significant role in the creative process for her 2015 release, “Sundown Over Ghost Town.” After spending several post-college years in Boston, Jewell moved home to Boise in 2012, where she now lives in what she only somewhat jokingly describes as “the house I’m going to die in.” She notes that the new album’s title was by no means intended as a slight against her stomping grounds.
“Some people around here misinterpreted that and they thought I was calling Boise an abandoned old ghost town,” she says. “It’s a booming, wonderful city having a renaissance right now, but it’s a ghost town for me in the sense that there’re so many ghosts of my past here. Everywhere you turn there’s some little memory from childhood. It’s been interesting to confront those ghosts and write about them and bring them into the light.”
Soon after her return to Boise, Jewell started a family. She and husband Jason Beek welcomed their first child, Mavis, in 2014.
“She’s made our lives more sane and more insane at the same time,” Jewell says. “She’s added a lot of depth to the way that I view life and the world.”
Jewell says the child has pushed her into a period of “distraction” from some of her creative endeavors and cut into her usually heavy touring schedule. But she’s also begun to consider some new ways of working. Since Mavis’ birth, Jewell has released a live album of her own, and performed on another with her gospel side project, the Sacred Shakers. She says she enjoys the live recording format.
“It’s closer to the way records used to be recorded back in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll,” she says. “It feels good to me because I really am a lover of simplicity, especially in sound. It’s gotten me to thinking I’d like to approach future records more along those lines, more simple and not a lot of fuss over the post-production parts.”
Jewell is feeling less prolific these days, but as she mulls ideas for her next studio album, she tentatively suggests that her next creative endeavor might push beyond alt-country into the genre of blues.
“Some of the earliest music I discovered that wasn’t being shoved at me by mainstream radio, that I actually kind of dug up myself, was blues music,” she says. “I owe a debt of gratitude to that genre.”
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
7 p.m. Sun.
The Magic Bag
22920 Woodward, Ferndale