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BACKSTAGE: Chasing the Jewel in the crown

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Bernie Taupin talks to Jewel
Sunday 30 November 2003 @ 8:44 - GMT

Elton's lyricist Bernie Taupin spoke to singer Jewel for Interview magazine, published August 1, 2003:

BERNIE TAUPIN: Hey, darling, how are ya?

JEWEL: Good, nice to talk to you.

BT: How're you doing?

J: I've been really well.

BT: Congratulations on your new record. You should be proud.

J: Thanks, I appreciate it.

BT: As they used to say in children's television in England. if you're sitting comfortably, we'll begin.

J: Excellent.

BT: So, you have to humor me, but the title of your new record, 0304 [Atlantic]-explain please.

J: I didn't want the title to give away what the record sounded like. I like how clinical numbers are, so I went with 0304 because this is really a pop-culture record. I actually wrote this album to come out in June. I knew it was going to be a record that was about the years 2003 and 2004-- I wrote it in December (20021 and January [2003]. It was such a fast turnaround, so I could talk about current events, politics, pop-culture icons, and it would still be relevant.

BT: People don't necessarily associate lyrical depth with music that's dance-oriented, but you seem to have maintained your usual excellence in that department.

J: That's a super compliment coming from you. I actually wrote this album from beats. I always stayed away from electronic music because I thought there was something about it that lacked soul. But I started to think that if you're a painter, it's a silly thing to not use red or yellow ever, you know?

BT: (laughs] Right, right.

J: After 10 years of making records, I finally knew enough about technology that I could incorporate urban grooves into folk music with poetic lyrics.

BT: I always find that when you have beats and loops, it's hard to achieve any depth in the lyrics. That's why I'm interested in how you managed to do that.

J: made sure that the way the music was written, I left enough room for lyrics. A song like "Run 2 U" is really a dance beat.

BT: The song "America" is a sort of overview of the country in general. Are you disillusioned?

J: [laughs] That song is a love song. It's like when you love a child, you don't want to see the bad because you love them so much. The main idea of that song is that [there are things] I want to change (about America], but I wouldn't leave (the country] if I could. I really like living here--I love it.

BT: You bleep out the word "fucking"-why do you do that?

J: [laughs] I always get real funny about it because I curse quite a lot in my daily life.

BT: I found it very strange that you censor it- the word sticks out more because you do.

I like talking about censorship, and sometimes the best way to do that is to put it in the song. It's ironic to me. Nobody else will probably think it's very funny, but I get a kick out of it because it's silly. It's a kind of denial.

BT: You tend to throw social commentary into a song that could be a romantic ballad or a simple look at the human condition. Do you do that consciously?

J: Probably. I feel a little uncomfortable when something seems too one-dimensional, It doesn't look like life to me-nothing is simple.

BT: I think a lot of people are going to be listening to your record because it really is a great summer album. There are songs like "2 Find U," on which the chorus is almost Abbaesque [Jewel laughs]-which in my mind, isn't a bad thing. But there is this tremendously joy. ous pop sound. Did you want to make a record people would dance to?

I: I did. I'd never done that before, but we were headed to war, and I knew the economy was probably going to be unstable for a while. I looked at what music did well during times of strain, like Big Band during World War II. People want an escape. They want to crowd into a room and press up against someone and feel young and sexy.

BT: So what you're saying is the general consensus among a lot of people in our business: Maybe we want to make people smile again.

J: That's what I wanted, and I felt like I knew how to do it.

BT: I really loved your last record (This Way] too. I spend a lot of time in my truck on the road, and that record evoked a restlessness and yearning for space. I know that "Till We Run Out of Road" was inspired by rodeo living, but were other songs on that album about that lifestyle?

J: I actually wrote a lot of those songs quite a while ago. "Love Me, Just Leave Me Alone," "Cleveland"-a lot of those I'd written when I was around 20.

BT: The one I really love is "Everybody Needs Someone Sometimes." It's a little more quirky than the rest.

J: I really wanted to write a rock song, so I just sat down, and for some reason, that's what I came up with. I had written a short story a long time ago, and the main character was this guy named Spivey Leeks, who looked like a potato shoved in jeans, and he finally surfaced in the song-years later. [both laugh]

BT: I love that! I think it's safe to say that you were a folkie at the time, but your first album, [Pieces of You, 1995], always evoked an updated Joni Mitchell to me. Was she an influence?

J: I got more into her after that record came out. I got compared to her a lot. She's fantastic. But I was completely unworthy. It's really daunting to be compared to Joni Mitchell when you're 18. [laughs] Flattering nonetheless.

BT: I'm always interested in influences.

J: My dad listened to Irish folk music, which I always enjoyed--it was really angry.

BT: Well, they had a lot to be angry about. [both laugh]

J: It moved me. I've always been moved by political upheaval. My favorite writers are people like Mikhail Bulgakov, who wrote under extreme political censorship. I always found that really fascinating. Literature affects my writing a lot; J definitely came from a reading background.

BT: That's you and I both. So, what are you listening to these days?

J: I'm really into Sarah Vaughan. I tend to go for vocalists. And I'll go through years where all I listen to is Nina Simone. When I was working on This Way [2001], I listened to her constantly.

BT: How do you feel about the promotional roundabout? Is it easy for you? Is it hard?

J: I've come to appreciate it. I think you can take [success] for granted. I was uncomfortable with it for the first 10 years, but I'm starting just now to have fun with it. I have such a strong life outside of music, on the ranch. So when I'm in that world, I'm able to be in it because I know I can get away. But for me, it's exciting, because this album was the highest debuting record of my career--and my goal has always been to be around for a while. To do that, you have to keep your emotional and mental state well.