Eilen Jewell Talks Diapers, Burritos and a Van Called White Lightnin’

June 16, 2015

Tell us about your tour vehicle.

My ride is a big, white 2009 Ford Econoline. I call it White Lightnin’. It has nearly 200,000 miles on it. I bought it gently used the year it was made, with maybe 20,000 miles on it. Less than a year later the transmission died while I was on tour with my band in Indiana. A dealer in Indianapolis fixed it for us, but it took about a week. In the meantime, we managed to avoid canceling any shows by renting a large SUV. We crammed everything and everyone in there: all four of us, all of our amps, drums, luggage and equipment. We strapped the upright bass to the roof. We looked like the Joad family coming down the road. Of course, it rained. It was a long week.

How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?

Chipotle has become a pretty big part of my road life. And the free hotel breakfast is a reliable go-to for oatmeal and bananas.

How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?

I think I’ve only broken about five strings ever. That amounts to approximately seven dollars in 36 years, or a little over 19 cents per year—not bad.

Where do you rehearse?

We rehearse at Jamspot in Somerville, Mass. We’ve been using their facilities for years and it always works out great for us. I recently became a mother for the first time. The wee one and I are never apart for more than a couple of hours, so now when we rehearse we bring the baby and a grandparent to watch her. It’s not rock n’ roll crazy, but it feels crazy in a new sense when grandpa opens the door to the rehearsal studio and says, “Come change her. She’s poopy.”

What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?

It was called “Easter Bunny”. It started like this: “Here he comes a-walking down the street, bringing eggs to the boys and girls. Oh, that Easter Bunny.” I was seven.

Describe your first gig.

I was 21, and it was at a place called the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I got really nervous and drank too much gin. It was supposed to be a residency, but they canceled us after the first show. I wonder why.

What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?

My last day job was also my favorite one. I was an on-call substitute nanny for an agency in Boston. Typically, parents would call the agency when their regular nanny called in sick, or if their child wasn’t well enough to go to school that day. I would rush on over to the rescue and hang out with their little one while they went to work. I met a lot of wonderful kids that way.

How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?

It’s definitely increased a lot. I hope it continues to do so. I have a lot of diapers and burritos to pay for.

What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?

Taking the show on the road sounds dreamy and all, and sometimes it is, but it’s also a lot of very unglamorous, very difficult, and very boring work. All career paths have their pros and cons. I don’t regret choosing this particular path for myself, but I wish I could talk to the me of ten years ago and say: Look, kid. Don’t romanticize it. See it for what it is and you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Crafting a unique style that mixes poetic ballads with swinging rockers, Eilen Jewell ranks among the best in the Americana genre today. As the reigning Queen of the Minor Key, Jewell leads a tight quartet who blend influences of surf-noir, early blues, rockabilly, and 1960s era rock and roll. Over the course of a decade, Eilen and her band have toured relentlessly. They have performed for legions of fans from Boston to Boise and Madrid to Melbourne at festivals, theaters, rock clubs and coffeehouses. Eilen’s fans marvel at her warmth, unique wit, and onstage humor alongside her beautiful songs and fiery performances.

Jewell’s fifth studio album, Sundown Over Ghost Town will be released May 26th (Signature Sounds). The album was recorded with Eilen’s longtime road band and special guests in her hometown of Boise, and is composed of twelve stunning, original compositions that feature some of her most personal stories yet.

Connect with Jewell online and on the road.