Jewel: Out of Alaska

She's a singer, a writer, an actress who's just as happy surfing, skiing or doing a spot on welding. So where does she find the time for quantum physics?
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The singer Jewel Kilcher, 27, was raised in Alaska and left for California at 15. She got a record contract before her 18th birthday and has since sold 23 million albums. She made her acting debut in Ride with the Devil and has published two books. Jewel has a house in San Diego and a ranch in Texas, which she shares with her boyfriend, champion cowboy Ty Murray, 32.

How do you think of yourself, a singer, a writer or an actress?

I guess I just think of myself as being creative. If tomorrow I could only do one thing, it would probably be writing. It wouldn't even have to be public, simply writing songs or poetry. I find that if I just start doing something else, my writing is much better when I come back to it.

Do you sometimes miss the carefree life back on the Alaskan homestead?

Certain things were great, yes, and it might sound odd but I really miss the land. Your eyes get so used to seeing a certain kind of topography and I just wasn't prepared for how noisy it was outside Alaska. I've always got quite melancholy and depressed on the road.

Is it true that your grandfather invented the snowmobile?

Yes, he was quite smart. He also designed a power plant in Alaska so innovative that almost all power plants in America have been modelled after that one.

Are you into your snow sports?

I grew up cross-country skiing, and competed at school and regional levels, but I never did downhill – that was a rich person's sport. I really enjoyed cross-country: it was very quiet and very peaceful. I don't get a chance to do it much now, though – there isn't a lot of skiing in California or Texas.

And you're a keen surfer as well

Yes, I enjoy surfing quite a lot. I have a house in California and tend to go out there. I learned how to surf after I moved from Alaska. It's about finding the open space in cities. With the ocean, at least you have some sort of horizon.

What else do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I have a horse in San Diego, so I work with that quite a bit. The things I enjoy most are the things I was raised with. I work with cattle a lot when I'm in Texas, and I enjoy chores and physical labour. I've been learning to rope calves and arc-weld. I also read a ton.

What are you reading now?

I enjoy quantum physics – it's like a hobby. I've always been a bit of a science freak, really. I grew up on all the classics. My grandfather made me read Nietzsche when I was 14. I'm just fascinated by how science and mathematics separated themselves from mysticism. I'm reading a book right now by Benjamin Wooley, who's a countryman of yours. It's a bunch of research crammed into chronological order about a man who was the first to marry mathematics with science.

Which character in fiction do you most identify with?

I'm quite capricious and I have moods where I'm terribly gregarious and others where I'm like a Dostoyevsky character – lost in my mind and I can't get out of it.

How does the new album compare with your previous records?

Oddly enough, this record reminds me of Pieces of You – about 10 years later and fleshed out more. The only thing I regret about Pieces of You was that the cheeky lyrics and the irreverence never really came across because the music was so pretty. I enjoyed This Way in that I was able to sing the way I do live, and record a lot of material that I've done live for years: it's a bit rawer.

What are your worst qualities?

I'm quite impatient and I'm very judgemental with myself. I'm actually a lot better now but at one point it was crippling. I got so psychotic that I wouldn't let myself leave the hotel room on days off as a punishment for not speaking well during an interview. I had a lot of the eccentricities you'd associate with writers – to the point where I was almost a bit dysfunctional and I really had to work myself out of it.

What scares you?

I enjoy challenges, so what scares me the most is disappointing myself. I hate it when I'm not true to something that I believe in. If I can't stand up for something that I know is true, it frightens me. It wouldn't strike me as a failure if I had a record that didn't sell, but it would do if I had a hit with something I didn't believe in.

'This Way' (East West) is out on 25 February. Jewel plays London's Royal Festival Hall on 26 February.