Music

Eilen Jewell returns to old stomping grounds with new songs

Otto Kitsinger

Self-described “western girl” Eilen Jewell was raised in Boise, Idaho, but found a home and then her artistic voice after she moved to Massachusetts to live with some friends after college. Her catalog of rootsy, Americana-informed albums was bolstered last month with the release of “Sundown Over Ghost Town,” a richly evocative set of songs she wrote after relocating to Boise three years ago, released on the Northampton-based label Signature Sounds.

With her band in tow — including drummer, husband, and manager Jason Beek — Jewell plays the Sinclair Wednesday, and the Green River Festival in Greenfield July 10. She spoke to the Globe by phone from Boise.

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Q. When you relocated to Great Barrington in 2003, it was an unexpected move, right?

A. Everything I did back then was unexpected. After college I originally moved to Boise briefly, and I was able to get an apartment here, but I wasn’t able to get a job. It was in the Berkshires that I really realized I had to get serious about playing music.

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Q. In the years that you lived in Somerville and built your music career, what day jobs did you have?


A. I worked at 1369 Coffee House for a few years. I was also a coat-check girl in the winter for No. 9 Park. But after I quit my day job in 2007, I was a nanny for an on-call agency, filling in for other nannies who called in sick.

Q. When you moved back to Boise in 2012, why was it the right time?

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A. I think I’ve always wanted to come back here, but it seemed like Boise didn’t really want me back until then. I’m a western girl at heart, and I’ve just been homesick since I was 18, basically.

Q. The new record has a real sense of place to it. I understand that that’s no coincidence.

A. Yeah, that’s the point. I didn’t exactly start out to make a record about home, but as I was writing the songs I quickly realized that they all had to do with, if not Boise specifically then the west in general. That’s not a huge surprise — the west has always been on my mind. But [more so] now that I’m just completely surrounded by these western images.

I’ve been going to a little cabin in the central Idaho mountains to write since I was writing for [2011 LP] “Queen of the Minor Key.” The conditions have to be just right. I want to be able to check out from modern life, so it needs to be rustic — but not so rustic that I spend all day trying to figure out how to pitch my tent or something. So I stay in a little cabin that doesn’t have electricity or running water.

Q. What is so inspirational to you about the imagery and mythology of the American west?

A. I feel like I am somehow in charge of reminding people that the west isn’t dead. A lot of people refer to it as nostalgia, but I want to remind people that there’s really nothing nostalgic about it for the people who live out here. Imagery like trains, horses, cowboy hats, cowboy boots, dusty roads, barbed wire fences, and all these things, they’re part of everyday life. They’re very much alive.

Q. You’ve described your sound as “American mutt music.” What do you mean?

A. It’s a mix of all things that are American, but not necessarily modern. Pretty much anything with an “early” in front of it: early blues, early jazz, early country, early folk. Those are all my main influences. I think my music comes across as being a little bit hard to pin down because I do have so much love for all these different genres, and never really been able to choose just one.

Q. Right, you’re identified most frequently as a folk or Americana artist, but wasn’t Billie Holiday a big influence?

A. Yeah, she was the person I heard when I was 15 and said to myself that I want to learn to sing exactly like her. I would do my best to imitate her all the time. Billie Holiday is the closest thing I’ve had to a vocal teacher.

Q. You were included recently in an NBC news piece about music streaming. What do you think about services like Spotify, Apple Music, et al.?

A. I’m not as charged up as a lot of musicians are about it. I guess I have this almost existential view about it, that musicians have been being exploited ever since the beginning of money-plus-music. Radio doesn’t make us very much money. It’s always been hard to make a living as a musician. It’s like, oh yeah, another thing exploiting artists. Big news. But obviously someone is making a lot of money and it’s not the artists, and that’s wrong.

On the other hand, I do benefit from streaming services and I have to be honest about that. Pretty much every show that we do, somebody comes up to me and says they first heard me on Pandora. And they’re buying a CD in the merch line.

Q. When you come back to play the area, is it a big reunion?

A. It really is. Jason is from Lowell, so it’s a family affair as well. Friends and family are there in force. It’s almost like getting married all over again.

Eilen Jewell

With Dietrich Strause

At: The Sinclair, Cambridge, Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Tickets: $20. 800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

Interview was condensed and edited. Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com.
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