Eilen Jewell is no stranger to Idaho. She’s lived there, and her family is from there. But she spent time away — five years in college in New Mexico, followed by 10 in Boston.
But last summer, between touring for her latest album — the critically acclaimed 2011 release, “Queen of the Minor Key” — and an adventure climbing Mount Kenya, Jewell moved back home to the Gem State and bought a house. The continuing tour brings her to Ogden, courtesy of Ogden Friends of Acoustic Music, on Saturday, Nov. 3.
She’d actually spent time creating in the wilds of Idaho the year before, in a cabin with no electricity or running water. She wanted to get away from it all to write.
“I’ve found that I really can’t write songs on the road very well,” said Jewell. “I really need to isolate myself to eliminate the distractions. I’ve found one way to do that is get out in the boonies of Idaho. Luckily, Idaho has a lot of boonies.”
She went to a place called Burgdorf, an unincorporated area in Idaho County.
“That particular spot has always been a favorite. It was more of a shack than a cabin, really. No pressure to stay connected to the Internet. Not even cellphones. If you have them with you, people know it and they expect you to call back. But there, there was no service.”
Jewell spent 10 days straight doing little but writing songs.
“I just loved it. I loved the solitude. I had been kind of stockpiling ideas for a long time. They were ready to come into being. All I can really do on the road is jot down little sketches and hope that later, when I am in the right frame of mind, they can be more fully teased out.”
Writing the past
Though Jewell has done two concept albums of sorts — one, a tribute to the songs of Loretta Lynn, and the other, a traditional gospel piece Jewell did with her side project, the Soul Shakers — she said she doesn’t go into her own songwriting with an overarching theme in mind.
“It is a funny thing putting an album together,” she said. “I take it song by song and hope somehow they’ll all fit together as a collection. Usually, that works out.”
One song in particular that she wrote at Burgdorf was about her college home of Santa Fe, N.M. She named the song for the town.
“It’s funny now, because when I think of Santa Fe, I don’t just think of Santa Fe. I think of that cabin in Idaho, too.”
Jewell said that as she wrote in the Idaho wilderness, her memories, rather unexpectedly, kept returning to New Mexico, a place she’d left 10 years before.
“I just kept coming back around to these various memories of living in Santa Fe and realizing what an important place for me it is musically — which I never really acknowledged before in my songs. I realized there was a reason I kept returning to all of these memories. I am thinking about music, and, for me, the two are so intertwined. I would jot down some poignant memory that came to mind, and out would pour a half dozen of them.”
The memories strung together almost as easily as Jewell’s trademark pearl necklace.
“That is my favorite way to write, when it just strings together. If something does not work, I leave it. Maybe I’ll come back to it later. But it has to flow, it has to feel natural, and ‘Santa Fe’ was one that just sort of flowed into being.”
Jewell said she is somewhat surprised that those memories of her college days, her formative ones as a musician, took so long to bear fruit.
“It’s funny, it took 10 years to process those memories and make something of them. Guess it really takes me time to just kind of feel what something is going to mean to me. That is how my mind works.” She laughed. “I am slow to feel, but eventually it does happen.”
Folks in mind
Jewell penned two songs with other singers in mind — Zoey Muth, of Seattle’s Lost High Rollers, and Big Sandy, of the Los Angeles jump band Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys. She didn’t ask them first. She just hoped, once she told them the songs were written, that they’d be willing to sing with her.
“I just had faith they’d do them, and wrote them for them — and they did,” said Jewell.
Jewell’s band, which also includes Jason Beek on drums, Johnny Sciascia on slap-bass and Johnny Miller, delivering truly stylish rockabilly licks on his arch-top guitar, had not sought outside musicians on their preceding album of originals, 2009’s “Sea of Tears.”
“At that point, we were saying, ‘We’re a band, let’s do the band thing, just us.’ And I enjoyed that. It allowed me to play the organ, for one thing. But this time, we thought, ‘Well, let’s see what other people can bring to the studio.’ That included fiddle. I have always been a sucker for that sort of fiddle intro where it sounds like they are revving up.”
Jewell is hoping for another Thoreau-like adventure to write the next album. She’d like to deliver a new one next year.
In the meantime, she’s returning to Ogden, where her father once lived. She stayed with him for a few months in 2005. Jewell has also played Ogden as a professional musician, playing both the OFOAM Ogden Music Festival and a gig at Weber State University’s Wildcat Theater in 2010.
“We’re really looking forward to getting back to Ogden. My father was there for a little while, so I spent some time with him and like it. And we’ve had some good shows there since, too. We like playing there.”
- WHO: Eilen Jewell Band
- WHEN: 6 p.m. doors open for chili dinner, 7 p.m. concert Saturday, Nov. 3
- WHERE: Jefferson Hall, 607 26th St., Ogden
- TICKETS: $15/advance, $20/door, Kids 16 and under are free. For tickets or information, go to ofoam.org.