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SMITH EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Eilen Jewell

Eilen Jewell makes no bones about it. On the cusp of releasing her 13th album, “Gypsy,” later this summer, the Idaho-born singer-songwriter would never move forward in her career without looking toward her musical muses from the past.

“We have not figured out a way to be inspired by the future yet,” she says, borrowing an explanation she heard in an interview with one of her favorite country bands, The Cactus Blossoms.

Eilen Jewell returns to Geneva as part of the Smith Opera House’s Jan Regan Club Series, playing a 7:30 p.m. show on Friday, May 31 at Bottom Brewing. Bottomless Brewing is the sponsor of the Jan Regan Club Series and Finger Lakes Public Radio WEOS 89.5 FM Geneva is the media sponsor. 

Jewell, 40, who has been touring and recording with bandmates Jason Beek (drums) and Jerry Miller (guitar) since 2006, points to a childhood spent listening to a lot of vintage country and rock’n’roll from the 1950s and 1960s.

“I don’t know why I love it, but I just do — the sound of people playing instruments and playing them really really well. There was not a lot of post-production abilities back then. The recording process was much more primitive. The engineer pressed record and you would go, so your performance had to be down. Nowadays you can tweak things. To me, modern music sounds like the producer is pulling all kinds of tricks. All I hear is the smoke and mirrors.”

Whether performing original songs or those from other artists (she has an entire album that pays homage to Lorretta Lynn), Jewell never fails to channel herself through a vintage time warp of country twang and rockabilly rhythms and folksy Americana, and the contemporaries she admires the most seem to do the same. Artists like JD McPherson, CW Stoneking, Zoe Muth.

Believe it or not, Jewell’s first musical mentor goes even further back in time.

“I started playing piano when I was 7. I asked my parents if I could learn piano because I heard Beethoven on the tape deck of our family station wagon and I wanted to play piano just like him. I still play piano and I consider it my first love,” she says.

Guitar and harmonica came in her teens, and largely through the inspiration of Bob Dylan. Singing soon followed. While Jewell studied music theory in college in New Mexico as part of a liberal arts curriculum and dabbled in busking at the Santa Fe farmers market, it wasn’t until she moved to Boston and met Beek (who became her husband and manager) that she knew performing would be her livelihood.

“He introduced me to so many great musicians in Boston. It’s a really rich music scene. That was where my musical education really began,” she says.

In addition to being her drummer and manager, Beek is also her husband. Recovering from heart surgery this spring, he hopes to be well enough to join Jewell for her Geneva performance.

In 2012, the couple decided to move back to Jewell’s Idaho stomping grounds to start a family. Their 5-year-old daughter Mavis tours with them regularly.

“It’s a blessing to feel like I’m back to the place that makes sense. It’s also a curse, because it makes leaving here (to go on tour) more difficult. But I love the road too, and I get so restless when I’m home too long. It’s this constant tightrope that we walk. We don’t want to dip too far one way or the other.”

Jewell is also unabashed is declaring her forthcoming album “Gypsy” as her favorite to date. And yes, she promises a few sneak previews on May 31.

“Usually after I am done recording (an album) I tell myself, ‘I did the best I can and time will tell.’ I get excited in the studio, but sometimes a year later these songs no longer have that ability to speak to me. Three years ago I started writing for “Gypsy,” I have had a lot of time to get to know these songs, and I love every one of them. I have never said that before. This album is what I would hope for from someone who has been touring for 13 years. I call it my Lucky 13.”

Eileen Jewell
When: Friday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bottom Brewing, 3543 East Lake Road, Geneva.
Tickets: General admission $25 plus service fees at the Smith Box Office, at the door and here.  w
More information: 315-781-5484, www.thesmith.org