Tuesday, July 9, 2013

INTERVIEW - Jill Sobule

Wickedly funny and honest, Jill Sobule survived the major-label bidding wars (and subsequent neglect) of the mid-90's and carved out a path that has allowed her to put out some of her best music over 20 years into her career.  Reaching out via email, she shares stories about her early struggles in a male-dominated industry, her experience as one of the first artists to crowd-source the recording of an album, and the collaborations and musical challenges that continue to inspire her art!

Your songwriting seems to share a sensibility with folks like the late Warren Zevon - a sharp eye for detail, sardonic without being mocking; has your sense of humor always informed your writing?  How do you manage to hit emotional truths with your lyrics while still maintaining a satiric edge?

Funny you mention Warren. He along with John Prine and Loudon Wainwright were lyrical influences. They could say something really funny on the surface, but underneath...ouch! Or, Joni singing, "Dreaming of the pleasure I'm going to have watching your hairline recede my vain darling." As a kid I thought, “I want to write like that.”

You have a strong history of collaboration with a wide gamut of artists, working with folks as disparate as Lloyd Cole, Julia Sweeney and Arianna Huffington.  What value do you find in collaborating with others and what impact does it have on your own writing?  

Well, I get fidgety and bored easy, probably ADD. And that's tough being a solo artist. Plus, there is the fear of just doing the same thing over and over again. I love collaborating, and especially with really talented people who do completely different things than I do. I'm right now on tour with The Jill and Julia (Sweeney) show. She tells a story, and I come up with a song that has something to do with it. Last month, I was on tour with that young new band...Hot Tuna. For those that don't know them, they were members of the original Jefferson Airplane.

You were a VERY early adopter of crowd sourcing, creating your own website for the funding and release of "California Years. ". Can you talk a little bit about how that experience was?  What were some of the benefits and drawbacks to that model for you?

Yes, I was pre-Kickstarter. In fact, the guys who started Kickstarter met with me before they launched for advice and questions about my experience. Why didn't I start a business?!!  I got a ton of press and the campaign was a big success. I raised a ton of money.  But don't forget, it was before the recession hit, and before we began to be flooded by Kickstarter requests in our inbox. I have been gun shy to do it again, but I need to. 

You write from the female perspective fairly frequently and tackle difficult subjects with a frankness that comes across as wholly authentic.  What are some of the challenges that you have experienced in being a female songwriter and performer who is known for exploring gender in her songs?   Do you feel held to a different standard than some of your male contemporaries? 

At this stage in my life, I don't pay attention to it. I'm not in the top 40 young pop star world anymore. But, I have so many stories like...when I was trying to get a record deal in 1990. A guy from Epic said, “We really love you here, but we already have...a female singer-songwriter". In 1994, I was told, "I would love to sign you, but, this is hard to say... you are not the age we are looking for. It's a youth market, Jill". A year later I saw that same guy at some music industry event . He approached me and said how happy he was for my recent success with "I Kissed a Girl" and "Supermodel". I looked at him all confused looking and went into deaf old shaky granny mode, "Young man, do I know you? Can you find my walker for me?" Then I straightened up and told him that he was a big asshole. He would have never said that to a man.

This one is kinda personal - I absolutely LOVE "A Day at the Pass", your record with John Doe.  As a lifelong X fan, I can think of little better than your cover of "Never My Love".  How did the two of you hook up and what went into that album's creation?

I met John in 1997 opening up for acoustic X. We became fast friends. We recorded "A Day at the Pass" basically as an excuse to hang out with each other and tour. We are thinking about doing it again.

I imagine your songs are like children – it’s tough to choose one above the others. But let’s say you are asked to make a “Sophie’s Choice”; is there one that you are particular proud to have written or one that is particularly special to you?

Hmmm, for some reason I love the Resistance Song. It was one of those very, very rare times when a song was written in less than an hour.

What's next on tap for you?     

I have been working on not 1, but 3 musicals! I am collaborating with fancy-pants book award authors on a project for Harper's magazine. And now on tour with Julia Sweeney. Check out our dates -jillsobule.com/shows

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