Music News & Reviews

From ‘I Kissed a Girl’ to opening for Crash Test Dummies, Jill Sobule’s career rolls on

Jill Sobule has enjoyed a long and diversified music career. She opens for the Crash Test Dummies in Sacramento next week.
Jill Sobule has enjoyed a long and diversified music career. She opens for the Crash Test Dummies in Sacramento next week.

Living in the past could be quite easy for Jill Sobule, if she chose to go set up shop there.

After all, her breakthrough hit, “I Kissed A Girl,” made her a household name back in 1995 and predated Katy Perry’s decision to appropriate the same title for a completely different song by 13 years.

But while it’s okay to reminisce, residing in yesteryear is far from an ideal place to be – something Sobule makes clear on “Nostalgia Kills,” her recently self-released eighth studio effort on the singer-songwriter’s Pinko Records (and first album in nearly a decade).

Sobule will bring her new songs to Sacramento’s Crest Theatre next Wednesday, where she’ll open a sold-out show for the Crash Test Dummies.

The impetus for Sobule to hit the studio came from a chance encounter with someone who made a flip comment about artists having a finite shelf life in terms of creative viability.

“I was at an industry party and I heard this total douche saying once someone reached the age of 40, they can’t write a good song. And I went up to him and I was like, ‘You don’t know me, but you’re an idiot,’” the Colorado native explained.

So as has been the case throughout her career, the singer-songwriter went to work compiling what wound up being 100 songs for the resulting 15-song collection. A chance meeting with fellow musician Ben Lee via her manager convinced Sobule to bring the amiable Aussie aboard to help whittle down her options.

“Ben is just a lovely and special creature. He’s wise and just a really good guy who is somebody that you automatically feel comfortable with right away. That’s important because when you’re recording with someone, it’s about trusting them – and I trusted him. At first, I said he was picking my most depressing songs and then I got it and liked it,” Sobule said. “What’s so interesting is that I didn’t mean it for it to have a continuing thread. It almost feels like a book of short stories. I had a lot of songs to choose from and Ben basically helped curate it and helped me decide what songs I should do. It was interesting, because he wanted to do the less topical songs. The title song is a look back at my life and a reflection that addresses how we look back, but that we also have to pull ourselves together and move on too. It is a look back, but it’s also a warning.”

The endearing musician wasn’t shy about reaching out to a number of famous friends including John Doe of X, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Richard Barone of The Bongos and Petra Haden of That Dog to help out with some of the musical heavy lifting. Sobule also delved into different corners for material including a number of different theatrical projects she’s been working on, specifically “Times Square”(based on the 1980 cult film of the same name), and her one-woman show “#F***7thGrade.” The song “25 Cents (The End is Near),” with its darting string arrangements and vibrant descriptiveness of pre-Giuliani Manhattan conveys her wonder as a teenager on a Broadway field trip getting off the bus circa 1980.

“Everyone was saying that when you get off at Times Square, you better watch your purse and hold it. I thought someone was going to steal my purse, mug me and somehow put a drug in my drink and take my kidney out – all of this at the same time,” Sobule said with a laugh. “I remember looking amazed at everything that was going on. I was old enough to see sleazy, dirty, Times Square, which was fascinating. That song is kind of a celebration and the foretelling of the [Disneyfication] of that area.”

Among the songs she drew from her one-woman show (“the worst year of my life”) are the dreamy and wistful “Forbidden Thoughts of Youth,” about her first gay crush that was also a case of adolescent unrequited love and “I Don’t Want to Wake Up,” the melancholy yet catchy opener framed by a bad breakup and the death of a parent. In looking back, the question about Sobule’s mid-1990s mainstream breakthrough evokes mixed feelings.

“That [success] was kind of a double-edged sword,” she said. “Because on one hand, I had MTV fame and that was really great. But on the other hand, it was a song where the label didn’t know what to do with me afterwards. [Some] people took it as being a novelty song and were wondering if I wasn’t a serious artist.”

And while Sobule’s last flirtation with major label situation was 2004’s “Underdog Victorious,” she’s proven to be a resilient artist whose first foray into Crowdfunding resulted in the 2009 album “California Years.”

As someone who already has a couple of decades under her belt as a working musician, the Brooklyn native admits that adaptation has allowed her to move forward as an artist.

“Right now, no one buys music because it’s all streaming and it feels like the only ones that get the record deals are the 1 percent,” she said. “It’s become a thing where you’re doing it on your own. So instead of doing music, you’re on social media all the time trying to promote yourself and [the music industry is] a different beast. We used to complain about the man or the label. I’m thinking about younger artists today that don’t have a record deal. I was able to have tour support and a couple of times I had a tour bus. Those experiences were fantastic and amazing. On one hand, it opens up other things like I’m going to do musicals and I’m going to write a book. You have to do other things and that’s fantastic. It really does open yourself. By necessity, I have to find other ways of making an income. But it also allows for new forms of creativity, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

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