If you think the career of Jill Sobule ended with “I Kissed A Girl”, then you’ve been mislead. Her latest release, Pink Pearl, is an amazing piece of work. I could have filled the following space telling you why you should buy it, but instead I spoke with Jill about her new release, being a cousin of a wrestling star, and UFOs in our backyards.
How are you?
Tired, but good. A good tired.
Did you have a show last night?
Yeah. I’m the opening act for Warren Zevon, but I stick through his set because we do a song, so I don’t get to go home. We do a really funny rendition of “Jackson”.
I was reading people’s comments about that cover on your web site.
Yeah? It’s very funny.
Is Jillsobule.com your site?
Actually, a fan did it for me, but I’m using it. A fan did it, but I give him information.
I actually spend several hours a week talking to various people. They ask me questions and I email them back.
It’s addicting, isn’t it?
Yeah, I know. Life was much easier when I was analog gal.
Well, you know what they say, well, what I say, once you go email you never go back.
(laughs) I know.
When I first got the album, I loved it instantly. There was no need to hear it twenty times to grow on me. It’s just so strong.
I was wondering, because you paint some of the most amazing pictures and I can visualize everything
and I was wanted to know if you always had this knack for storytelling?
I think it was because I’ve always been a kind of a voyeur when I was a kid. I was kind of a loner, so I was a watcher instead of leader or a follower, so maybe it comes from there. My favorite book when I was a kid was Harriet The Spy. It was this book about this weird little girl who would spy on people and write down observations. So maybe it comes from there. Plus, I’ve always been such a reader. I think the songs are short stories.
I was going to ask if you do other kinds of writing?
I would love to, but I have such a short attention span. But I would love to try and write more than two pages.
Writing is tough. I have tons of respect for people who can write and write well. Do you write first and then add guitar later?
I would say that in general the lyrics are most important. I know a lot of writers who have the music first and then they have a hook, but I never kind of do that. It always comes from the very first word. Writing the verses always comes first for me. In general, the words come first. The music is so much easier for me, because then you have so many options with what you can do. I have a lot of songs and melodies that I just can’t do anything with.
Part of what I was going to ask was where you came up with such great melodies, because even if I don’t remember the lyrics, I can’t get your melodies out of my head. Writing melodies is another tough thing.
It is, but you know what? That comes pretty easy to me. That is why it’s easier when I have a lyric. I’d love to do an album of instrumentals. That would be good.
I’m a sucker for a good melody.
I’m such a sucker for a good melody. And I can forgive a lot of songs for bad lyrics. I listen to a lot of radio on the road and I’ve been listening to AM a lot because they have these oddball oldies songs. AM radio is great. I heard the song from the Five Stairsteps (Jill begins to sing, “O-o-h child things are gonna get easier/ O-o-h child things’ll get brighter”). It’s the stupidest lyric, ‘gonna get it together/ and get it undone,’ but I fell in love with it because you can forgive a bad lyric.
I have one too. How about “Bus Stop” from the Hollies? That is totally dopey, but it has such a fabulous melody.
It is great.
It doesn’t even matter that he is just singing about standing next to some girl in the rain, dreaming about her and her umbrella.
Are the songs about life experiences?
They are pretty much true, but I can embellish and change. (laughs)
It’s natural to need to do that though.
I take liberties, but I think what happens with every writer is that you add a bit of yourself in there.
But with your songs, I think there is a bit more than that. I think you have a bit of everyone in there.
Especially “Lucy At The Gym”. I’ve seen that person.
We’ve all seen that person. And probably every woman, and even men, have probably at one time been that Lucy. Maybe not to the extremes, but it’s just our culture.
I wanted to toss some songs out and get your first impressions. I was going to ask about “Lucy At The Gym”, but I think we’ve covered it. How about “Claire”?
Claire was a woman I met through a friend who was buying a car from her sister. Claire was an old WACK pilot from World War II. I was so interested in meeting her. She had the most amazing stories. She was a pioneer feminist even if they didn’t call her that. What was interesting about her was that you couldn’t get all her stories straight because she was losing it. That was so sad, but at the same time she was so endearing and so wonderful, but it was a tragedy that all these stories were being lost. I wanted to know them, but she was losing them too. I think it also has that fear of getting older. There are lots in there. (laughs)
[Jill’s cell phone begins to ring]
Oh, who is calling me so early? You know, I just got a cell phone for the road trip, but it’s such a pain in the ass. My life was so much better before it. Anyway, it is sad to think of all the stuff she has gone through and the stuff I’ve gone through. The Reagan years! (laughs)
That was definitely traumatic.
The next election might be even worse.
Yeah, I know.
I’m a little scared.
I know, and I’m in George Bush land right now.
Yeah. That guy scares the hell out of me.
And I’m supposed to be writing songs about Campaign 2000. But what do I write about? I mean, it’s also not the most exciting.
They make Bill Clinton seem like the greatest president of all time.
I know. It’s so boring.
What ever happened to this larger than life person?
There is no one. What am I going to write about? I’m supposed to start. What am I gonna write, ‘George Bush isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed’? I mean, he is dumb, and Gore isn’t very charismatic.
What about “Mexican Wrestler”?
It was one of those stream of consciousness lyrics where I don’t know where I was going with it, but I suppose it has that sense of sadness and revenge. I was thinking about this guy I had this really bad crush on and it wasn’t reciprocated. And during those teen years, you never get over that. It follows you until you are Claire’s age. You know what I think it was? Around the time I was writing it, my mom said, ‘You know you have this cousin that is a famous wrestler named Billy Goldberg?’. Now I see his t-shirts and toys everywhere. But my mom went to one of his matches just to see him because she wanted to see him and talk to him because she knew him when he was a little kid. So I guess I somehow had wrestling on my mind.
The one song that sort of stopped me in my tracks was “Heros”, because it’s so right. Like my hero is John Lennon, and I always think of all this positive stuff, but then I interviewed Julian like a year ago and
he wasn’t a good dad.
I know. Everything he said was bad about his father outside of the music.
I know. Poor Julian. For me, it was Joni Mitchell. I read interviews with her and she is like so bitter and it kinda turned me off. She feels like she didn’t get enough respect and she was dissing all these female artists.
What about “Somewhere In New Mexico”?
I had a friend who became a really hardcore born-again Christian, and my first reaction was like, ‘Aw, gee.’ I thought she must have gone off the deep end, but then there was that part of me that was almost jealous that someone had such faith in something.
Then I’d be listening to the Art Bell show with all the crazy people who see ghosts, angels
Yeah. And it’s like I’ve never experienced anything. And I’m such a cynic, but I want to believe. And I believe what Nietzsche said: ‘There is a God-shaped hole within us.’ I want to experience something.
I’ve been there.
I just think there has to be more out there.
I do too, but I haven’t had any UFOs landing in my backyard.
(laughs) Me either.
Okay, well, I’m curious if you remember your first song?
Oh, yeah. I think it was called “Clouds”. It was something with major seven chords all the way through. It was a really sad and depressing song. I don’t remember the lyrics, but I’m sure they were like the book of poetry Jewel wrote.
No, I’m kidding. (we both laugh) My early songs were really sad.
Was it a long time afterwards that you actually performed?
Well, I played guitar. I was in the stage bands, but I wrote the songs just for me. I didn’t sing either. I was just a guitar player.
Where was your first performance?
I was in my third year of college and I went to Spain for one of those study abroad programs. A friend and I thought we’d just busk on the street for fun. We did it and I had the nerve to do it because I’d never see these people again. Well, a guy walked by and asked if we’d play in his nightclub, so we ended up for two months playing his club for three nights a week. I always wonder what would have happened if that guy hadn’t walked by, what I’d be doing with my life.
What were you going to do?
Well, at that time in college I wanted to go to Georgetown to study International Affairs. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I wanted to do International Affairs. It sounded really good.
Like James Bond or something.
Yeah. Exactly. (laughs) And at that time I used to think no one could make a living doing music.
I don’t think anyone grows up believing they can make money as a musician.
Well, it’s kind of true. (laughs) It’s so funny. I was talking to the webmaster and he said the way people write him stuff like, ‘Is it really Jill who writes back?’ or ‘Do you think she really reads the mail?’. We were saying that people must think I have a lot of money. I mean, I’m at the La Quinta Inn right now. (laughs)
People really believe that you’ve got the fairy tale life with the Michael Jackson money.
Yeah. (laughs) Who was I talking to? Hmmm. Oh, Warren Zevon, of course, I love him, and he said, ‘What do you mean? I didn’t it for the sex and the girls?’.
+ charlie craine