The boundless energy and raw enthusiasm of Jill Sobule04/10/2023 02:04PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Caroline Roosevelt, Contributing Writer
If you told me to write a love song tonight, I'd have a lot of trouble. But if you tell me to write a love song about a girl with a red dress who goes into a bar and is on her fifth martini and is falling off her chair, that's a lot easier, and it makes me free to say anything I want. Stephen Sondheim
I was concerned I would really miss out on an element of personality by interviewing Jill Sobule over the phone, but by the end of my call, her boundless energy and raw enthusiasm left me with a feeling of pure admiration and I had to shake from my voice a slight desperation to befriend her.
A singer-songwriter haling from Denver, Sobule – who will be performing an acoustic concert at The Kennett Flash on April 20 -- broke into the mainstream in 1995 with her hit “I Kissed a Girl” (not the Katy Perry song). Throughout her career, Sobule has mined her life and the memories of her tender teenage years in her live performances, and in between weaves social and political themes which create a time and place for all of her stories.
At first glance, it might seem that Sobule is just another in the parade of mid-90s female singer-songwriters alongside other contemporaries like Melissa Etheridge, Shawn Colvin, Liz Phair, Lisa Loeb and Sophie B. Hawkins. What separates Sobule from the rest of the pack is her expansion into other genres, her grassroots collaboration with other artists, and her dogged dedication to social and political causes.
She has served as the musician in residence at the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (an LGBTQA community center in Princeton, N.J.) and has performed with Jail Guitar Doors USA, an initiative advocating for change in corrective systems and providing musical instruments and mentorships to rehabilitate prisoners.
In 2009, she released her album California Years entirely thanks to online donations from fans. Sobule has also hosted pop-up concerts at her childhood home in Denver and teaches a writing course online. Last fall, she debuted the critically-acclaimed ****7THGRADE, an Off-Broadway musical that she wrote and performed alongside an all-female band. It is Sobule’s musical ode to a socially oppressive year of secondary school that debuted last fall at The Wild Project in New York City, and, as she mentioned in our conversation, may pop up as part of her show at The Kennett Flash.
CR: I was looking through all of your work last week. My shameful way of knowing you is through your song “Supermodel” in the 1995 film Clueless, but it opened me up to listening to a bunch of your more recent music. It’s interesting to see how you developed as an artist.
JS: The thing is that I’ve never really tried to follow any trends. My favorite artists were artists who were developing and evolving even if there were moments that weren’t that great. I’m too ADD, so I’m always experimenting.
CR: And you collaborate with a lot of different media.
JS: In the last couple years I’ve been doing more and more with theatre. That seems to be a natural evolution because I think a lot of my songs. I’ve been influenced by the storytellers. They’re all two-minute long stories.
CR: Who would you look to as inspirational storytellers?
JS: I was lucky to have a brother who was older so I got to hear a lot of cool music. I was exposed to Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen -- people who had that kind of narrative in their lyrics.
CR: Tell me about your most recent album, Nostalgia Kills. It’s political, apocalyptic, gentle, sentimental and very personal.
JS: I like to play with a lot of different timbres, and flavors, and put instruments on that you don’t think should fit but do. I like to have a lot of toys at my disposal.
CR: What is your most cherished, beloved song?
JS: From my last record (Nostalgia Kills) I really love the craft of “The Island of Lost Things.” That would be one of songs I’m most proud of, lyrically. My prompt (for this song was) I’ll look at old books, lyrics. There were books from the 50s, 40s, and I came across “Island of Misfit Toys.” Every hotel I’ve stayed has something I’ve left. I lose things constantly. It started like that, and then it started with material things to more metaphysical and more personal. It was interesting.
CR: How would you describe your writing process?
JS: Use your anarchy, your ADD, your stream of consciousness to create a frame around it…If I’m just writing stream of consciousness, something will come out of that when you trick yourself into writing. There’s a great Sondheim quote, I wish I could find it.
Jill Sobule will be performing an acoustic solo performance at The Kennett Flash on Thursday, April 20 beginning at 8 p.m. To learn more and obtain tickets, visit www.kennettflash.org.