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In the Pink: An Interview with Singer Jill Sobule
by Gregg Shapiro
2000-07-26

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Jill Sobule is performing at Northalsted Market Days.

Singer/songwriter Jill Sobule is a survivor of major-label madness. After achieving chart and MTV success with her hit single "I Kissed A Girl" and releasing a superb follow-up album, she was dropped by her record company. Sobule has returned, and returned to form, with her exceptional new album Pink Pearl ( Beyond ) .

With its retro-pop sound combined with Sobule's gift for right catchy story songs, Pink Pearl is a gem.

Jill Sobule once sang a song called "I Kissed A Girl," and survived to tell about it.

Gregg Shapiro: "Rainy Day Parade," with its references to pharmaceuticals and mental health, sounds like it could be the sequel to the song "Happy Town," from your previous album of the same name. Would you agree with that?

Jill Sobule: Absolutely ( laughs ) . I think every one of my records has to have either a reference to World War II or a reference to Prozac.

GS: How much of Jill is in the gym-obsessed character of Lucy in the song "Lucy At The Gym"?

JS: Well, with "Lucy," I have a lot of empathy, because in high school, I think for about a year and a half, I was Lucy and suffered from ... you know, I didn't eat for a year. It was also before it ( an eating disorder ) was really fashionable, before anyone knew about it. People used to say, "You look really good." So I have a lot of empathy, because I felt it was also a year out of my life that was completely sick and wasted. Still, now, there's a percentage of girls and young men that really have problems with that. I think a lot of my stories about other characters, all of them have a bit of me in it.

GS: When you mentioned other people being affected by eating disorders, did you know that gay men, apparently, are one of the largest populations effected by "body dysmorphic disorder"?

JS: Right, I found it really interesting that women have always been the ones most affected, traditionally, by the fashion magazines, the unnatural thinness of the models. I remember one day driving down Sunset Boulevard and seeing that the poster of Marky Mark in his Calvin Klein ads, of course this is West Hollywood, and thinking "It's not just affecting women, it's affecting men." Especially gay men, because there is that obsession with youth and body and that's kind of a shame.

GS: I'm glad that you mentioned your story songs. You have a natural ability to create characters and situations for your songs. Do you like writing "story songs" the best and if so, what is so appealing about them for you?

JS: Story songs ... I always felt like the way I write, instead of using a musical hook or a lyrical hook, I always start from the very first word of a sentence and I have no idea where I'm going to go, like I'm writing a short story. Plus, I'm a great voyeur. Sometimes it's easier to look outside of "yourself" and write about a person, a story. Sometimes it's easier to start with another person or character.

GS: You sing about Mary Kay LeTourneau in the song "Mary Kay," another character that you have observed. Can you say something about what was so fascinating about that story to you?

JS: I thought it was such a modern day Greek tragedy. It was a little Jerry Springer, but there's still something so traditionally Greek tragedy about it and wonderful about the forbidden love. It had all the elements of 'she was pretty,' and I don't think we would have been as interested if it would have been some toothless woman in Arkansas. There was something kind of great about that, another forbidden love song.

GS: You mentioned the recurring themes on your records earlier. In addition to World War II and pharmaceuticals, you seem to have a fascination with the Christian world, and on Pink Pearl, you add to that by addressing the mistreatment of the Jews throughout history in the song "Heroes." Do you feel as if you have a solid religious identity?

JS: I grew up pretty agnostic. I grew up with my Jewish heritage and really never had a religious education, but somehow you still feel a sense of connection. You know what's great about not having any kind of religious upbringing is that you don't have any dogma. I think I'm always searching in one for something deeper, but with a good cynical eye.

GS: Don't ever lose that cynical eye. The song "Rock Me To Sleep," which you co-wrote with your friend, the wonderful Richard Barone, was co-produced by you and Yves Beauvais. I know of Beauvais's from his work with Madeline Peyroux and Lullaby Baxter. How did you come to work with him?

JS: Yves and I lived together for a couple of years ( laughs ) . He's like my best friend now. That was like my studio and our place. I called it "stinky cheese," because he's French, and he would never refrigerate the Bree or the Camembert, because he refuse to, because the French don't refrigerate stinky cheese. The studio being right next to it, there was always a waft of rancid cheese ( laughs ) .

GS: You should do a stand-up comedy routine about that.

JS: It gets even better. There was a Billboard article and they asked me why I called it "stinky cheese" and I said, "well, because there was always rancid bree out in the kitchen next to the studio." Yves called me, very upset saying, "It is not rancid bree, first of all it is camembert, and it's ripe" ( laughs ) . In an article in, I don't remember, New York or something I had to give a disclaimer and say "Yes, it was ripe."

GS: You were a presenter at the Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards in April of this year. As an out performer, can you tell me what it means to you to have an organization such as GLAMA?

JS: It's wonderful. It would have been unheard of a few years before "I Kissed A Girl" came out. If there was something like GLAMA, it was such an underground thing or just within the community and here you're doing the GLAMA and being sponsored by vodka companies and major corporations and it's wonderful to know how mainstream it's become and how accepted it's become. I'm proud to be one of the "early gals" in it.

GS: You're a pioneer.

JS: Yes, I feel very good about that.

GS: Pink Pearl is a former No. 1 album on the OUTVOICE chart. How has OUTVOICE website been of value to you?

JS: Well, I'm sure it has. It's reaching the community that you hope buys your records. It's always been an important part of fans and also someone who you hope to sing for and write songs for. Yeah, it means more to me than the Lutheran Church group website ( laughs ) .

GS: The first two times that I interviewed you, it was for your two albums on Atlantic. You are now recording for the Beyond Records label. Is there anything that you would like to say about your experiences with Atlantic Records?

JS: The problem with Atlantic was, when you're with a big company and they have so many artists ... they didn't know what to do with me. I didn't fit their pattern, which is the same label that had Jewel and Matchbox 20 and I didn't fit into any neat category. Also, if you put out a single and in the first three weeks it doesn't react, it's like, "goodbye." There's none of the old school of developing artist that used to be. Even after "I Kissed A Girl" they had no clue what to do. On the one hand it got me out there, it got me known, but I felt with Happy Town, I had a really great album that went nowhere. Sure, that pisses me off ( laughs ) . I think that with that company, they don't necessarily look at talent. You don't see Lullaby Baxter hitting the charts.

GS: While you are in Chicago to perform on the LesBiGay Radio stage at Northalsted Market Days in August, will you have time to pay a visit to the Sanford Corporation, the makers of the Pink Pearl eraser?

JS: They are! That would be awesome! I want to get tons of them! I'm gonna have my label call them and make arrangements, because I want to throw out erasers ( into the crowd ) like the Grateful Dead threw out acid.


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