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, yesteryear is far from an ideal place to reside—something Sobule makes clear on Nostalgia Kills, her recently self-released eighth studio effort on the singer-songwriter’s Pinko Records (and first in nearly a decade).
“Nostalgia can be wonderful and amazing. It’s OK to look back. But then you gotta get the f*** out of there,” she said.
Interestingly enough, 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, Sobule went to work compiling what wound up being 100 songs for the resulting 15-song collection. 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. “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 in 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,” she 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.”
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 one percent. 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,” she said. “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.”
Jill Sobule will be appearing on May 10 at the Soulful Sundown coffeehouse event held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock, 48 Shelter Rock Rd., Manhasset. For more information, visit www.uucsr.org or call 516-627-6560.