Jill Spills: Singer-Songwriter Sobule Opens Up

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 26, 2012

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In advance of her Philadelphia show this weekend, prolific musician Jill Sobule took her thumbs out of the many pies she’s in so she could email-chat with PW about her new band and how she stopped reading news and politics long enough to find more time to write more songs satirizing life in America.

PW: You started out playing the drums before switching to guitar. Do you play any other instruments? What do you miss about banging on drums?
JILL SOBULE: My first instrument was indeed the drums.  I was around  six or seven years old.  I switched to guitar, as my parents convinced me that it  would be a much better instrument nd far less annoying. I recently bought an upright bass. I have visions of being an old beatnik jazzbo as I get older.

You don’t play Philly nearly as much as you are in NYC or LA. What can fans who haven’t seen you for a while expect from your show at Tin Angel?
Well, I will play a bunch of new songs as well as the hits. I always take requests.

Tell us about Dinah Shore, Jr.
Ah, my band! Alex, Amanda, and Allison and Steve (the token fellow).  They are among the hottest musicians in NYC right now. They love the fact that I hate to rehearse. It's spontaneous, full of surprise and joy, as well as glorious mistakes.   I am going to record with them the end of the month. Also, is it not the best band name? I think if we ever do a country roots rock record, we will change our name to Mini Pearl Jam. Alex Nolen, the guitar player, will be with me in Philly.

Songwriting. Your catalogue is bursting with characters and is way more literary than the usual radio gaga. What’s your songwriting process like? How has it changed over the years?
I still never fully understand the writing process. One thing I do know, is that it is harder to create the space necessary for the creative process to take hold these days. I have a very serious problem with … the Internets. I am a news junkie. I will spend hours mindlessly surfing blogs and sites taking in way too much info and opinion. After I'm done, my head (my hard drive) is full. There is no room, no open channel for, say, the muse. Sure, I can get ideas and a seed of a song, but the actual writing, finishing a song, takes a long attention span.

I have been trying to go back to pen and paper. I took out my old cassette recorder. As opposed to many songwriters, I like to start with the story, the words.

You also have hilarious songs. What’s your take on the state of comedy today? Are there any comedians that you’re listening to these days?
Well, I am a Daily Show and Colbert fan, especially during this election time. I'm amazed how consistently funny it is. One thing I'm not a fan of, for some reason, is those Hangover movies. Maybe it's because, as much of guy buddy movies, the women have such nothing parts. I am, however, looking forward to Anchorman 2.  A couple of months ago, I downloaded a couple of old Woody Allen standup shows from the ‘60s. Timeless.

Let’s talk gear. You usually rock that parlor guitar, and we recently saw you wiggling the whammy bar on a sweet Gretsch.
Ah, not many people know that I can “rock.” I was always the " lead" guitar player in my bands growing up.

You’re writing a Broadway musical. What is it about, what is the theme song and who are you working with? (Mine is about a struggling singer-songwriter who works as a dominatrix on the side and features both “Cruel to be Kind” and “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”)
It's based on a cult movie called Times Square. It is a girl buddy movie (with some coming-of-age homo-erotic stuff). The backdrop is gritty 1975 NYC.

“Women” as an adjective, like “women artists.” Yea or nay?
You never hear  "men artists.” I remember in 1993, a record label guy said to me that he wanted to sign me, but the label already had a female singer-songwriter. I have to say these days are much better.

Now you have to write a song to inform future generations about America in 2012. They will watch the video with some kind of digital goggle contraption that hasn’t been invented yet. What do you write?

Our attention span will be even less. A song lyric will be less than 80 characters. It would be about sneakers with high heels in them (I see all these girls in Hollywood wearing them), auto-tune and when the gays were not allowed to marry.

Guilty pleasures. Do you believe in the concept and do you have any musical guilty pleasures?
It should never be guilty. Well, I heard that R. Kelly is going to have new episodes of Trapped in the Closet. I love them!

I’d be remiss to not mention that you graciously agreed to write an introduction for my book on Bobbie Gentry’s "Ode to Billie Joe" for the 33-1/3 series. Tell us about when you first discovered Gentry’s music and her incredible story.
Well, "Ode to Billie Joe" scared me as a kid. I always found it haunting and creepy, and so mysterious. A couple of years ago, I bought a turntable, thus bought a whole bunch of records. I went on a Bobbie Gentry binge. I also found out her life and whereabouts are a mystery as well.

What’s next?

Ah, still working on the musical, my next “Jill” record. Sorry for talking about myself in third person. And I have this charm bracelet project. In short, I have this vintage charm bracelet with 14 charms. I have sent each one to some of my favorite authors to write a lyric (and I write the music). So far, I have lyrics from Jonathan Lethem, Rick Moody, Luc Sante, Michelle Tea and six more.

I also have the Jill and Julia (Sweeney) Show. We are going to do a mini tour this summer. And we are going to film it. And I will try to limit my time online, which will be hard before the election, and write some damn songs!

Sunday, Oct. 28, $16. With Suzie Brown.Tin Angel, 20 2nd St. 215.928. 0770. tinangel.com

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