Anyone who grew up in the ‘90s has probably heard Jill Sobule’s hits “I Kissed A Girl” and “Supermodel”. This is especially the case with the latter if you’ve watched the 1995 teen comedy Clueless. She’s also had a great impact on the music industry through crowdfunding and her innovative approach with making albums. Tomorrow night, Sobule will be performing at the Greenwich Odeum located on 59 Main Street in East Greenwich. Boston singer-songwriter Mark Erelli will be opening up the show.
Sobule and I had a talk ahead of the upcoming festivities about how she got into crowdfunding, a charm bracelet influencing one of her albums and her doing some theater work later this year.
Rob Duguay: Since the late 2000s you’ve been viewed as one the early pioneers in crowdfunding and you’ve resumed this practice with your latest album Nostalgia Kills that came out in 2018. What gave you the idea to get your fans involved in raising money for the cost of making recordings?
Jill Sobule: My friend Tony and I went out for dinner and I was talking about how I was going to finance this album called California Years. I wasn’t going to get a big record deal for it, I was looking to get money to put toward it and my friend suggested asking my fans. It was the idea of if they donated they would get something in return and I came up with the idea of having certain gifts available on a donation scale. It was a huge success and CNN along with a bunch of other people came to me about it and eventually the folks who started Kickstarter reached out to me for advice when they began the platform. I think it was successful because it just made sense to get people involved in the creation process. I’ve also had fun doing these crowdfunding campaigns because it makes me be creative about putting my next record out along with writing the songs for it.
RD: That’s cool how you were able to make it a success and become a big influence on the music industry and society in general when it comes to crowdfunding. When it comes to these platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, do you think musicians should go through those sites or should they do it in a DIY way where they have a link to their PayPal or Venmo? For example, I read recently that musicians had issues with PledgeMusic about receiving their donations.
JS: I think it really depends on what you’re trying to do. Kickstarter put me on their platform and profiled me as an artist, which was a big help, but for instance I could do this current run of shows I’m on through StageIt where they promote and broadcast my shows online but they take a percentage of ticket sales away or I can just do it on my own. It depends on what you feel helps the most, whether it’s a Kickstarter or just through your PayPal. Whether or not it’s worth using the platform is something to think about and doing it on your own can be a lot of work.
JS: Yeah, I’ve done both.
RD: I can see how the benefits and the negatives come while utilizing both ways and it’s like you said, it’s a lot of work just to get the word out and share it so people see the donation link. A few years before your latest album, you released Dottie’s Charms where you put music to lyrics written by your friends and favorite authors including David Hajdu, Jonathan Lethem, Vendela Vida and Lucy Sante. How did you go about this approach of capturing the vibe of words in a sonic way with your music?
JS: What was great about it was first off David Hajdu was a really big help. He was the one who contacted people and the authors because I didn’t know that world. I had this charm bracelet a friend bought me, it was a vintage one from the early 50s and it was originally owned by someone named Dottie. It had about 14 charms on it ranging from a piano to a poodle and to an airplane among others, then I thought it would be interesting to assign a charm to a different author and have them write lyrics to a song. You got a picture of who Dottie was, she was very wistful but she also didn’t have the greatest life so there was some sadness as well.
It was really great for me since I view lyrics as being one of my stronger suits, so writing music to other people’s lyrics was an interesting experience. Everyone was really open with it and I edited some tiny things to make a chorus because these authors can be verbose. Overall, it was amazing and I kind of want to do it again but I have to figure out a different way since I don’t have another charm bracelet.
RD: It does sound interesting and if you do it again it’ll be very cool, I’d look forward to it. When it comes to performing by yourself on stage in a theater, a club or a venue, how do you handle the awkwardness or the vulnerability that comes with that setting?
JS: Actually, I’m less nervous when I’m by myself than when I’m with other musicians. It’s because I know my skills so well, I know my strengths and I know that it’s just me there. I know that if I mess up I can figure out a way to make the mess up better and I think it’s that vulnerability that makes for a strong performance. I go into it knowing that I’m good at this and at the same time I can mess up, which I do a lot, and that’s ok and that’s better so that’s my mindset.
RD: That’s a great perspective to have. What are your plans for next year?
JS: I want to work on a new record but also a lot of theater has gotten in the way. I was asked to be part of a musical at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and it’s the first time since sixth grade that I will be acting on stage and that’s going to happen during the summer. Then I’m going to be in an adaptation of The Scarlet Letter that’s going to be geared towards young adults. All of this just kind of popped up and I’m looking forward to it.