Born 1961 in Denver, CO. Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Recording Company, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104.
Jill Sobule made a major splash on the pop scene with her single "I Kissed a Girl" in 1995, drawing both cheers and controversy for addressing the theme of bisexuality in a song that many fans hailed as a pop anthem. Featuring songs that take humorous, satirical jabs at everything from the superficiality of fame to the deadening effects of Prozac, her albums have found a unique niche within the universe of alternative pop-rock. "Few artistic voices are as lucid, inspired, and endowed with grace and humor as Jill Sobule's," noted a Billboard critic in 1997. Her willingness to stray from proven pop formulas was noted by Allison Powell in Interview, who noted, "As she passes freely between the borders of rock, jazz cabaret, and bucolic ballad, Sobule is a new breed of pop troubadour."
Sobule's route to a musical career began when she got her first guitar in sixth grade, which she then played as part of her junior high school stage band. She claims to have written her first song in the seventh grade, according to publicity materials from the Atlantic Recording Corporation. Her first taste of regular performing occurred overseas, when she landed a full-time gig at a club in Seville, Spain, while on vacation from college during her junior year. Sobule dropped out of college while abroad, spending a year there before returning to the U.S.
During the early 1980s Sobule began writing her own songs and performing with a number of bands, but her career failed to advance and she had ongoing problems with depression and anorexia. As her base of operation shifted between Denver, Los Angeles, and New York City, she took various odd jobs ranging form selling shoes to waiting tables as she continued to perform. She finally landed a recording contract with the MCA label, and worked with producer Todd Rundgren to produce her first album. Entitled Things Here Are Different, Sobule's debut was a heavily folk-oriented album. It was released in 1990 but had a short life span in the record stores. MCA terminated her contract following the album's poor sales, and before long Sobule was almost broke. She moved to Los Angles and got a job as an assistant to a wedding photographer, then had a lucky break when her lawyer played one of her demo tapes for an Atlantic Records executive. According to Jason Ankeny on the All- Music Guide website, the executive "was so impressed by the contrast her [Sobule's] winsome, folk-flavored pop offered in comparison to the current chart dominance of grunge that he quickly signed her to a contract."
Five years after her first album struck no chord with audiences, Sobule released the self-titled Jill Sobule on the Lava/Atlantic label. Two songs on that release helped raise Sobule's profile in the pop world--"I Kissed a Girl" and "Supermodel," the latter of which a satirical look at teenagers' jealousy of cover girls. "I Kissed a Girl" caused a major stir, being heralded for bringing homosexuality out of the musical closet. The song dealt with a frustrated housewife's bisexual urges and prompted questions about Sobule's own sexuality. "I've had experience with women and men," admitted Sobule to Elysa Gardner of Entertainment Weekly. "But I didn't wanna say anything about it at first, because the point was that 'I Kissed a Girl' should be a song for everyone."
Despite the hype over "I Kissed a Girl, and the exposure of "Supermodel" in the popular movie Clueless, sales of the album containing the songs were lower than expected. Sobule sank into a depression over the disappointing sales and her being labeled as a "novelty act." To divert herself from feeling sorry for herself, Sobule decided to take drum lessons. The drums served as a distraction from the harsh criticism and Sobule's spirits lifted. Before long Sobule was back writing songs, but this time seeking to make more personal statements than her previous album did.
Sobule broke new musical ground for herself with her third album, Happy Town, which was released in early 1997. Relying less on humor and more on heartfelt yearnings and disappointments, the album addressed subjects ranging from romantic love in "Love Is Never Equal," to a return to childhood innocence in "Super 8," to Jews hiding from Nazis in "Attic." She also confronted her own ambivalence about the conflict between success and integrity in tracks such as "Sold My Soul."
Most critics responded favorably to the emergence of a more serious Sobule, calling Happy Town her best album to date. As Thom Owens wrote of Sobule on the All-Music Guide website, "Where her first two albums found Sobule emulating the jokey traditions of female singer-songwriters like Christine Lavin, Happy Town demonstrates her skills for melodic songcraft, as well as proving that she can write without relying on cutesy imagery." Parke Puterbaugh wrote in Stereo Review, "Jill Sobule has come up with an album that feels like a real breakthrough in songwriting and self-expression." One of the most acclaimed songs on the album was "Bitter," which addressed the destructive aspects of performers' jealousy of those more successful than them. "It immediately distances Sobule from a generation of MTV stars who no sooner pick up their platinum records than they stop singing and start complaining," wrote Deborah Frost of the song in Musician.
Sobule was also more musically adventurous on Happy Town than on her previous recordings, experimenting with a variety of instruments and rhythms. Some songs featured bass clarinet, hurdy gurdy, and tuba, and "Super 8" incorporates the sounds of an actual film projector. Unpredictability was the norm on this release, as songs that began casually erupted with energy and bluesy intros shifted into irresistible pop riffs. As Billy Altman remarked in Newsday, Sobule is "a delightfully uncategorizable artist." Resisting the pop artist label put upon her by the media, Sobule challenges that label with each album she releases.
Reaching her peak in her late thirties, Jill Sobule has made her mark as a pop iconoclast. Understanding the fickleness of fame, Sobule told Bill DeMain of Smug that she wants to be remembered "as a person who wrote good songs."
by Ed Decker
Jill Sobule's Career
Played guitar in junior high school stage band; wrote first song as seventh grader; became regular act at a club in Seville, Spain, during college vacation; played in various bands and began performing her own material after returning to the U.S., 1980s; released first album, Things Here are Different, on MCA, 1990; became assistant to a wedding photographer after moving to Los Angeles; was featured performer on Richard Barone's Clouds over Eden, 1993; released Jill Sobule on Lava/Atlantic label, 1995; became well-known and created controversy with single, "I Kissed a Girl," 1995; released Happy Town on Atlantic, 1997.
Jill Sobule's Awards
Outstanding Song Award, Seventh Annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Media Awards ("I Kissed a Girl"), 1996.
- Selective Works
- Things Here are Different, MCA, 1990.
- Jill Sobule, Lava/Atlantic, 1995.
- (Contributor) Clueless (soundtrack), Capitol, 1995.
- (Contributor) Grace of My Heart (soundtrack), MCA, 1996.
- (Contributor) Harriet the Spy (soundtrack), Castle Records, 1996.
- (Contributor) Truth about Cats and Dogs (soundtrack), A&M, 1996.
- Happy Town, Lava/Atlantic, 1997.
- Billboard, March 29, 1997.
- Elle, June 1997.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 1997.
- Interview, May 1997.
- Musician, June 1997.
- Newsday, April 27, 1997.
- New York Daily News, Mach 19, 1997.
- Smug, volume 3, 1997.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from publicity materials supplied by Atlantic Recording Corporation and the All- Music Guide website on the Internet.