Jill Sobule is a treasure of American pop music, a witty and big-hearted songwriter, even when she's exposing her own ticks and fears. Best known for the semi-novelty hit "I Kissed a Girl" and "Supermodel" (from the Clueless soundtrack), Sobule has cut a serious swath through diverse audiences, from NPR junkies to Nickelodeon rug rats to the Internet illuminati of TED. Recently she teamed up with punk icon John Doe for a live-in-the-studio album called A Day at the Pass and a duo tour with Doe, which stops in St. Louis this week. B-Sides rang up the songwriter at her home in LA to find out whom she's been smooching lately. Instead, Sobule dished on Doe and the joys of fan-sponsored recording.
B-Sides: Tell me about meeting John Doe for the first time.
Jill Sobule: That was 1997. I was on Atlantic Records, trying to promote my new album. Somehow my name came up to open for X on their Unclogged tour. X was all about it, and they knew because I was on a big label it would help pay for a tour bus. I was kind of like the band member with the band! They were really great to me, and we ended up bonding. I always say you can tell something about people by how they treat opening acts and waitresses.
The new album with John is a fan-funded project, not a new idea for you. What are the hazards of that model?
The hazards are you have to do a lot of work. You don't have someone doing the work for you. There's something to be said about that. What was great about this record as opposed to the last one is that it was just one day in the studio. We had an audience there with us, 30 people with headphones on. So you have to find a studio that's big enough.
You've explored a variety of different distribution and recording opportunities, everything from the Huffington Post to doing music for TEDActive to writing for films. How do you manage all of that?
That's a hard thing to do. I'm sure I would have been diagnosed with ADD. But I get bored just being a solo singer-songwriter. That's why people get staid. If you do other things, you can come back to it and have a fresh look and learn new things from other people. The hazard is you become a jack-of-all-trades. You do them all good, rather than really well. I thought, maybe for a second there, that I wasn't giving my all. So now, I'm trying to compartmentalize them. I also discovered how exciting it is to have an intern and an assistant help organize that.
Have those commissions and projects led to specific inspirations?
I feel really fortunate. With John, for instance, we'll get an NPR crowd, and then an older or younger punk audience. We'll play rock clubs and then theaters. I also do this thing with Julia Sweeney, "The Jill and Julia Show." When we do that it's more of a Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! crowd. Or, for example, the last show John and I played was a matinee, a place called the Rams Head. We'd never played a matinee before on a Saturday. It was fantastic. People brought their kids, and we had to watch our language. We realized that we're custom machines!
On the new record you do a couple of covers, and you also revisit the notorious "I Kissed a Girl."
That was John's call. Someone yelled out, "Kissed a Girl!" while we were in the studio. And I thought, "No!" You know, with the whole Katy Perry thing. But John said, "Come on!" But it was great, in a way, I thought: I'm going to take it back. The band hadn't practiced it so we just did a stupid, garage-rock version. It was fun.
You're not alone in this, but can you talk about what it's like to have that song always come up? Is it something you want to escape from or forget?
I did for a while. You get fans who know your new records and want to hear the new songs. But I did this tour opening up for Warren Zevon, and he had "Werewolves of London," and that was his bane. But you know, people want to hear it, and they're coming to see you. It's not about us. We're providing a social service. So it's good to take that song back. Someone will come up to you and say, "I was in Alabama when I heard that song, and it made me feel less alone." So, I feel like a jerk if I don't play that song.