If you're an old fogey like myself you might remember both the early days of the Great Depression and the fleeting popularity of Jill Sobule, a willowy blonde singer-songwriter who had a modest hit with "I Kissed A Girl". It was all about how she kissed a girl, liked it, then went on to become a radical lesbian activist. Or something. Title aside, the song had nothing to do with the recent hit of the same name from that woman who looks like a sluttier version of Zooey Deschanel and dresses like a prostitute from the forties.
After years of ups and downs in the industry, Sobule decided to finance her latest album, California Years through an unorthodox route. She asked fans to put up money for the album in exchange for gifts. 10 dollars bought fans a digital download of the album. For ten thousand dollars one lucky fan even got to sing on the album. It is not known how much fans had to "donate" for a handjob. All in all, Sobule raised a whopping eighty-five thousand dollars for the album, which is produced by legendary producer and fellow one-hit wonder Don Was and features drumification by the estimable Jim Keltner.
What do you guys think of Sobule's scheme? Is it a clever way of subverting the system or fansploitation? What I'm really asking is how many of you are willing to put up money so I can finally publish my book of haikus about middle-relief pitchers from the mid-seventies?
Here's the press release:
JILL SOBULE TO SELF-RELEASE NEW RECORD, CALIFORNIA YEARS, ON APRIL 14, 2009 RECORD FUNDED BY HER FANS $85K RAISED VIA JILLSNEXTRECORD.COM Jill Sobule is proud to announce that after a very long and exciting road, her new album, entitled California Years, will be released on her own label, Pinko Records, on April 14, 2009. The album was produced by Don Was and features an all-star cast of players, including drummer Jim Keltner and pedal steeler Greg Leisz. It was recorded at Henson Recording Studios, the former A&M; Studio in Hollywood where Joni Mitchell made Blue and Carole King recorded Tapestry. One day about a year ago, Sobule found herself at a crossroads. She had written a batch of songs that she really liked, but she had no idea what to do with them. Over the course of her long music career, Sobule had already been dropped by two major labels, then found herself languishing on two indies that both went bankrupt. "Needless to say, I was hesitant to go down the label road again," she says. In November 2007, Sobule sent a message to her fans asking them what they thought of her idea to record a fan-funded CD. "It would be sort of a patronage thing, where you guys are the Medici family," she wrote, "except I give you prizes for donations of certain amounts." After receiving all kinds of useful advice and encouragement, she launched jillsnextrecord.com, where folks could donate cash in exchange for "gifts." A $10 contribution earned you a free digital download of the album; $50 got you an advanced copy and a 'Thank You' in the liner notes; $200 earned you free admission to all of Sobule's shows for the year; and $1,000 got you your own personal Sobule-penned "theme song." Three people who donated $5,000 got Sobule to come play at their house, which she loves to do ("They always have really good spreads"), and the one fan who donated $10,000 got to sing on the album (listen for her on "Mexican Pharmacy"). The website launched in mid-January 2008. By March, Sobule had reached her target of raising $75,000 through donations from more than 500 fans and even a few non-fans. "I got a message from this one guy saying, 'I don't really like your music, but I'm donating because I like this idea,'" Sobule recalls with a laugh. Because of those generous souls, Sobule was able to raise $85,000 and finance the recording, mastering, pressing, distribution, advertising and marketing of California Years. The initial goal was $75,000, but the fans' enthusiasm never waned. Sobule knew the pressure was on to make the best record she could to satisfy her hard-working investors and went out of her way to implement her dream plan to do so. That is why she hired Was and Keltner and recorded at Henson. The results are palpable. California Years is warm and wonderful; an intimate-sounding collection of keenly observed story-songs that chronicle Sobule's new life in Los Angeles (after many years in New York) with her trademark feistiness and insightful wit. A "peerless satirist" (as People magazine put it) who has proven herself a formidable raconteur over the course of her previous five studio albums, Sobule often delivers her blunt observations with laugh-out-loud humor. But underneath the crankiness and bravado resides a genuine vulnerability that makes Sobule's work so appealingly relatable. Not only do the songs on California Years touch on growing older in the music industry ("a taboo subject," Sobule says) but they also address trying to figure out where you belong. "The album is really about searching and yearning for something," says Sobule who is now in her mid-40s. California Years is a welcome addition to the Denver native's impressive catalog, which begins in 1990 with the Todd Rundgren-produced debut Things Here Are Different, followed by her 1995 self-titled breakthrough, which includes the pop hits "I Kissed A Girl" (not related to the Katy Perry song of the same name) and "Supermodel" (memorably featured in the film Clueless). Happy Town was next in 1997, followed by 2000's Pink Pearl, 2004's independently released The Folk Years 2003-2003, and 2004's Underdog Victorious. "I think it's taken me so long to do another album because I really liked my last two albums a lot and wasn't sure I could write songs that I thought were as good," she says. Sobule has also been busy over the last four years trying her hand at other creative endeavors, including writing the music for a new play entitled Prozak and The Platypus - a multimedia collaboration with playwright Elise Thoron and artist KellyAnne Hanrahan that was first staged in 2004 at the Beckett Festival in New York and eventually became part of the curriculum for high school and college students at the New York State Summer School for the Arts at Baruch College. In June 2008, Sobule released a CD of herself singing the songs from the show, entitled Jill Sobule Sings Prozak and the Platypus, which also includes a 30-page comic book. In addition, Sobule contributed music to the popular Nickelodeon TV show Unfabulous in 2005 and launched The Jill and Julia Show - a popular series of live shows with actress, writer and SNL alum Julia Sweeney, whom Sobule met during her yearly sojourn to perform at the annual TED conference. In 2006, Sobule became a regular contributor to left-leaning political blog The Huffington Post, inspiring readers with her musings on political songs and Christian right-wing radio. In 2007, Sobule's song "San Francisco" became the first single to be released in conjunction with Don Was' Wasmopolitan Cavalcade of Recorded Music, part of the producer's new-music website mydamnchannel.com. She was also a frequent guest on National Public Radio's "The Bryant Park Project," entertaining visitors to NPR.org with such musical ditties as "Ode to Super Tuesday" and "Lucy at the Gym." Through it all, Sobule wrote the songs that appear on California Years, which she was so eager for her benefactors to hear that she posted a preview of the songs on the site and solicited opinions from about which ones to include, leading one wisenheimer to remark: "I realize this will be an unpopular opinion, but I've listened to these tracks all the way through and I think it needs more cowbell." Look for Sobule to tour during all of 2009 and beyond. Tour dates to be announced soon.