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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

Jill Sobule
Anette Aurell

Things Are Different Now: Jill Sobule plays the Cactus Club on April 8.

Kissing Off the Past:
Singer Jill Sobule returns to 'Happy Town'

ROCK & ROLL is known for its killing ways. In Jill Sobule's case, however, a six-week tour in 1990 with Joe Jackson was a respite from all that ailed her early in life. "I was having a really hard time," Sobule says, calling from a tour stop in St. Louis (she appears at the Cactus Club in San Jose on April 8). "I was in my miserable 20s. I was dealing with a lot of problems--like depression--and [wondering] 'Who am I?' I had an eating disorder. I was a genuine mess." The Jackson/Sobule show at Berkeley's Greek Theater left a lasting impression. She performed some acoustic songs--"Karen by Night" and "Things Are Different Now"--that impressed everyone with their impeccable wit and charm.

"That was the best tour I'd ever done," Sobule reminisces. "We were playing really nice theaters. Joe Jackson would always stay in these great hotels, like the Four Seasons. I'm staying at OK places on this tour, but it was nothing like back then. I thought touring was always like that." National recognition followed when Sobule kissed a girl in 1995, wrote a hit single about it and then toured like crazy. She's back with a beat-heavy, cynical new record called Happy Town.

After "I Kissed a Girl" became an MTV hit, Sobule experienced more prodding than Ellen DeGeneres. Sobule never expected "I Kissed a Girl" to be the hit single. It was just a fun, storytelling track with homoerotic content. Soon, she was unwittingly thrust into the role of Sexually Confused Pop Star Spokesperson of a generation. "Being branded as the 'I Kissed a Girl' girl became really tiring," Sobule admits. "It was a Catch 22. If it hadn't been for 'I Kissed a Girl,' I wouldn't have done this next record. I won some awards from the gay and lesbian community, and that was really nice. When I would play radio shows and outdoor shows, I'd meet fans of the song who saw and liked the video--all these teenagers and sexually confused teens. They'd say, 'This song made me feel really, really good, like I'm not such a weirdo.' "

After the fuss over her self-titled album and single ended, Sobule went through a "little funk." She suffered writer's block and was dogged by the dark clouds that often bedevil one-hit wonders. Her experiences are documented on Happy Town on the tracks "Bitter," "Sold My Soul" and "Underachiever." The sound on the new album is thicker, with an emphasis on beats. She picked up drums last year and plays on "Bitter," "Half a Heart" and "Happy Town." "I memorized three Ringo Starr fills," Sobule says. "I find it's easier to emulate Ringo than John Bonham."

Despite the often cynical subject matter, Happy Town deals more with a state of mind. "It's talking about everyone's pursuit of a new God, the pursuit of happiness," she explains. "I remember being in a room of 20 people in L.A., and everyone was talking about Prozac and their problems with sexual dysfunction."

Sobule is a natural storyteller. If this rock & roll thing doesn't pan out, she could easily transfer her talents to the world of short stories or children's books. "To tell you the truth, part of me wants to do that," Sobule confesses. "If the label hadn't picked me up a second time, I probably would have gone on to something else. But songs are like two-minute stories. When I'm 50, it's something I'd like to do instead of spending 10 hours on the rock bus."

Emancipation Proclamation

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince continues his Emancipation charity tour with a show on April 12 in San Jose. Tickets for TAFKAP show scheduled for the San Jose State University Event Center go on sale this Monday, April 7, at 10am at all BASS outlets. The tickets are $50 and general admission.

Spring, Summer, Whatever

Gordon Biersch opens its "Summer" Music Series with Wally's Swing World on Friday (April 4). Other acts this month include Viva Brasil (April 5), Chris Cain (April 11), Toledo (April 12), Daddy Goddus (April 18), Orquestra Gitano (April 19), B-Side Players (April 25) and One Step Beyond (April 26). All shows begin at 9pm and are free.

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

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