Music Morsels - June 2000
|CROSSROADS.......... Jill Sobule by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the June 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
The pop music world has been waking up to Jill Sobule for several years now. After the singer/performer/songwriter's reveille with the controversial "I Kissed A Girl" from her 1995 self-titled CD, more people began to delve into her brand of music blending sweet breathy vocals and hooky music with often satyric lyrics. The 1997 follow-up "Happy Town" left her recording label Atlantic not overly happy with the sales, although the critics loved it. Dropped from the label, she managed to stay involved with music, including singing on some movie soundtracks and working on National Public Radio as a singing political commentator. Then she wound up as a hired gun, playing guitar for Lloyd Cole. Soon after, Jill went in the studio and recorded "Pink Pearl". Released in the spring of 2000 on Beyond records, the CD has not only given a new public awakening about Jill's wonderful music, but has rekindled her own musical fire as well.
Born in Denver, Jill's siblings had an early effect on her life's path. "My brothers had a band, so they used to practice in the basement," she recalls. "I had liberal parents, and they encouraged this sort of thing. So I'd listen to the music they were playing, not that it was the greatest band in the world, but I thought it as a really cool thing." Jill actually started playing guitar at age eight, and as she grew and eventually went to college, she honed her performing talents while secretly carrying a passion for songwriting. "At first when I started playing around with songwriting, all the songs I wrote were for myself. Some of them were pretty self-indulgent, like a semi-Jewel poetry kind of thing. But I eventually thought that maybe I should try to play them in front of people." Living in New York City, she got to know a music publisher who suggested she take the music to Nashville, where she was originally signed to MCA. They released her debut "Things Here Are Different", which was produced by Todd Rundgren. She moved to Atlantic Records for the next CD, but even the impact that "Jill Sobule" made with the song "I Kissed A Girl" couldn't prevent her from being dropped when her next CD just didn't sell enough. "I was pretty disillusioned when they dropped me," she recalls. "At first it was kind of hard to get right back into the whole music thing."
One thing she did in the interim was sing political commentary on a local NPR station. "I'd write anything from the tallaban in Afganistan to low-rent (tabloid) news. It was really fun to do and it's great for songwriting because you have to write something and you don't have to put as much pressure on yourself because they are throw-away songs. It's not like it's going to be on a record." Then Lloyd Cole came along and hired Jill as a guitarist for his touring band. "I guess he liked my guitar playing, but the cool thing is I was able to open for Lloyd on a lot of his shows." Rekindling the musical fire, Jill recorded "Pink Pearl" in early 2000. "I really think I grew with the music on this CD. I'm pretty proud of it. A lot of people tend to be really self-critical, but I really think I've gone through the process of becoming a better writer. I think it has good storytelling and a sense of humor and irony, I don't think there are too many people out there doing that."
Looking back to her formative years, Jill still draws from that early "self-indulgent" songwriting exploration for music she records today. "There are some things I'm embarrased about, but then I come back to them and realize there was a certain real innocence to them, and it still has a validity to them. I've kind of revisited some old songs." Down the road, Jill is going to be doing more political work writing musical commentary concerning the upcoming presidential election. She still plays guitar for Lloyd Cole and of course is performing her own music for her fans. "I know I'm never going to be Britany Spears and sell that many records. I really don't want to be. But if I can do nothing else with my life, I will keep plugging away. It is my joy to do it."
|INDUSTRY PROFILE - Brent Kidwell, Music Supervisor for ABC's Making the Band
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the June 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
There are not many people who can say that they shared the stage with Elvis, but life-long LA resident Brent Kidwell can truthfully make that claim. "My father was close friends with (Elvis)," Brent recalls. "So Elvis dragged me out on stage with him when I was about six years old. I think I was bitten by the music bug at that point." At first, Brent went into the musical side of the business, performing in bands both in high school and while attending college at the University of California-Irvine. In college, Brent acquired a major in psychology and a minor in journalism, and as the performing side of music began to wane, he looked to the field of writing for music publications. "It wasn't that I failed at making it in music. I never thought I'd make it big. It was just enjoying music and playing for the crowds just for the fun of it. The stage thing is great but it's just being in and around music that does it for me."
Brent wrote for a number national music publications, including a three year stint as assistant music editor for Detour Magazine. But he soon realized it was hard to make a good living being a music journalist. So Brent searched for another avenue of work in music, finding it in the film industry working for one of the top hollywood music composers, Hans Zimmer. Brent was originally hired to supervise the studio, but late at night, Brent would hone his technical skills in the studio and work closely with directors and producers. One day, a friend called and informed him of a new show produced at MTV called "Road Rules." Brent promptly joined the TV music network to become the Music Supervisor for the fledgeling show.
Over the years, he would also work extensively with MTV's "Real World" and more recently became involved with the first TV show produced by MTV for a prime time major network, ABC's "Making The Band". The show is a docu-drama in the vein of "Real World" dealing with the progress of the next big "boy band". "Not only do I select all the music used in the program, but I helped select the material that was used for the auditions for the band members. I had to find material that was OK for use on the air. I also have to manage the ability to afford music for the series as well as having good quality music for the creativity of it." Brent also works closely with the show's composer as well as finding pop songs that are right for particular scenes. Although he would like to try to do some major motion picture music supervision in the future, Brent is very happy with what he is doing right now. "I have a lot of creative freedom. Our producers and directors let me be creative in choosing the music, and generally, there are no complaints about it. They let me have free rein. Music has always been a hobby of mine. When other people go home at the end of a day, I generally go to record stores and browse around or go to clubs to check out who's playing.".
|UNSIGNED ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - Marc Barry of NineDollarMelonBaller by Mark
(As appearing in the June 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
OK - all you people who make jokes about Iowa, there are some hot, I repeat, h ot bands brewing in the Hawkeye State as of late. One of the acts that is poised to burst beyond the scene is Cedar Falls' NineDollarMelonBaller. This band fronted by singer/guitarist/ songwriter Marc Barry contains seasoned road warriors who have toured around the country. They also scored national TV exposure last year on the ESPN Pro Beach Hockey Championship Games and a Jagermeister sponsorship. Radio stations coast to coast spun the band's second CD "I'll Give You Something To Cry About" and songs from the disc were featured on numerous compilations CDs as well as Disney's Z-Games and MTV's Road Rules television series. The band is now ready to unveil their latest masterpiece, "Seeing In The Dark". Putting a decided pop slant to their edgy brand of alt rock, the CD's first single "Nothing At All" is already slated for use on ABC's "Making The Band". Ready to hit the road again, Marc is joined by bassist Brandon Mills, drummer Mike Linsey, and the newest MelonBaller guitarist/vocalist Jeff Banks. For more insite on what makes this rising musical force from the heartland tick, here's a chat with Marc Barry.
MM: What inspired you to become a musician?
MB: It's in my blood. I don't think I had a choice really. I started playing music when I was four years old, and I've been on stage my whole life. I don't think I really know anything else. With rock and roll, I started out on the drums, and then when I turned twenty, I picked up the guitar. Oh man, I knew there was nothing better for me. I had to play that.
MM: Is that the same time you delved into songwriting?
MB: The first song I learned on the guitar was a Metallica song, and the second song I learned was one I wrote. My girlfriend of four years had broken up with me and I was feeling pretty shitty, so it was a sad song that I wrote.
MM: How did NineDollarMelonBaller originally form?
MB: I was originally on drums, with a bass player friend of mine from high school and a soundguy from a band I played in once. Just the three of us, no vocals, just guitar, bass and drums. We'd get together a couple times a week and rehearse songs I wrote and just progressed from there. I wrote all the songs on guitar, would show our guitarist the riff and we'd just jam on it. Then the bass player left the band, and I felt like I wanted to keep it going. So I got another friend of mine to play bass and we hired a singer. From there, it just took off. We played gigs, recorded a demo tape, and it all began to happen at once. We didn't really have a plan.
MM: Is that the way it happened for you as well, when you made the conversion from drummer to singer/guitarist?
MB: I didn't start playing guitar in the band until '97. It was a really rough transition because the guitarist that was in the band at the time was really unwilling to give up the guitar. So he quit, then we were just a three piece. So it evolved that way. Everyone was calling me Dave Grohl because I was a drummer and then went up front. It just felt natural. I didn't make a goal of doing it. It just happened.
MM: You've gone through a number of personnel changes over the years. Do you feel happy with the line-up you have now?
MB: It's amazing, absolutely amazing. The line-up now consists of very true professional musicians. These guys have chops from hell, all of them studied jazz and the rock fusion thing. Their technical musical ability is outstanding. What's so cool is that they were all friends of mine at some point in my life. It's really motivating.
MM: When you were first starting to write the music for "Seeing In The Dark", did you have a clear idea of doing something a little different from your previous CDs?
MB: Oh yeah. The first inkling of this album surfaced in my mind in about January of 1999. I was watching a "Behind The Music" episode on John Mellencamp, and I had never seen one of those before. He was talking about things that I've always thought about but never gave myself a chance to explore. Doing your own music, something that is really in your blood that you've always wanted to try or experiment or do. He was successful at it. "Seeing" is more of an acoustic pop thing, and it was something I had orginally started doing when I first started playing guitar. I thought, "I never recorded these songs seriously before." I'd never really given them a chance, but when I started writing music for it, I just went through the songs that I had written years ago and updated them a bit. It was something I needed to do.
MM: How happy are you with the results?
MB: I think this is by far the best album we've done. There's no doubt in my mind this is the best thing I have ever done recording-wise. I'm very happy with it. We spent a good two months on it, something I never dreamed we would do. We spent two weeks on "I'll Give You Something To Cry About", our previous release. I was in the perfectionist mode this time, I suppose.
MM: How have the new songs gone at live shows?
MB: Jeff has only played three shows with us, but the response has been very good. We've been playing in front of all different types of people and all different kinds of crowds. I think people are in anticipation of this album coming out because it's pretty kick-ass. When they hear the songs, they want to buy it. That's one goal that we've achieved.
MM: How big would you say your fan base is?
MB: Our fan base doesn't extend very far out of the Midwest, but as far as the places that we regularily play, we are able to draw several hundred people. The mailing list is a lot bigger than that, and we're starting to reach many more people. Our fan base is continually growing.
MM: You've toured from one end of the country to the other. How has the reaction been to your music outside the Midwest?
MB: The reaction is surprising, because when we say we are from Iowa, everyone says, "What? (Laughs) You're from where? Why?" I think people are surprised that a band as good as we are and as tight as we are can live in Iowa. It's always good to floor people with something like that.
MM: Do you think things are starting to happen with the music scene in Iowa?
MB: Industry people are starting to take notice of the talent here. As far as the live music scene goes, it's kind of dying. Two of the biggest clubs here are closing so the venues for live music are dwindling. This is very very frustrating for bands like us who play original music. We don't really have a way to showcase our music any other way except at these clubs. We're going to have to start experimenting with new things and new clubs.
MM: With the feedback you've received, what is it that people like most about the music?
MB: I think the thing people respond to is our energy level. It's always pretty intense and I think they're surprised that our music is original. It seems a little familiar to people, which I take as a compliment. They're always comparing us to other bands, and to me, that's a huge compliment because the bands they are comparing us to are very succsessful at what they do.
MM: Do you feel with the new CD and line-up that NineDollarMelonBaller has what it takes to be nationally successful as well?
MB: I think we've always had that. I think right now we're finally at a point to where we have the level of commitment from the players. The music is kick-ass and we're all just done being introduced and ready to get on with it!
"Seeing in the Dark" is slated for release June 13, 2000 on indie label Surgeland Records. For more info on NineDollarMelonBaller, visit their web site at http://www.ninedollarmelonballer.com
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