An Interview With Sophie B. Hawkins
The “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” singer talks to GO about love, life and her future plans.
At the other end of the phone there is this elated “Hi! How are you doing?” There is no trace of the longing and frustration that plagued the 1992 smash, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover.” This is a very different Sophie B. Hawkins. One who says “truth and integrity” are the most important things in her life.
She is just days away from performing at the Canal Room in New York City and as she bursts into “Midnight Train to Georgia,” you can’t help but feel the energy that is about to erupt.
“I’m moving into a very interesting stage of my career,” Hawkins said. “I felt so confined by the pop world. It’s getting more and more confining creatively. Songs don’t sound as exploratory.”
Though no stranger to the pop charts, Hawkins, who owns her own record company, Trumpet Swan Records, no longer feels the burden to create music for commercial success.
“When my fans come to my show and hear my records, they want me to be completely who I am as an artist, which is always growing, changing, and reaching. So that’s what they’ll get at my show; I’m reaching for something new.”
Hawkins is, indeed, always reaching for something new. Ever since she burst onto the scene with her debut album Tongues and Tails 15 years ago and released “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” with an erotically charged music video that was banned by MTV, Hawkins has explored many sides of her heart.
She’s been mellow with “As I Lay Me Down,” which remains one of the longest-running singles on the adult contemporary charts. She’s been defiant with “Lose Your Way;” a song she wrote with a banjo that led to her departure from Sony Records because they wanted her to sell out and give it more of a pop sound. And she’s been raw with “Your Tongue Like the Sun in My Mouth” that explored her omnisexuality.
“I love my phrase ‘omnisexual,’” Hawkins said. “The truth about omnisexuality is my sexuality is spiritual. It’s creative. I absolutely can fall in love with any gender if I love the person’s mind, heart and soul.”
And she has. She’s been with both men and women. “Sex is my favorite thing in the world. I demand it in my relationships.”
For the past 11 years that relationship has been with a woman.
“Can your friggin’ believe it?” Hawkins said stunned at her own success of a long-term relationship.
“I think you have to keep sex interesting with a man or a woman. You have to keep investigating someone’s soul.”
She enjoys exploring very much.
“One in the relationship is usually more aggressive about sex. That’s me! I’m very comfortable with the lesbian sides of myself. P.S., I love lesbians!”
However, she doesn’t admit she has a preference between men or women.
“I just wish I could be in a relationship with both,” Hawkins said.
Although that is possible, Hawkins will not play by those rules.
“I pick people who are very monogamous. I need to be grounded and work well with that friction of ‘you better not be so free.’ My relationship would not exist any other way.”
Hawkins’ need for rules to follow is a result of her childhood. She grew up in New York City on 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus in an environment she compares to Paris in the 1920’s. That period has been described as a hotbed of seduction and self-indulgence.
“I grew up in a family where there wasn’t monogamy. Both parents had affairs and did whatever they wanted,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins’ mother had relationships with women during a time when it wasn’t as acceptable as it is today. Looking back, Hawkins does not see her mother as courageous.
“I didn’t think that was very brave of her. It wasn’t because of monogamy or her being with women,” Hawkins explained. “I really thought everyone would be better off if someone would just commit. I had a long path to learn rules because our house was the den of inequity.”
On Nov. 1 Hawkins celebrated her 40th birthday.
“Everyone knows that! I can’t even lie about my age.”
Hawkins says that with nothing but happiness.
“I feel my body is more beautiful, more sensual and my mind is clearer than ever. I am no longer an addict.”
When she refers to the word “addict,” she acknowledges it’s her life-long struggle with an eating disorder.
“I was walking back to my apartment on Christopher Street, and I remember saying out loud, ‘I am never going to tell anyone about my secret. I’m going to die with my secret. I love my secret.’”
Anorexia was her friend and her way of coping with her childhood. Then she realized one morning, in that same apartment, she wasn’t going to continue starving herself. She knew it would lead to her becoming “isolated” and “extinct.” For support she turned to lilacs.
“Every time I felt like acting out, I bought lilacs,” Hawkins said. “It was my symbol of rebirth. I had stopped myself at age 28.”
Interestingly and unknown to Hawkins until she spoke with GO, lavender, the color of certain lilacs, is the color of the ribbons that represent eating disorder awareness.
“OMG! That just gave me chills hearing that,” Hawkins said.
Her songs were also what gave her the strength she needed to overcome her demons. Through lyrics, she said, it brought others into her healing process.
“Doesn’t that sound tacky?” Hawkins chuckled.
It doesn’t. Hawkins writes her own material, so she is able to convey her truth through lyrics. She said her song “Bare the Weight of Me” remains her favorite. At first she wouldn’t own up to living through some of the stories she wrote in her songs. She’d tell people, “It was a dream I had.” Then she realized that hiding—for anyone—is the most damaging.
More stories that shed light into Hawkins’ existence are about to come out. She is working on a new album that was due out this year. It has been delayed until the spring because she has been working on a musical she has been asked to write for one of today’s biggest Broadway stars—who will remain nameless at this time.
The musical, which was originally written in the 1920’s but never made it to the stage because of its progressive themes, is giving Hawkins the freedom to write without limitations.
“The characters are not me,” Hawkins said. “However, this is the thing about good writing when you can achieve it. When you can find that thread that applies to you and the rest of the world, it doesn’t matter who the character is. I’m bringing all of myself to these songs, but it’s a secret cathartic experience because no one knows that these are my stories because they are written for a character.”
Hawkins is proud she hasn’t sold out for riches and fame and wants to keep getting stronger as an artist.
“I want to find my stride when I’m in my fifties, sixties, seventies, and even eighties. True artists go years and years without anyone wanting to hear from them, but the cycle comes back around.”
Sophie B. Hawkins doesn’t have to worry. People are still waiting to hear much more from her.
For information on Sophie B. Hawkins, including her charities, and her upcoming show at the Canal Room, visit www.sophiebhawkins.com and www.canalroom.com