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Sophie B. Hawkins – Daring to Love Herself

Sophie B. Hawkins

Daring to Love Herself

by Jay S. Jacobs

Times change and people change. About 30 years ago, Sophie B. Hawkins was pleading that damn, she wished she was our lover. Now she realizes that sometimes she is better off taking care of herself.

Hawkins was one of the biggest female singers in the early to mid-nineties, a pre-Lilith Fair hitmaker who topped the charts with such songs as “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover,” “Right Beside You” and “As I Lay Me Down.” Just last year her debut album Tongues and Tails – which spawned the beloved “Damn” hit – had its 30th anniversary, for which Hawkins spent most of last year touring to celebrate.

However, she was never one to live in the past. She has been creating and releasing music ever since. Last year she released a new single, “Love Yourself.” She followed it up with her current single “Better Off Without You,” and her upcoming seventh album Free Myself. The new record is her first in slightly over a decade (since The Crossing in 2012) and has been getting some terrific buzz.

She is also starting a tour for Free Myself which will be starting on the eastern seaboard this week and stopping at World Café Live in Philadelphia on March 28.

We spoke with Sophie a week or so before the release of Free Myself and her latest tour. Here is what she had to say.

Free Myself is your first album in over ten years. You previewed that with the singles “Love Yourself” and “Better Off Without You.” How does it feel to be getting new music out there?

It feels great. The whole album is about unburdening myself. Getting the music out is a part of that unburdening. It took so long to figure out how to get it out, where’s the support going to come from? How am I going to keep it going once I put one thing out? It had visited a struggle, but the struggle really always is symbolic of other things in life, I think. So, getting to this point means that I literally have gotten rid of some blocks. I’m getting my music out. It’s called Free Myself. It wasn’t always called Free Myself. It’s just that at the time when I said, “Okay, these are going to be the songs and this is the order and here’s the part…,” then it became clear that this is what I was doing for the next many years of my life. I was freeing myself. That’s why I chose that.

I was reading that you wrote “Love Yourself” after coming home from a party and the whole thing just spilled out of you. What was the story behind that?

That is the story. It’s exactly like the lyrics, although the lyrics say it better than I can. I went to this party. I was eating coconut cake and drinking a little red wine. Then I was coming home, and I had this moment where I could have criticized myself, habitually, like, “Oh, you shouldn’t have eaten so much cake,” or, “Oh, you said the wrong thing.” Whatever. But this amazing voice in my head said, “love yourself.” It was the first time without working at it. But it’s because of all the work I had done for all those years. We all do. I’ve really been conscious of my voices and my intention. And, like I said, wanting to free myself. Wanting to be unburdened by this heaviness of life that sets in at some point. I’m not exactly sure the age, but when we start judging each other. Being so tough and unaccepting, and unwilling to just be ourselves. I mean the self that is like we were nine years old. So basically, that voice was there, and it was there for me. I wrote the song, and then I thought this is a sea change. There was no apology, or “I love myself, but….” It was clear that I had reached a new point in my life, and I was so grateful.

What do you think it says about you as a songwriter that in 30 years you’ve gone from “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” to “Better Off Without You?”

(chuckles) I know, I love that. I think that works. By the way, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” it’s not that it’s an untrue emotion. It’s still true. When I sing it, I still feel it very much. But “Better Off Without You” is where I am now because that’s truer for this time. I don’t think things are necessarily linear. They’re not for me anyways. “Better Off Without You” is so free. It’s not even mean. It’s just true. We all realize that we’re never really alone in the world. But sometimes we feel very alone when we’re in a relationship that’s constricting, or codependent, or heavy. It’s a great thing when you finally say I have a choice here. I don’t have to be doing this. It would set everybody free if I would just stop doing this.

Another one of the new songs that really stood out to me was “Angel In Disguise,” which is a clever play on the old Elvis song “Devil In Disguise.” Do you ever feel that way, that sometimes people don’t necessarily see the goodness in people and themselves and that’s right in front of them?

Yeah, I do. I feel that that’s a defense. Even with me. We all go through difficult things with people that we love very much, and I think there’s that point where we see the worst. Then we bring out the worst. There’s a great phrase, I think it’s from Christian Science, “See good and you’ll see good.” I always remember that because I will go through things, and I will see the worst. I’ll fight the worst. I’ll battle it out. But there is a quality that I really do have that I still can see the best in that person. It just will take one moment to flip. I will see that person as the person I loved. It happens to me, and people say you are too forgiving. I say, “No, no, I’m not too forgiving. This is somebody that I loved. I now can see the great qualities again.” People often will harp on the bad qualities in a way to edit, to simplify. To make themselves feel stronger. Maybe to give yourself a reason to fight. All things you need to do is to embrace, to change. You have to fight to change. Then you have to admit what’s yours. I believe the other great saying is “Leave room for redemption.” It’s been said so much better than me by so many great thinkers, if we saw the humanity in our enemies, we wouldn’t even want to fight them, we would want to love them.

Another great song is “Fairy Tales,” which, even as a song has a bit of an eerie feel to it. Why do you think that fairy tales today tend to sometimes be scary as well?

They are scary because when you get what you want, it’s frightening. Most people really don’t want what they think they want. Then when you get it, it can be like you’re confronted with your most unevolved self sometimes. So there’s that. Then there’s also the fact that that’s one side of it and there is another. There are so many sides. Another side is that, when you really can feel what you want is happening, it’s scary. There you are yourself, and you have to go with it. You have to be present for it. Now you can’t control it. That’s what I’m looking for. The word is you lose control. So if you are getting your wishes, your fairy tales, you are not really in control of dreaming anymore. Now it’s dreaming you. You have to open up and people don’t like to open up. None of us do. It’s hard. We like to be open, but the process is really hard.

You had mentioned earlier about how you’ve changed over the years. How do you feel your musical artistry has changed over the years? In what ways is Free Myself musically different than earlier albums like Tongues and Tails or Whaler?

I think the artistry has really just changed, because… I won’t say that I’ve changed, I’m just trying new things. If I had never done Tongues and Tails, then next year, I might want to do Tongues and Tails. But personally, I’m cycling through what are the things that I want to do before I die. I wanted to make this kind of album. I couldn’t have done it before, because I didn’t have the maturity and the wisdom to say I’m going to let those synthesizers go. I don’t need those drum loops. I don’t need all those backing vocals. I’m just going to go with the pure song and try to do something like maybe The Temptations did, or something. Maybe I failed. Maybe I succeeded. It doesn’t matter. I wanted to do it, so I did it. That’s how I see my artistry as… not changing, but as I want to do this, I’m going to do this. Then I do it. Then it’s done. Then I want to move on to the next thing.

Last year, you toured for the 30th anniversary of Tongues and Tails. How crazy is it that it’s been 30 years since that album came out?

I kept telling people it was my 20th anniversary. I actually thought it was and then I realized it wasn’t. How crazy is it? What’s crazy is that I was allowed to do it in the first place and that I’m still doing it. It was pretty different what I was putting out there in ‘92. Then it seemed like I was just going to not be able to, with all the fights with the record companies and all this jazz. All the stuff that I came out and said and did. But apparently, the songs were stronger than struggles.

Between hits like “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “Right Beside You,” and “As I Lay Me Down,” you were all over the radio and TV for a few years. What was that like to be in the middle of that sort of whirlpool? Was it sort of surreal to be you and the height of your popularity?

I didn’t feel any different then than I do now. People would always say things and I’d say I don’t understand what you mean. I didn’t understand that people were seeing me as a quote/unquote “famous person,” and how they felt listening to me on the radio and then walking in and seeing me in the house. I never had to make that adjustment. I was just me, still writing songs and still being a human being exactly like everybody else. So, again, I didn’t have to ever make the adjustment. I still don’t. Some people say that it’s to a fault – that I would be a lot more successful if I would just admit this and that. Work it more and go with it more. But whatever, we are who we are. I take pleasure in just having an extremely grounded lifestyle.

You’re going back out on tour. In fact, you’re going to be in Philadelphia in a couple of weeks, and I’m looking forward to seeing you. But do you prefer performing live or in the studio? In what ways are they different? Some better, some worse?

Now I like live better. I did like the studio better when I was younger, because I liked the control better when I was younger. Now I really like to just let it go. It’s done. You don’t have to think about it. You can move on. That’s basically the joy of getting older, being able to move on. And just have so much fun while you’re doing it. Feel it, feel it, really feel it, and then not judge it. This is the part of Free Myself and “Love Yourself.” Feel it, don’t judge it and then move on. Greet the audience. Go to the merch table. Hear everybody else’s stories because they’re a lot more interesting than mine. Then, get into bed with some hot cocoa and a book. Go to the next town. It’s kind of great.

In concert, do you tend to play mostly new music or is it a cross section of your career? I know that last year, you focused on Tongue and Tails. But for the new tour for Free Myself, do you think you’re going to do a lot of songs from the new album or just a few new songs mixed in with some of your older work?

I’m definitely doing all the hits that people want to hear. [Songs] from each album. Then I’m doing probably six songs from Free Myself. I do like to do “I Want You,” the cover. (Ed note: A Bob Dylan song she originally recorded for Tongues and Tails.) I won’t have time for anything else but that.

Over the years beyond your music, you’ve also been very involved in activism for such causes as environmental protection, animal rights, LGBTQ equality. How important do you think it is to use your time and your name recognition to help bring attention to causes that you’re passionate about?

Well, it’s been important for me. I don’t know if it’s important. It’s a really good question. Some people don’t and it seems to be okay. I don’t know, do you think it’s important?

I do. To let people know what’s important to you, and shine a light on certain things that you think need to be considered…

I do. Well, I appreciate it in other artists, I have to say. I know that some people who are fans really don’t like it when somebody they love has an opinion that they don’t like. They can take it extremely personally, and it can really ruin their day. So I don’t know what the truth of it all is. But I personally like when an artist takes a stand. I personally don’t like it when I can recognize that they’re just faking it and they’re saying it the way their publicist told them to say it. That I really, really don’t like, but that’s just me. I’m looking for the truth in everybody, not just another artists.

The musical world has changed a whole lot in the years since you started – with streaming and piracy and the decrease in radio listeners and everything. You came up at the tail end of the last boom period of the old label system. Do you think that today’s musicians have a more difficult road to find an audience?

Yeah. I think it depends on the artist, but for an artist like me, who really writes pop songs and catchy songs for the radio, the old label system was kind of great. (sighs) I don’t know what to say anymore, because I don’t know where it’s going right now. I think that the artists, the songwriters don’t have enough rights. Nobody’s getting paid enough. Streaming isn’t paying anything. Somebody’s making a ton of money, but it seems like 99.9% of people are not making any money. I don’t know how artists survive and do it. I don’t know why people expect artists to survive and do it. I don’t know why people don’t recognize how difficult it is for most artists. So, I’m incredibly empathetic towards all of us. For me, too. I can’t tell you how hard it was to get this album out. What a sacrifice it is. You are sacrificing everything to do it. Your family. It’s very difficult, let’s just put it that way.

A couple few years ago, we went through a horrible thing for the entire country. But trying to look at the bright side, a lot of people during the pandemic when they were stuck in home found an outburst of imagination and inspiration and time to work on their art. Did a lot of the songs that are on Free Myself come from during the pandemic time, or how did that come they come about?

Maybe some did. I wrote a lot of songs during the pandemic that are not on Free Myself. They have a different texture and timbre. Right before the pandemic was when I was going to release Free Myself, actually. But I did change it up after the pandemic, and I was going to get a chance to release it now. I did edit the song list and take some songs off and put some songs on. That was really cool. I don’t know, I feel like the pandemic was just a period of time where people… I just I don’t have a good feeling of memory of it right now. I have a bad memory. Everyone just got addicted. Everyone got addicted to being online. It just it brought out... yes, you’re right, people were creative and everything, but when you look at what people really did, a lot of it was just… I don’t know.

Speaking of online, there are so many additional ways for musicians to interact with their audience nowadays, like social media, and even just more chances to meet people on tour. Do you like having more direct contact with your fans?

For me, that hasn’t changed. I’ve always been extremely available and open to the fans when I’m on tour, and then extremely private when I’m not on tour. There’s the sense of generosity that I have with my fans, and it goes both ways. But I think my fans know, I’m basically a really private person. By that it’s not like I’m hiding anything. It’s just that, I have my family and I have my work. There’s no time to be galivanting around with people that I don’t really know. So I’m very open to people while I’m on tour because that’s the time to meet them. Then it doesn’t intermingle. I don’t spend a lot of hours on social media by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t. I’m always telling my kids to get off their screens as well. I don’t think it’s healthy for humans. I think it is, as somebody said, the scourge of humanity. It’s just a necessary evil right now. You can’t release music without it, that’s all.

One last quick question. If you could go back in time and have a chat with your younger self, what do you think you’d tell her?

I would tell my younger self, first of all, relax. Everything is going to be here. Let go of all these bozos around you, you don’t need them. Just do what you do best, which is your work. Have confidence. I would tell my younger self, you’re better off without them. And frankly some are better off without you.

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: March 23, 2023.

Photo © 2023 Ken Grand-Pierre. Courtesy of Press Here. All rights reserved.

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