Sophie B. Hawkins on new music, Sasha Colby & the staying power of ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’

Sophie B. Hawkins on new music, Sasha Colby & the staying power of ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’

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Sophie B. Hawkins sits on a rock on a beach looking into the sky. She wears a beach hat, a long sleeved white blouse, and blue jeans and rests with her arms on her legs holding a feather quill pen. She is barefoot and smiling pensively.

Sophie B. Hawkins is still a certified rockstar.

It’s been over 30 years since the release of her debut album Tongues and Tails, featuring top-5 hit and LGBTQ+ anthem “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Yet on the heels of her fifth album Free Myself (which dropped in March), Hawkins is as unapologetically outspoken and fiercely passionate as ever.

The record is the start of a new chapter for the socially active singer-songwriter, marking her first release in over a decade. To diaristically sum up lessons learned from motherhood, a lengthy breakup, moving home from the West Coast, and taking stock of her identity within the industry sounds like a tall order. But Hawkins, who identifies as omnisexual, flexes her dexterity on each track.

Her favorite (at the moment) is “Consume Me in Your Fire,” which appears in demo form. “It’s just so raw,” Hawkins told Queerty. “That’s the first take of the song. That was me in my bedroom in Manhattan with my guitar, first time ever putting it down. That, to me, doesn’t always happen.”

The album is filled with similar moments of uninhibited candidness and truthful reflection. The buoyancy of opener “Love Yourself” is undeniable, with soundly specific lyrics. “I went to a party / The folks were fine / I ate coconut cake / I drank old red wine,” Hawkins sings. It’s not a grandiose turn of phrase, yet it’s evocative. That simplicity ended up being her “in” for Free Myself.

“I’ve become more minimalist,” Hawkins said. “When something stands out, and especially when it’s something subtle, I want to highlight it.” That lucidity, and even more so naturalism, has remained a theme in Hawkins’ life and recent tour. (“We weren’t stopping for Waffle House,” she said. “We were stopping and going on hikes for mushrooms.”)

It’s not a huge surprise Hawkins is finding herself amongst nature’s simplicities. After all, the lyrics of her breakout hit compared sex to the living world: “I sat on a mountainside with peace of mind / And I lay by the ocean / Makin’ love to her with visions clear / Walked for days with no one near / And I return as chained and bound to you.” It still hits!

We caught up with Hawkins over Zoom to discuss her latest album, queerness, and the legacy of her 1992 hit. Here’s what she had to say…

QUEERTY: Free Myself is your first album in 10 years, and it’s such a beautiful title. Was that name and concept something that you had been thinking about or did it come up as you were finishing?

HAWKINS: I think that freeing myself was the theme of the last 10 years [since] I left LA. “Better Off Without You” describes the personal tsunami that happened in my life: my manager, my partner of all those years, left. The story’s in the song, so I don’t want to really give it away. 

And then I moved with my son back to Manhattan, where I grew up. Before I could even start to rebuild, there was this real sense of fleeing from mental slavery. Feeling like I’d been gaslighted, not just by the present circumstances, but by all my past. When something so big happens in our lives, this cataclysmic thing, we trace it back to the roots of how we could have let this happen, how we could have been drawn to the situation. It’s almost like we’re waiting for the other shoe to fall. And then when it falls, we go, “Well, we knew it was going to fall, so why did we create that? Why did we create this catharsis?”

The theme was there, although I didn’t admit it to myself as well as you just said.

It’s interesting because there’s a bit of a parallel between “Love Yourself” and “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.” Did the songwriting process feel the same for this album as it did before?

It did feel different. I agree with you, it’s bookends really. “Damn” was the beginning of one era and then “Love Yourself” is the beginning of my next era, or my third act, or maybe even my penultimate act. Maybe there will be four acts, who knows? 

When I was writing “Damn,” I wrote [it] on the piano, but there was a sense that I had to be straight, steady. I had to be New York, that tough chick that I was. I was so young, and everything was new. Now, after all these albums and time, I’ve heard all those chords before. I’ve put them together in millions of different ways trying to find a new song. 

When I was writing this album, I just had to be real with myself at the piano, guitar, ukulele, whatever instrument I had. I wanted to strip it down to the melody, lyrics, and movement of chords. I said, “You’ve got to let go of always trying to be new. You’ve got to just be real with who you are.” And I have to say, I liked that. I was a little insecure that “Love Yourself” was too simplistic. But then as I performed it, I realized this simplicity was beautiful and strong.

Has the meaning of “Damn” evolved for you over time?

Yeah, it feels even more powerful. I’m so grateful that I’m the person who wrote that song. I can’t believe that person is within me and I’m so happy for the power of it and [what] the song has done for me. I didn’t know when I wrote it that it would create my life and support me for the next 30 years. I knew it was a big song, but I didn’t know it was going to be that enormous.

So now when I’m performing, it’s like, “Wow, this part of myself is so great and I’m so thankful for that part of myself.” When I used to perform it, I used to think that I had to live up to the album version. I’m not thinking any of things anymore. I’m just thinking, “Oh wow, these lyrics are great. This melody is great. These people know this song!” It’s really a trip.

I know you did a handful of Pride shows this year. Do you have a favorite part of performing for LGBTQ+ audiences?

Yes, I love it. The bad thing was all the anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ laws, but I had always wanted to do “Damn” in drag. So when I was in Atlanta, I created this character named Dragon. I did three or four shows, all in the south, with portions of the show as this character. I loved it so much. And I always thought that I was very masculine, but I wasn’t. I was just a girl who liked pretending to be a boy, but when I was actually getting to be a boy [in drag], it was so masculine, so different, and so fun.

The first time I ever did it was onstage and even my band was shocked. The really beautiful thing is the audience didn’t recognize me. I heard them say, “Who’s that?” when I got up with my blonde boy wig and mustache.

What was it like meeting Kamala Harris and Sasha Colby at the GLAAD event this summer?

Sasha Colby is the most elegant, well spoken human. I wish that she would be a political figure because she’s impeccable. Because of her, I had a real moment of “I get it now, why this is all happening.” My theory was that the world needs feminine energy. The world needs strong, fierce women to come to the front and start running things. That is why we need more trans [representation] and more drag queens, because it’s not just entertainment and it’s not just catharsis. I started to understand why the movement is so important and that we need to embrace it on this whole human level.

And then this epiphany happened with Kamala, too. When I heard her speak, I thought, “Oh my God, I’m blown over with a feather.” This woman is so powerful. I wish she were president, but hardly anybody seems to know how great she is. My whole takeaway was, “Wow, these are the people I want to keep running this country. How do I make this happen?”

You’ve always been an activist and I think the new generation understands gender and sexuality differently. Have you thought about why you felt so comfortable discussing it before culture caught up?

I think because I was brought up in Manhattan and my mother had female lovers. She wrote a book called Underwater, which was about a lesbian relationship. So, from when I was in fourth grade, I was very aware that my mother loved women and that the women that she chose to love were really interesting, creative women. I was drawn to that aspect of life. Her agent was a gay man and he was really brilliant. I was exposed and I think it’s the best way. The lack of exposure [to the LGBTQ+ community] is what causes so many problems.

I literally have people telling me, “You shouldn’t have this whole gay thing around your children, it influences them.” Let them say, [they’re] wrong. Everybody is who they are and they will find what they need and make their choices. The best thing is to be truthful and consistent, and show them that you respect yourself. 

It would be absurd for me not to say I’m at least omnisexual. I love that I said that [in a 1992 interview with New York Times] and how I explained it, because I really feel it’s true. It gives me all the room to grow and explore.

Does it feel like it’s gotten better for queer artists?

To me, it’s the same. I never really paid attention to the opposition that much. For me, my greatest opposition has been my ambivalence, my dislike of the business, my sense that I have to prove a point to the business by being so independent. I always wanted to be exactly who I am with everyone and that’s not really how the business works. 

I didn’t want to kiss a** and suck up and all that jazz. I’ve made peace with it. I wanted the business to be more exciting and better. And when I say the business, I mean the whole thing. Now, I really see it’s all about me and the fans. It took me a long time to stop being ambivalent, that’s been my greatest obstacle.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.


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