May 23, 2017


Then & Now: Sophie B. Hawkins on New Album, Her '90s Hits & Taking Pride In Being Omnisexual

Getty Images, Shervin Lainez
Getty Images, Shervin Lainez

Welcome to the fifth installment of Fuse's newest column, Then & Now! Throughout this interview series, we chat with some of your favorite artists from the '90s and early aughts about their careers' biggest highlights and what they're up to today. This week, we spoke to Sophie B. Hawkins.

We were first introduced to Sophie B. Hawkins in 1992, thanks to her debut album Tongues and Tails that featured one of her most successful singles to date—"Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." Since then, the New York City native has released four more albums and classic songs like "Right Beside You" and "As I Lay Me Down" that dominated both the radio waves and our favorite '90s TV shows. Now, the singer is prepping the release of sixth studio LP and plans to perform the new songs during Pride Month celebrations in her hometown. Along with continuing to record music, she is also a mother of two, a longtime environmentalist and a supporter of the LGBTQ community.

Read on to see what Sophie B. Hawkins told Fuse about finding herself in music and life once again.

FUSE: You became a mom for the second time in 2015, did you feel any judgment or pressure from people in your life because you were 50 at the time? I think it’s pretty common now to have kids at that age.
It’s a really interesting thing because when I was at the hospital and she was flying out, basically, I asked the nurse how many women 50 years and older have babies. They said more than 10 a day come in here but nobody wants to say their age. They never say anything about it because they try to pretend they’re younger. But it’s more common than we think. And you’re right, it’s changing so fast. You want to know something? I want to possibly move to Brooklyn and I was looking at houses, and I was telling a friend that I feel really strongly about this older house. It was beautifully worn in a creative, artistic way. It’s like me! I’m 52 and I have an amazingly fit body and I’m in great physical, mental and emotional shape. And I know 22-year-olds who are falling apart. New isn’t always better. And it’s so true being a mother because let me tell you, the patience level. Me at 52...I couldn’t have done this at 22 or 32. Forget it! And I certainly couldn’t handle two kids. My son [Dashiell] is so calm…it’s like two puzzle pieces that really fit. And my daughter [Esther] is like a firecracker. She’s unbelievably, in a great way, totally different. If I was younger I don’t think I’d have the patience level to deal with two different children.

I was actually going to ask you why was 50 the right time? But that pretty much sums it up!
I never wanted to have a child. At 22 my first album was coming out and that was all I could do then. At 32, I was fighting with my record company to keep my autonomy because that’s when the business was really starting to change. It was a huge industry shift and I was really fighting for all artists where we didn’t have to write with 20 producers per song. I was suing my record company to get off of it because they weren’t supporting my album. I had so much success and they were suddenly saying, “You have to write with all these unknown writers.” So in my 30s I was becoming a political activist and an environmental activist, and I had no interest in children. I was completely just a songwriter, performer and an activist. I love animals more than anything in the world. I still do, but I love children more [laughs]. You wanna know what I really think of the 30s? It’s when most people get into therapy and really understand how flawed they are. They’re really delving into their past and their triggers, and why they’re making all these mistakes over and over again. So that’s what I did. I went into therapy and started to really understand myself better. Because in your 20s you’re so driven to make it; you’re not even thinking so much.

Yeah, I think I’m at that point now because I’m only 25. So this is great advice.
Oh great! But what I did do in my 30s was save my embryos. I didn’t think I was gonna have children but I did at least do that. Probably unconsciously I did want to be a mother, but I couldn’t admit it to myself. Then my 40s came and I said, “You know what, I really want to be a mother.” At 44 I had Dashiell. The minute he came out my body I felt this huge shift. Like this was what it’s all about…what have I been waiting for? I felt like I understood religion, god and everything about human beings. It was the glue I was really looking for. I thought I was going to find it in a song or a relationship. But then this child came and that was it!

Speaking of songs, you’re about to release a new album!
It’s going to be either named Free Myself, which is one of the songs on it that I love the most, or Free Yourself. I don’t know which sounds better, I’m toying with it.

I know a lot of the music you’re currently writing is about self-acceptance and loving yourself.
It’s true. I think it was Gandhi or somebody who said, “Until you accept yourself you can never truly be successful.” And I don’t think they meant successful with money. I was in a relationship that was all about business and growing wealth, and all of that ended when Dashiell was born. I was living in California and I had all the trappings of a very successful life. I had starred in a play as Janis Joplin, written a musical…everything was so intense. But then the relationship ended, which was a surprise to me. I woke up one morning and everything was over. It was like a bomb hit. I said to myself, “I feel like I’m in a citadel and the gates have been open for months, and I haven’t even realized I’m free. I can walk out.” That was when I realized I was a prisoner of all these ideas of who I had to be, who I thought I wanted to be. It’s weird isn’t it? [laughs] So I told myself that I’m moving back home to New York. But again, I didn’t even know how trapped I was. I could’ve moved, but mentally I was under siege. 

I think that’s representative of [my song] “Love Yourself.” You can go through life and achieve all these goals, and all your dreams can come true. But you’re basically on a train going nowhere. You’re free yet you don’t even realize it. So you have to start living! And that’s what a lot of this album is about. So many things are traps. People say you don’t have a husband, you don’t have a partner, you’re a single mother oh that must be so difficult! But the most difficult things in life are our minds. I said to myself, “People see you as so talented yet you see yourself as untalented. If for one day, just let go of it all! Embrace everything that you’re afraid of.” After that, I’ve been living as a free person.

I’m a complete, creative sexual being...I don’t know what form the next great love is gonna be.

Sophie B. Hawkins

I want to take it back to your first big smash, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” That song was so inescapable on the radio at the time. Did you think it was going to be so popular?
No, I was so afraid that no one was going to get that song. I had seven record labels after me before I signed to Sony. And when I signed, it took like a year for them to schedule working with producers of my choice. I always felt that at any moment they were going to drop me. I didn’t understand how people could understand my music. It had been years of me wanting to get signed or trying to get a publishing deal, and nothing ever happened. I was just playing gigs and writing and writing. And even though I had faith in myself, I had so many experiences of rejection—as every artist does. Then with making the album, I was so excited! And these were different days when people went to studios to record and nobody really made records at their house. No one even had a computer at that time. So I was in the studio having the greatest time and really fighting for my music and making the record I knew I could make. I was really incredibly powerful for a young girl amongst all these men. I never gave up for one second on my vision. So for that reason I thought no one was ever gonna understand it. When the song came out…I can’t even describe the first time I ever heard it on the radio. I was in somewhere in the south with a Sony Music promotion person and it sounded like shit! I still couldn’t believe people liked this version of the song [laughs] All I could think about was that I still didn’t get it right. But then it became what it became.

You'll be performing in NYC for Pride Month in June and I read you describe yourself as an omnisexual. Is that correct?
That’s it! Like 20 years ago I said that. You know when I said that? In a New York Times interview with Jon Pareles in 1992. He asked me if I was gay, I guess because of the third verse in “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover.” I thought about it and said,”You know Jon, I’m omnisexual.” He was like what is that? Well, I had just thought of it. But I can’t make my sexual identity based on another person’s gender. Because even if I was on a desert island and never had sex, I’d be a very sexual person. I can’t say that I’m really inspired by one gender or another. At different points in my life, I had major relationship with a man who was my very first love. Then I had relationships with women. So it’s not even based on my gender because it’s so creative. So “omni” could cover everything, since “all” also means “one.” I’m a complete, creative sexual being. I’ve been single for like five years now and haven’t dated anybody, and I completely feel that I’m omnisexual. I don’t know what form the next great love is gonna be.

There are a lot of younger people still trying to come to terms with their sexuality and how to speak out, especially with this current political climate. Do you have any advice for them?
YES! I think the best is to look in history of how many hundreds of years that people have been transgender and gay and bisexual. And to just get familiar with all the amazing artists who have come before us, and don’t get so caught up with the present. Get your mind out of the computer and daily woes, and get into the bigger picture. Go into the wealth of creativity by very wise archaeologists, artists and scientists…great people who have discussed gender and sexuality over the ages. Now you can talk about it and be whoever you want, but the Trump administration is nowhere near as dangerous something in the ‘70s or ‘50s. I wanna say this climate isn’t as bad as it was before. If you’re living in a place where you can’t be yourself, then get out. I got out when I was 14 years old and lived with my drummer. You’ve got to empower yourself by the strength of artists before you. You can get help from a million places. The Trevor Project is one of them. I’m not trying to be tough. I’m just saying this is not a bad time. It’s a bad time for Muslims and immigrants. You know what I mean? Does that really sound terrible?

I can see the side where you’re coming from, and it’s definitely your opinion. It’s fair.
There’s so much publicity that it can’t be based on complaining. That ruins every movement, is what I’m trying to say. It has to be based on the power of the work, or else nothing will matter.

So this is my last question. You have had two Top 10 hits and all these successful albums throughout your career. But looking back, is there anything that you would’ve changed?
Yes, I would’ve changed myself so I that I could’ve accepted that success and done more with it. Those are my lessons and why the album—to bring it full circle—is called Free Myself or Free Yourself. It’s about embracing these great qualities that I have and not letting the fear of not being good enough stop me from making even more of a ripple. That’s the main key. And that’s what I’m trying to say about being transgender and everything. You’ve gotta enjoy it now or else you never will. We all just have to live a little more, have fun and stop being depressed…why is it that people are getting so depressed over the internet? Or why it makes people so upset? I’m not on it very often.

I think it’s because everything is at the tip of your fingers. It’s easy access to things you might not want to see, but you’re so addicted to it that you can’t stop looking.
I actually want to make a very clear answer to being LGBTQ+. When I was young, I found my drum teacher and he was much older than me. He wasn’t perfect but that helped me make the connection and get from a place where I was never gonna do anything with my life—and maybe even cause a lot of self-destruction—to a place where I could be successful. I think the problem with the internet is that you have access to everything but you might not get that heartfelt, true connection of love and support. A human being needs another human being, let’s face it. You can’t do it on the phone. So maybe why I’m saying turn off the internet and go into the art of the ages, is maybe you’ll find somebody who really gets you. It doesn’t matter what you’re going through or who you are. Because if nobody gets you, you’re lost.

What artist would you like to see in our Then & Now series? Let us know on Twitter @FuseTV or in the comment section! Next up, listen to the latest episode of Besterday, Fuse's nostalgia podcast: