It's been 18 years since Sophie B. Hawkins released the smash hit "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." Since then, she's continued to make music, and recently, she's also settled into motherhood. In November 2008, the native New Yorker gave birth to her son, Dashiell. This year she celebrated her 15th anniversary with her partner, whom she has never identified, although many speculate it's her longtime manager, Gigi Gaston.
As Out talked with the songstress about her upcoming album, Dream Street and Chance, and a musical she's written, it became apparent that the Hawkins of 2010 is much more reflective and free, but she still refuses to hold back and be silenced; especially when it comes to politics. She's withstood the damaged childhood courtesy of two alcoholic parents. She's dealt with her sexuality, referring to herself as omnisexual, a term she feels reflects the fact that she can fall in love with anyone as long as she loves the person's mind, heart, and soul. And she's also weathered the highs and lows of career that once saw her at the top of the charts and now has her searching for someone to release her album.
Out: You were an Out 100 honoree in 1995 and 1999. How is the Sophie of today different from the Sophie in 1995, when you were first honored?
Sophie B. Hawkins: I'm a lot less complicated. I've definitely unpacked a lot of bags, sorted through the shit and done away with it. So I have a lot less that I'm carrying around. In that way, I'm a little more back to my source. I'm happier overall just because I've come to accept so many things. I mean, look, I have a son who is so wise and generous. He just makes me laugh all the time. I've had this relationship for 15 years, and everyone knows that it just takes so much.
What does it take?
It takes commitment, but it also takes a lot of presence to keep it alive and to keep it real and not to resort to your old 'I don't need this attitude.' The good thing about it is we've built so much. We've built real success together, and it's been all creative.
And now your creativity is leading you into the world of Broadway for a show you've composed. Tell us about it.
We just did our first reading in New York. Everyone thought it was maybe going to be 50 percent there, but from the toughest critics it was 92 percent there. The star of the play said, 'This is a hit.' I never say that.
You said 'the star of the show.' It's been reported that Kristin Chenoweth is on board.
Has that been released?
Yes. Now what's the name of the show?
That I don't know if I'm allowed to reveal.
While working on the musical you were also working on an album. Does it ever feel like it's a job? Like 'Oh, I have to write two songs today?'
That's a really good question. That's another reason why I think I'm lighter now than I used to be. In '95, I never would've thought that I could write a musical and keep my writing process from my album going because they're so different. Then I also have a kid and a relationship, and I tour. I was so myopic in my focus. That was the only way I could survive because that was the only comfort I had. Now, you have to work on so many things. I think everyone does. The process for me with this musical was that I worked really hard on a couple songs, got the approval that I wasn't going to be fired, and then moved to the album.
But did you ever wake up and feel like you were under the gun to produce?
Yes! Sometimes I did. I'd finish a song for the musical, which is always an intense process, and then I'd say, 'OK, now I've got to do my album -- where am I at?' I'd go back and forth. One day I woke up, and I remember thinking, 'I've got to work on the song with Mary Steenburgen [who cowrote one of the songs on the upcoming album].' So, I got up and worked on that. Sometimes I wake up and think, 'I've got so much to do -- what the hell am I going to do?' Then I exercise and just pick the thing that seems the most pressing.
The album you've been working on is called Dream Street and Chance.
I don't know. I think I have to change the title.
Gigi says it sounds like a jazz album, but it's really not.
What kind of album is it?
It's really deep for me. It's really edgy in many ways. It's very much getting back to my roots of Tongues and Tails. It has a lot of different styles, but it's very emotion based.
Can you explain the title?
I like it because it comes from one of the songs called "Dream Street and Chance." It's a song about New York and revisiting my mother and having a walk with her in the park. It's a beautiful and complex song. It talks about time. Dream Street and Chance is where I guess I am standing -- on the corner of Dream Street and Chance. It feels like anything can happen. What did you think of the title?
It wasn't the first thing that grabbed me.
Then it has to be changed because it's a grab-you type of album.
This album is being called 'the most directly personal' of your catalog. All artists seem to say that when they have a new album. Why do you believe this is your most personal?
The person who said that really felt like it was. Maybe it is, but maybe it's this willingness to be unpretentious and not go for the best performance, but for the meaning. I think that's what this person meant. She could really feel the soul. They probably could feel me and not any defensiveness or any look-at-me-ness.
You said, 'The songs began to express a kind of eternal dream I've had, that I think we all have, for a moment of peace and clarity, for the ability to get beyond our personal struggles and move out into the larger world -- knowing exactly where you stand in it.'
Wow, that's fabulous!
You said it!
I know, but I couldn't say it again if I tried.
Where do you stand in the world?
That's a really great question. There are different levels. When I was in the Gulf [for the BP oil spill], I saw myself as someone who could really point something out to make people feel excited about doing something. That was a cause that got so little attention or all the wrong attention in some ways. Something like Haiti got all the right attention. Not to compare them because they both need attention, but the Gulf is right here, and, for lack of a better word, it's our people. I feel like I have the ability to shine the light on something -- not in a tacky way -- but make people go, 'You know, I have my own opinion about this, and it's not CNN's or Fox News' or Obama's or whomever's opinion, it's my opinion, and I feel strongly. I'm not the typical liberal activist, nor am I'm the typical conservative activist. I'm really unique.
I'm willing to be an original and separate myself in the crowd. Like when I did Fox News. I did it to bring attention to the Gulf. The one question [during the interview] was, 'People in Hollywood have deep pockets and why aren't they -- ' I stopped the person right there and said, 'No, no, no. Americans are the most generous people.' I got so many great e-mails that I stopped them and didn't let them go there, but I didn't even know that I did that. I really felt that in the moment. This isn't about Hollywood. Fuck Hollywood. This is about we all need direction.
Why do you feel it didn't get the attention other causes got?
It's so obvious. Obama got so much money from those oil companies, especially BP. This man doesn't give a shit about the environment anymore than any other corporately bought politician. To me he's no better than any of them. People can argue about details all they want, but his actions speak louder than his words. This man is a complete egomaniac. He never speaks to the people who are suffering. He speaks what it means about him. That's why Haiti was so important to him. It made him look a certain way. I feel like he could give a shit about the Gulf people. They know it. You should see the shit they wrote on the walls. Black, poor people in the Gulf were over him. They saw through it in two seconds.
When you and I talked in 2008 before the election you said about Barack Obama, 'I don't like him! I don't trust him. I think he's all imaging, and people are not taking enough time to look at him.' How do you feel about him today?
I feel he is what I thought. He's come to show himself as someone who is not a leader. To me, he was all imaging and all the slogans his wife probably thought of. And look at his book. Even his quote that he thinks is a great quote, 'I chose my friends carefully -- the Marxist, the lesbian...." I think to myself, You motherfucker! You choose your friends because you love them. Because you have something in common with them on the heart-and-soul level, not because they're fucking Marxists or lesbians! That's like me walking around going, 'Hey, I'm not going to be your friend because you voted for Reagan.' What the fuck is that? It bothers me. He bothers me.
How do you think he's fairing on LGBT issues?
I don't know. Is he there? I mean, is there any great thing that I've missed? I don't think he's any more compassionate or loving than anyone else who has been out there.
You campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton. You even changed your song "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" to "Damn I Wish You Were President." Do you think things would be better if Hillary had won?
I think it all happened the way it was supposed to happen. If Hillary would've been president, she would have been capable of doing a good job, but because she's Hillary and because of the situation she would've been walking into -- which Obama, of course, walked into -- she really would've been drawn and quartered. At least he had the support and the money and the backing. With Hillary, even if she had done a better job, they would've found every mistake and amplified it a million times more. So I don't think she would've been allowed to do a better job. Maybe her time will come. Maybe it won't.
You are very outspoken on your blog. On August 16, you wrote: "And of course, the brutality of white people is well documented. Muslims, Jews, Christians, too. But the irony is, we are 99% the same. We share cultures, we share ideas, we share toilets, and we share this world.' Where do you stand on the debate of the right to build an Islamic community center at Ground Zero?
You know, I really haven't taken any kind of emotional stand yet. I don't feel -- I don't -- I'm going to say it, I don't feel that people are racist for not wanting it. I don't feel it's about being racist. I feel that certain Americans want to stop bending over backward to prove that they're not racist. Now I don't live down in that area, so I don't know how I'd feel. I don't feel it would be a breeding ground for terrorists. I really don't. It is too much, too soon, but I also feel it is a good argument because we are talking about it.
With the hard stuff out of the way, let's talk about your son, Dashiell. How has motherhood changed you?
I had this moment when I was kissing my dogs goodbye [before giving birth] where I said, 'I'm really afraid.' The one thing I always remember my mother saying, 'A child could be Einstein. A child could be Martin Luther King. A child could be Osama bin Laden.' The minute he came out, I was laughing and crying. He was so full of light. I was like, 'He's like Moses!' I didn't think he was Moses, but I thought, 'This is what the Bible is about.' I get why people are religious.
You had a very difficult childhood, without rules and structure. You once described your house as the 'den of iniquity.' What kind of mother are you?
I've been told I'm actually a good mother. Structure I'm really good at. Growing up the way I did I taught myself structure. It was a really hard lesson. I started at 14 teaching myself. I guess I'm really consistent, nurturing, and probably a bit eccentric, but a fun person to be around.
If you had had the chance to speak to those teens who have committed suicide because they were bullied for being gay or different, what would you have said?
The one thing that every person needs is one person to connect to who they really respect. It doesn't have to be a superhero, but just someone. I had Gordy. I left my family emotionally and even physically and had my African drum teacher, Gordy. Before I met Gordy, I was just a drug addict. I was going down a really dangerous path. I would like to be that person who would just listen. They need to get off the Internet. The Internet is killing a lot of these kids. It's like you find an identity on the Internet and then it's destroyed. That's even worse than never having had it. People need to get away from the Internet and ask themselves, 'What will be important to me for the rest of my life?' Then seek out that teacher or mentor. What do you really want to be? Who do you think you are? Then say that to the world. Say that to one person. Believe me, out of that circle of bullies, somebody will listen to you. If you can save one person's heart, you can save their whole life.
Let's say it's 1992 again, when your debut album was released. If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change?
Oh, yes, so many things. Not about the album or my fans, who I love so much. What I would change is really to find someone who understood my talent and would've gone into Sony and said, 'Listen, you motherfuckers, stop messing with her head. Let her be who she is and let her take off.' I should've been in therapy, but I would've picked the wrong therapist. I should've been praying to God that I could find one supportive person who would help me to love myself. It was the self-hatred that got in my way and took me down. Why was I so goddamned concerned about everything that was wrong with me? I wish I had enough self-love to keep going with self-respect.
To learn more about Sophie B. Hawkins, visit her official website.