Last updated on May 3rd, 2023 at 06:45 pm
Music veteran and trailblazer Sophie B. Hawkins is set to return to The Dakota on May 12th, celebrating her seventh album and first in 11 years, Free Myself. Hawkins burst onto the scene in 1992 with an impressive debut featuring “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” following that up in 1994 with the memorable ballad “As I Lay Me Down.”
A lot has changed since those early days, but Hawkins remains a strong voice for independent musicians, an advocate for LGBTQ and animal rights, and an authentic voice in storytelling. Music in Minnesota caught up with Hawkins over the phone to discuss the new album, the therapeutic value in songwriting, and her perspective on those early hits.
Music in Minnesota: Hi Sophie, we’re excited to have you back in Minnesota next month. You’ve done many tours throughout your career. Are there any special memories you have from traveling through our state?
Sophie B. Hawkins: Yes. It’s always been special in Minnesota, and my very first major relationship was with a Minnesotan (my drum teacher) when I was a teenager. So it’s pretty much ingrained in me.
MIM: What do you look forward to most when you are gearing up to go on tour?
Hawkins: Well, I think it’s really hanging out with the musicians. I like this band a lot. I feel like I’ve earned this great band from years and years of touring and making records and being a musician. And we work so well together. We hang out so well together. That’s not always the case, and I’m very blessed. So that’s one thing.
And I do love being on stage more than ever. I used to feel, you know, being on stage was so pressure-filled, and then I would get on stage and love it. Then I would get off stage and think, “I’ll never be able to repeat that!” [laughing] I was so intense. We all are at a certain point, but then now I feel it’s just a joy that this is my job, and I’m really lucky that this is my job.
I hate leaving my children. I don’t like leaving home; I don’t think any musician does. But it’s great to get out there, and I really connect with people. It’s really nice; it’s sort of soothing to be with humanity in that way.
MIM: Well, I want to jump into your new album Free Myself, which came out on March 24th. I’ve read that the album started with the end of a long relationship and moving back to the East Coast to start over. This being your first album in over a decade, how was the experience different?
Hawkins: I knew I was departing from a part of me, and a part of my past, on this album. I knew that I had done all I could do with a certain part of myself and that I really was forced to (and happy to) be in a different phase. And that was like lifting a burden off me because, you know, you take your whole life to do the first album. And after that, you’re constantly compared to that first album.
I was working so hard to make something completely new. I was either fighting with the record company, or I was always proving myself on each album. And this time, I wasn’t proving myself. For this album, I was existing as this essential authentic self that had been left. I had my child and nothing else. I came back home to rebuild from literally, a destroyed life. And that’s a great place to begin because you already lived that other life and you’ve gotten to the end of it, and there’s no more you can do.
You might as well start completely fresh and not compare yourself to the old Sophie that everyone knew. In fact, you don’t even wanna know about that. You just wanna do something that you’ve never done before. That was the attitude I had. I didn’t want to use synthesizers; I wanted to make more of a soulful, Motownish record. If I have one last record to make, I want this to be the most organic record I’ve made.
I’ve always loved my songwriting, and I’ve always tried my hardest to make the most original songs that were also viable songs. You know, not original for originality’s sake, but songs that hold together as great pop songs.
But then, to make them as deep and meaningful as I can, that’s a great challenge. I not only wanted to do that, but I wanted to do it without any of the modern things. No loops, not even a click track. I thought, “How would I have done this if I was at Muscle Shoals?” (Of course, I didn’t have access to Carol Kaye and Donald “Duck” Dunn.)
MIM: I think the experience of writing music, especially when dealing with loss, healing, and starting over again, can be therapeutic. How is that process for you in going through those stories?
Hawkins: The writing part is the healing part, when I’m basically being schooled by my higher self. What the lesson is and how I’m gonna grow from this and be my better self – my more evolved self. That’s the writing process, and that’s why I write; I don’t really write to Kvetch. I don’t really write to process things.
I write to learn, “Why am I doing this?” Why am I going through this, and why am I alive, and what am I gonna give to somebody else? So my songs are my teachers, and it never surprises me that people say my songs help them and guide them because I think, “Yeah, that’s what they did for me.” It came from that self that is really unselfconscious.
We all come from a greater source. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not just us. The writing process is the grieving, the listening, and the opening up. And then when I record, I try to uplift it even more, just make it as true as possible and allow for those moments of magic that happen in recording, whether it’s a vocal twist that no one but me will ever hear or a string line that intercepts with the bassline that I love every time.
Then when I get to the performance, it is a pure joy to sing. “I’m Better Off Without You” is a triumph. I have no feelings of remorse, guilt, or shame. I am just so happy that that song came out. You have no idea; I am so happy.
MIM: I know you probably get hundreds of questions on this. It’s been 30 years since releasing some of your biggest hits and explosion onto the scene. Looking back after all this time, what are your feelings on those songs, and has your perspective on them changed over the years?
Hawkins: I just love them more. I mean, they are like my children again; they come from a higher part of me. They’re so original. I can’t imagine that I survived the event that brought those songs out and that the songs themselves are so celebratory and so colorful, and so unique.
I can’t say one bad thing about them. The recordings of them are all so purposeful. I didn’t let anyone push me around ever in music. Never in the studio did I let a note go that I didn’t like. Never. So when I hear the recordings, I think, ah, that’s so good.
MIM: Thanks for your time, Sophie. We’re excited to see you here in Minneapolis.
Hawkins: Thank you so much.