Sophie B. Hawkins

Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

Sophie B. Hawkins

Photo by Gigi Gaston
Photo by Gigi Gaston

Sophie B. Hawkins’s music is like her lover—it exposes, inspires, and even threatens. Yummy. After reading this revelation in an interview of this singer, songwriter, and musician, I knew I’d bond with this gal.

Over the past two decades, Sophie’s had many chart busters. In the early nineties she blew it out with, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” from her debut album, Tongues and Tails. It garnered her a Grammy nom as Best New Artist. Her next hit, “As I Lay Me Down,” sung in her seductive wispy voice calls to mind my blissful courting days with my fiancé, Rudy, in the Cotswolds of England. In 2012 she released The Crossing, her fifth album. She’s written nearly twenty movie soundtracks, even appeared in several of them, and last year sang on the NBC sitcom, Community. Her producer, manager, collaborator, and partner, Gigi Gaston (together for nearly twenty years; Sophie considers herself “omnisexual”) made a documentary in 1998 about Sophie called The Cream Will Rise. The film accompanied her on tour, providing insights into her troubled upbringing.

Raised in Manhattan, Sophie overcame childhood abuse, anorexia, and drug addiction. Today, she lends her time to charities that promote environmental issues and raises public awareness about cruelty to children, animal rights, and HIV/AIDS. This outspoken political activist is a vegan and a mother to her five-year-old son, Dashiell. They recently moved from L.A.’s Venice area back to her hometown, New York City.

Last year in Los Angeles, she preemed in a new musical, written by Gigi, Room 105: The Highs and Lows of Janis Joplin. Sophie wholeheartedly embodied the late legend’s husky visceral pipes and her strung-out hippie persona. Her portrayal was haunting. Today they are hoping to find other venues to stage the show.

We rhapsodize from her penthouse overlooking the enchanting lights of magical New York.

Ruby Comer: What was it like to get into Janis Joplin’s skin?
Sophie B. Hawkins:
There are no words. I can only express what it’s like by using every musical fiber of my being, which I did whenever I walked on stage as Janis. I did find out that we had similar backgrounds.
We had the same kind of families even though she was raised in Port Arthur, Texas and I was raised in New York. I ran away at fourteen and she did also at a young age. We had some of the same demons too, like addiction. In high school she was called ‘Ugly Man;’ I was called ‘Freak.’ [She tilts her head to one side, her gorgeous long locks cascading.]…and of course I fell in love with her.

Hawkins channels Joplin in the musical, Room 105. Photo by Ed Krieger
Hawkins channels Joplin in the musical, Room 105. Photo by Ed Krieger

Your middle name is Ballantine. What’s the ethnicity?
It’s Scottish and it’s a family name.

When did you first hear about the epidemic?
I was in fifth grade when I first heard about AIDS. It was called hepatitis, but we knew it wasn’t hepatitis. Our homeroom teacher died of AIDS, and we heard stories that they were giving gay men shots for hepatitis by the piers in the West Village. Later there was a conspiracy theory that the shots made the men sick.

How has it affected you?
AIDS has always affected me, from dear friends dying to its global impact. AIDS was love’s shadow for many years, and though it feels more under control now, it’s a legacy that our generation has tattooed on their hearts. AIDS changed humanity in many ways. So many brilliant creators died before their time. The shame that first surrounded AIDS impeded the positive perception of gay love.

Even though Dashiell is a bit young to be briefed about STDs, what do you think you’ll say when the time comes?
I don’t have the faintest idea what I’ll say to Dash! I suppose I’ll tell it like it is. That’s how I handle everything with Dash.

Photo by Alan Mercer
Photo by Alan Mercer

Good deal. I know you are an accomplished painter, but when do you have time to brushstroke?
I don’t paint as much as I would like. I do it when I’m on a “break.” Hopefully, another painting burst is coming soon. Someday I’ll only paint…perhaps.

What’s on Ms. Hawkins’ agenda for 2014?
Well, I’m writing another musical, a book that really excites me. It’s a young person’s story but it’s also a grown-up story with themes that aren’t yet in popular children’s literature. I also have another cycle of songs ready to record, but need to scope out a direction for that body of work.

What types of music do you listen to?
I listen to absolutely all types of music—and now I know every theme song for every kids show! I still love Anita O’Day, Bach, Omar Faruk Tekbilec, Duruflé. I can’t possibly list [all] my music passions!!!

Who’s your favorite singer of all time?!
My favorite singer—honestly—is Dashiell. [She smiles.]

You’ve met many famous people. In a single word describe Gloria Steinem, Bruce Weber, and Chelsea Clinton.
Gloria Steinem: sexy; Bruce Weber: sensitive; Chelsea Clinton: brilliant.

Who’s your hero in the AIDS pandemic?
I don’t know. [She pauses then in zen-like calm replies] Scientists and doctors and maybe it’s a villager in Africa who delivers medicine. Maybe it’s a villager passing out condoms….

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]