Interview with Sophie B. Hawkins
Sophie B. Hawkins was notably absent in the last few years, recording her latest album, “The Crossing”, pitching a musical with Kristin Chenoweth and working on a play about Janis Joplin where Sophie channels Janis, starting October 4. I caught up with her at the RizzlesCon this past July to talk about her projects, her music, her family, and even politics.
L-word: I’m always fascinated by people’s journey to who they have become and what were their dreams. Tell me about your journey as an artist.
Sophie B. Hawkins: It actually occurred to me this morning by the contrast. I think all of us, we want to be and we work hard to be who we want to be. Sometimes you go, “Oh, did I do that or did the other person do that better?” And you remind yourself, “I’m only me.” I can only ever be me and I only want to be me. There’s a great phrase, “We don’t want anyone else’s problems”, and that also applies to a famous wealthy person. We could say, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a trillion dollars and be able to use that?” But the truth is, you don’t want their problems. You might want their money, you might want their fame but you don’t want their problems.
And that’s a really mature thing that has to happen to people in order to be really happy. You have to recognize that you only want your problems because the thing about life is: it’s great when you have fun on stage, it’s great when you feel good about yourself one day, when your relationship is going great but let’s just face it, it’s the problems that can keep you down. How we deal with our problems is actually how we really define ourselves. How we become our true-selves, how we deal with problems and challenges. Not how we deal with success. I love that statement, “You don’t want someone else’s problems.”
So my journey is fascinating to me because when I heard Bob Dylan, my father put on a record of Bob Dylan, and I was sitting in my New York apartment and I looked out the window and said, “That’s what I am.” I didn’t know what “that’s what I am” meant, I just said, “That’s what I am.” It’s so amazing because I was so young and it was such a difficult journey to get to even play music. I wasn’t encouraged. It wasn’t like they said, “You can’t play music” but they stopped me at every turn. If I tried to go to lesson I couldn’t find the lessons. I had to find music myself by leaving the house, by seeking my own teachers, by really taking a risk.
So whatever that was that I heard in Bob Dylan, my journey to get there from being an African drummer as a woman to a jazz performer, I worked through the whole thing and I was so dedicated and so committed. I would get up at four in the morning to practice and I came from non-disciplined family. An alcoholic, drug addict family who said, “What are you doing? You’ll never be anything. Why are you doing that? You’re bothering us.” I didn’t care because when I knew what I was doing finally, when I knew what I wanted to do, I just did it.
The feeling I had my whole life that I was behind the eight-ball, I will never catch up. I didn’t start early enough. I’m not a good singer, I’m a drummer. Why my singing could ever be deserving of all the stuff when I’m really just behind the eight-ball, worthless, whatever. This is how I relate to Janis in many ways. She had the sense that she is who she is but she also had to fight her demons. I have a very similar story but in a different way. So I’m so grateful to accept who I am not only as a musician…I really love who I am as a musician, I have grown and worked to love who I am, performance by performance, song by song. As a musician, and a composer and a singer I have come to appreciate myself because I see how unique I am. And that’s been a really long and hard journey. It was worth it but I don’t think that journey ever comes easy.
Even if you’re super talented, even if you’re prodigy, how do you know whether you are real? How do you know you’re not imitated? We all have to claim who we are and we claim it as a process of challenges, problems, by overcoming them. When you overcome them are you bitter, are you positive, are you the Unsinkable Molly Brown, are you person who crawls into the hole and hides? We are all of those things at different times but we have to make ourselves. And now I’m a mother and that’s the greatest challenge because you have to be for somebody else, which you could never be for yourself.