Sophie Ballatine Hawkins is a talented Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter currently out on tour.
Her roots in music began at an early age as she attended the Manhattan School of Music for percussion. She found commercial success with hits such as "Damn Wish I Was Your Lover", "Right Beside You" and "As I Lay Me Down." She began publishing independently with her third record and in 2023 released her seventh album titled Free Myself.
This out-and-proud singer is taking the new music to City Winery Chicago in May. Hawkins talked about several of the tracks on the phone the week before her arrival.
Windy City Times: Hi, Sophie. I know you have been to Chicago several times before so hopefully, you have time to enjoy it on this trip.
Sophie B. Hawkins: I love Chicago. Tour time is different than regular time. I get about 10 minutes of tour time, compared to 10 hours if I was on regular vacation time.
WCT: How do you take care of your voice when you are out on the road?
SBH: I try to be healthy about warming up and warming down. I try to not get sick, because my voice will hold up to anything. Everyone has their own issues with their voice. For me, I have to relax. The mucous will get me, but I can still sing through almost anything.
WCT: Your voice sounds great on your latest album, Free Myself. What inspired this project?
SBH: A lot of satisfying artwork comes from the deconstruction of life. It took many years to build my career and make it my own after going off independently. It all fell apart at one specific point while I was living in California. I moved back home to Manhattan with my young son. That was where this album came from. It's about asking what matters now that I have deconstructed my life. What should I keep, build on and where do I go from there?
The world was very different for me after that. I created different expectations and broke patterns. Someone might spend their whole life making a pattern to get them to one place but then it might not work anymore. That is basically where Free Myself came in.
WCT: Do you feel freer now?
SBH: Yes. I feel so good because I have solid relationships with my children and that takes most of my focus emotionally. That is worth everything to me. I have a rented relationship with my family of origin. My sister and brother are close to my age and so are my cousins. We are at the same point together. All of our parents have died and the things of the past don't matter anymore, except for references.
I am friends with everyone now and in a good place. I'm not fighting with anyone and not struggling with people. Now I can focus on the last act of my life.
WCT: What inspired your song "Fairy Tales?"
SBH: I usually write totally alone, but with that song, I wrote it with Kristian Ottestad. It was written in one day and for a movie. I can't remember the name of the movie, but it didn't get in. I am just happy to have the song.
Anything can trigger a song, a smile, the smell of a cigarette or something happening in the fifth grade. I was trying to make a song like the musical Cabaret and this would be Sophie's Cabaret.
WCT: That's why I like the song so much, since I like musicals.
SBH: You can imagine Joel Grey singing this. That is exactly what I was going for.
WCT: Is the track "Free Myself" for the LGBTQ+ community?
SBH: Yes. I am making the video for it now and hopefully, it will be focused on gay Pride, because it should be.
WCT: What are you doing for Pride?
SBH: I will be touring and doing shows. I will tell my stories to explain to audiences how "Free Myself" is a very LGBTQ+ song.
WCT: I saw you met a queer singer I recently interviewed Zolita. Isn't she the best?
SBH: Yes, she is and I hope to work with her. She is smart visually and a kick-ass artist.
WCT: Who is your opener for the City Winery Chicago stop?
SBH: Seth Glier. He plays piano with me and is phenomenal. There are three of us on this tour with me, Seth and Katie Marie on drums. We all move around and play different instruments. We all sing and are good at making a big sound. It will be raw, real and in the moment.
WCT: Describe somewhere you have heard your song played that surprised you.
SBH: One unexpected place was in Norway. I was shopping for cereal and heard "As I Lay Me Down" on the speakers. That was a nice surprise.
I have a better story though. I was living in LA and taking a tennis lesson. I was coming off the court and several teenage girls were singing in harmony "As I Lay Me Down" as they walked on the court for a lesson. I didn't have the guts to tell them that I wrote the song. I just listened and walked past them. It was certainly a moment!
WCT: Can you speak on being a part of the LGBTQ+ community?
SBH: I came out as omnisexual in 1992. I told the New York Times that my sexuality is not based on my gender, but on who I love. If I am with a woman then that doesn't make me a lesbian, because our genders are not defining who we both are as people. That was progressive for the track "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover" when I was referring to a woman. My heart and my mind were defining my sexuality with that song, not my gender.
Times have changed and now my children's friends will come over to tell me they are omnisexual. They have no idea that I coined the word.
I have always been a little bit ahead of the community as much as I hate to say that. I was out with my partner, but some of the gay community didn't like that I called myself omnisexual. I was living the truth for me. I can't ignore my very long and incredibly meaningful relationships with men or deny my amazing relationships with women.
Omnisexual really covers it for me because it gives me a place to grow. It is saying my gender is creative and fluid. The world has finally caught up with that. I am not only part of the LGBTQ+ but on the cutting edge of the community. I hope I am embraced now because it was very hard before when I had a gay lyric in a pop song on Sony Music!
WCT: Back then everyone was put in a box, but these days young people no longer want that.
SBH: I was recently on an airplane and a beautiful person came towards me. There was a brief moment of wondering what gender they were then I realized I don't need to know. This is a person and my children won't even think about it in the future.
WCT: I hope more people can change their thoughts like that and be accepting.
SBH: It will take time and awareness.
WCT: This also shows how important activism is in music. It is not about lip-synching to a song for drag queens these days. They have to be activists now more than ever.
SBH: You are right. Music has always been on the front lines of activism. We talked about Cabaret and activism is also what that show is about.
Drag queens have always been activists as have all artists that commit to their truth out in the world.
WCT: What are you working on after the tour?
SBH: I have written a musical and I am working on a memoir. I always have many things going on, but I work on them with chunks of time to have them ready all at once.
in the meantime, I look forward to bringing my new album to Chicago and will see you there!
Fly over to CityWinery.com or SophieBHawkins.com for tickets to the live show at City Winery Chicago, 1200 West Randolph Street, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at 8 p.m.