Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins Talks About Her New Album, Free Myself, And Writing Her Classic Hit Songs
With a career that now spans 30 years, Sophie B. Hawkins has been a trailblazing and successful artist who has created a large body of work. The singer/songwriter, who early on received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, has just released her sixth album, Free Myself, which is her first album in 11 years.
It was in 1992 that Hawkins made an impressive debut, when her outstanding song “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” became a worldwide hit and reached Top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This uptempo single had a huge impact, and immediately made Hawkins a talented artist to watch. This song was included on her debut album, Tongues and Tails, which was certified gold.
With her second album, Whaler (in 1994), Hawkins returned strongly with another gold album that contained four chart singles. The biggest hit from Whaler was the memorable ballad “As I Lay Me Down,” which reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and had a record-breaking run on the Adult Contemporary chart. The other chart singles were “Right Beside You,” “Only Love (The Ballad of Sleeping Beauty)” and “Don’t Don’t Tell Me No.” Hawkins’ other album releases were Timbre (1999), Wilderness (2004) and The Crossing (2012).
After releasing her fifth album, The Crossing, Hawkins decided to take a break from the music business. She moved back to New York after living in Los Angeles for many years. She had a daughter, and reunited with family and friends who lived in the Northeast. Then in the past two years, she began writing and recording the songs for her new album, Free Myself.
Free Myself marks a strong return for Hawkins. It contains 10 songs, with several that rank among her best. In the past few months, she released the key songs “Love Yourself” and “Better Off Without You,” and filmed videos of both songs. The album also includes such highlights as the unique, uplifting ballad “You Are My Balloon,” the gentle midtempo song “Green Eyes,” and the title song “Free Myself,” which has a positive, romantic theme. Notably, she wrote all the songs on her album.
Here’s the video of Sophie B. Hawkins’ new song, “Better Off
Currently, with the release of Free Myself, Hawkins is launching a new concert tour that starts in the Northeast, and then has shows in the Midwest and in California.
In addition to her music career, Hawkins is a talented painter and visual artist, and she’s known to be a steadfast advocate supporting such causes as environmental protection, animal rights and LGBTQ equality.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Sophie B. Hawkins. She discusses the making of her new album Free Myself, and she tells how she wrote her classic hit songs, “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “As I Lay Me Down.”
DK: Your new album, Free Myself, is your first release in a decade, since your album, The Crossing (in 2012). Can you talk about the past 10 years for you?
Sophie B. Hawkins: Yes, they’ve been kind of awesome. I had a child, my daughter, and I was back in the Northeast after having lived in California for so many years, as well as working and touring. So I got to reunite with my mother, my sisters, my brothers and my cousins, which was great. And having my child in this mood of being back home was wonderful in New York City. And of course there was Covid; we had two years of that. So there was a lot of writing going on, a lot of rebuilding, reassessing and letting go of stuff, because my life drastically changed when I came home.
So The Crossing was literally just before the crossing. Literally of the ocean and crossing from one life to another. So now it’s very appropriate to come out with this album at this point, because I feel like I’ve succeeded in cutting so many burdens from within me and truly freeing myself. That’s why this album is coming out, because I found a path…I found it open.
DK: When did you start writing and recording your new album, and what was the process like?
Hawkins: I’m always writing and recording. I’ll write a song on guitar, piano, banjo or cello, and I’ll work with it until it’s done. Then I’ll take that version and record it in my home studio, with just that instrument and a vocal to see if the song’s good. And if the song is good, I’ll keep going with background vocals and other orchestration. Then I basically put it in a drawer until I’m ready to make an album. And then I’ll decide who I’m going to work with on this album. In this case, it was (producer/engineer) Ken Rich, in Brooklyn.
Here’s the video of Sophie B. Hawkins new song, “Love Yourself.”
So I sat with Ken and played about 25 songs. We listened to them and we chose which ones we thought we could do live—with piano, bass, drums, guitar and singing. And then we would overdub strings. We were both of the same mind that we wanted to pick songs that would hold up like if it was a Motown record. So we really wanted that [live, organic] quality. I didn’t want synthesizers or loops. I wanted something really resonant, that had space. So I think we achieved that. Songs like “Green Eyes” and “You Are My Balloon” and “Free Myself” have that incredible space in them. And I love the energy of “Better Off Without You.” There’s a lot I like about this album…I think it really holds up.
DK: Two of the songs from your album that you released first are “Love Yourself” and “Better Off Without You.” Can you talk about writing those songs?
Hawkins: Yes. All my songs are true stories…they happened. Then I try to articulate it as a song, because it’s so important for me to understand what I’m learning. So that’s why I always say that my songs are my teachers. Because I’ve experienced something that is sitting in me, it’s like I’m talking about it within myself. And then I’m using music and these other ways, singing music to find a new view of the experience. It’s like writing an essay…you want to come up with a new conclusion, a new thesis.
With “Love Yourself,” I did go to that party (that’s mentioned in the song). I did come home and had that moment where I could have thought…you know, you drank too much wine [and ate too much], but I didn’t. There was a voice in my head that said, “Love yourself.” And that was the chorus right there, because I sat down at the piano after the party and that chorus came out, and I was astounded that I was at this place of what the song says. “Love yourself…ain’t nobody else gonna carry your soul.”
With “Better Off With You,” that’s an exact true story, but then there’s an epiphany too…”I hope you heal your heart.” And realizing that through all the pain of loss and being last and everything, and having a child—all these things of abandonment and betrayal. But then truly on the other side of that, it’s freedom. If you can deal with it, you’re freer that you’ve ever been, you’ve learned so much, and now you really can go off and do your life how you’re supposed to do it.
Here’s the video of Sophie B. Hawkins’ hit, “Damn I Wish
I Was Your Lover.”
DK: I like your title song, “Free Myself,” which has a romantic lyric with the line, “I want to free myself with you.” Can you talk about writing this song?
Hawkins: Yeah, the original version was so orchestral with tympanies and cymbals, and it was in a much higher key. It just sounded like a musical. Then we purposefully stripped it down, because I wanted it to fit in with the album. And it was cool that this very musical, very orchestral, highly emotional song could be contained within this album the way it is. I really dig it. I’m looking forward to playing it live because it’s an interesting song.
This song is about…how do I want to have relationships? I don’t want it to be “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” forever and ever. I want to free myself. And then I realized, that’s what I’ve always wanted. I always wanted to be free, but I also want to be in this relationship. So I have to state that going forward, and that’s really hard. You know…I’m not getting in this relationship to be in this committed mess. Where now I’m having to look over my shoulder and think…”Did I say the wrong thing?” No, I want to use every opportunity getting to know this person and freeing myself from all those patterns of being in prison.
DK: One of my favorite songs on your new album is the final song, “You Are My Balloon,” which has a pretty melody, a unique title and is uplifting. What inspired you to write this song?
Hawkins: That’s one of my favorites, too. “You Are My Balloon” really came directly from my children…it’s how I feel about them. It’s about how I feel about having had children. It’s a sense that there’s that invisible string where you’re holding on as they’re exploring the world. You’re trying to let them feel as free as possible, but yet secure. And then eventually you have to let go. But you’re still connected invisibly. It’s really moving to me. It’s moving to me that humans can do this, and we can. It’s difficult, but it goes with the theme of the album.
DK: You’re well known for the two big hits you had early in your career: “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” and “As I Lay Me Down.” First, what inspired you to write “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” and how did you feel when it immediately became a huge hit?
Here’s the video of Sophie B. Hawkins’ hit, “As I Lay Me Down.”
Hawkins: That’s cute that you said it became a hit immediately. I remember the first people who I played it for, and they thought it was a terrible song. It seemed like I was the only person who knew it was gonna be a big hit. So I walked around for two years with that song, and I kept writing more songs.
When people finally heard it and liked it, I felt really protective of that song. I didn’t want them to mess with it; I didn’t want them to take out my third verse. I didn’t want them to change the lyrics. I didn’t want them to change me. I wanted the song in me to be intact, after all I’d been through as a musician and as a songwriter and as a human. Already when I was at the tender age of 20, I felt very protective of myself and my path and everything. And all people wanted to do was change it. They wanted to put their little stamp on it and take their little credit.
So when “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” came out, I had already fought a million battles to keep it true to itself and true to me. So I was probably a little weary by the time it got on the radio. And then when you’re working and stuff, you’re always onto the next thing. So people were hearing “Damn”, but I was writing my next album, Whaler. But all that being said, I did love it. I was very happy.
DK: When you writing it, how did you come up with the phrase “Damn” and make it your song title?
Hawkins: I have to tell you…it just came out that way. I was writing it at the piano, and something had to come out that matched my emotion. (She sings “Damn”!) It just felt right…it was the way that I felt. And so I didn’t mess with it. And again, I had to protect that, because believe me, people wanted to change “Damn.” No one wanted (the word) “Damn” on the radio. So that was really interesting.
DK: Your second album, Whaler, had another hit with the ballad, “As I Lay Me Down.” Can you tell the story behind writing that song?
Hawkins: “As I Lay Me Down” was written for the first record (Tongues and Tails), and Sony didn’t hear it (they didn’t think it was a hit). But again I thought, they don’t hear it, but they will. It’s one of these big songs. Luckily then I knew, I was able to shut my mouth, put the cassette of the song in a drawer, and just wait until the right time.
Here’s the video of Sophie B. Hawkins’ hit, “Right Beside You.”
All my albums have all these different songs with different moods and different parts of me speaking. And my goal is to be true.
DK: Currently, you’re going on tour this month and in April. Can you talk about your new tour, and your new live show?
Hawkins: I love my live show. We put a lot of work into it, but it’s effortless when we get onstage. I’m playing with two other musicians—Katie Marie and Seth Glier—and we all play lots of instruments, and we all sing and we’re songwriters. So we move around a lot. I’ll be on drums and Katie Marie will be on guitar, and then she’ll be on drums and I’ll be on piano. It depends on how we’ll orchestrate each song. So we move around and experiment a lot, to see what’s going to make the song powerful, and for it to be simple enough so we can move and groove within it. And so I love the band and the stage performance.
DK: Throughout your career, you’ve been known for being an activist, for such causes as the environment, LGBTQ equality, and animal rights. Can you talk your goals as an activist?
Hawkins: Yes, it’s a privilege to be able to say what I feel and people are willing to listen. And I do think it’s important to speak up, because it’s been proven throughout history that it’s people not speaking up that allows tyrants to take over and do whatever they want. I think our world is lacking in activism and I think it’s purposeful. People are tired…they’re working so hard to make so little money. People are distracted by social media and feeling bad about themselves.
We need to be interconnected; we need to work together and we need to strip it down to the simplest elements and we’ll all be happy. Just like a family. You strip it down to what is absolutely necessary, work together, and enjoy each other and enjoy our lives. In a way, that’s what activism is. It’s standing up and saying…Why are we not doing this? Activists are the elephants in the room; let’s put it that way. As far as LGBTQ rights and the environment, it’s so necessary to say that we have to address these issues. Right in front of our eyes, we will lose our lives and our world and all control. So we must stand up and say stuff. It’s too bad that we’re beaten down so much.