Singer/songwriter Sophie B. Hawkins has had a lot of upheaval in her life in recent years and that is reflected in her new songs, some she will be performing at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach on Wednesday, Aug. 17, but it has also been a time of “calmness and beautiful growth.”
“I moved out of LA because my whole life just blew up, it imploded ... I didn’t have my partner of 17 years, I had no manager, I had nothing familiar except New York City, I grew up there. And I had a son who had been raised in California and he hated New York. He was like what are you doing to me? But I love my son more than life itself.”
Her son, Dashiell, was 4 years old when she moved, but she knew to restart her career she needed to get away from California and Venice, her home of 17 years.
“The focus went to me because for so many years I was focusing on taking care of everybody else, making money for other people, making songs for other people’s shows to survive,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins burst on the national music scene with the 1992 album “Tongues and Tails,” featuring the single “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover,” which reach No. 5 on the Billboard singles charts. The follow-up album, “Whaler,” which was released in 1994, included her biggest hit, “As I Lay Me Down,” which reached No. 6 on Billboard Hot 100 singles charts.
The fame didn’t come easy to Hawkins.
“I don’t know if I have that star thing in me,” Hawkins said. “I think I have the charisma to be on stage and I think people love it when I’m on stage. I have total freedom and spontaneity, but inside of me I don’t have the need to be famous. That was difficult because I try to force myself to have that desire and drive and it was never there. I worked really hard too at doing everything everybody said to do to have success. I did have success, I’ll have to say. I should thank myself for that, but I was really being rubbed the wrong way all the time.”
Hawkins said she always felt more comfortable as a songwriter, but she enjoyed being on stage and challenging herself, which she has been doing her entire life. She grew up listening to Bob Dylan, where she feels the seeds of wanting to be a songwriter developed when she was 9 years old. She loved The Beatles and later branched out to David Bowie, who she would listen to for hours, as well as Thelonious Monk and other genres of music when she got older. She went to the Manhattan School of Music to study percussion, but things began to change at 19 years old.
“I felt trapped by being a drummer, trapped by always trying to be the best musician, because there was no way I was going to be that great because I started when I was 14 years old,” Hawkins said. “Then I started writing all over my walls and that’s when I transitioned into being a songwriter. I had a conscious thought that now it’s time to really do what I was meant to do.”
While she was working as a coat checker at Orso Restaurant in New York City, Hawkins played drums in various bands. She had a stint with Bryan Ferry who fired her because he needed a Cuban conga player.
“A guy came in, Marc Cohen, he was not songwriting at the time; he was a singer, jingle singer. He loved my talking voice and said, ‘I bet you’re a great singer.’ I said, ‘I’m a terrible singer, but I have this demo tape.’ It had my 25 songs on it. Well I handed it to him and it had ‘Damn I Wish I was Your Lover,’ all the songs from the first album.”
Cohen, who later wrote the hit single, “Walking in Memphis,” took her demo to his jingle studio. Someone picked it up, listened to the cassette on a Walkman. She was told she should be making records. Before long, seven record labels wanted to sign her. Hawkins signed with famed Columbia, in part because it was Dylan’s label. But soon after she entered the recording studio, she was convinced the album was never going to get made.
“The head of label, Don Iner, obsessed with one song (“Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover”), it got me off ground, huge radio hit, but there was no focus on me as an artist or my career ... they thought it was a one hit wonder,” she said.
For the second album, “Whaler,” they convinced her to move to London because, even with a hit single and record, she was “not famous enough.” Three songs became hits in the U.K. but it took four years before “As I Lay Me Down” became a hit in the states, and that only after Sony Europe convinced executives to release the song as a single.
More conflicts ensued with Sony, which had become the parent company of Columbia, for the third album, “Timbre,” was released in 1999.
“Everything was a big fight ... I was 31 and I was tired ... I asked to get off the label,” Hawkins said.
She formed Trumpet Swan Productions and released “Wilderness” in 2004 and “The Crossing” in 2012.
Besides her music, Hawkins has been busy on stage and being an advocate for various causes.
She starred in the Janis Joplin play, “Room 105,” in 2012, which was written and directed by her former partner Gigi Gaston, who also directed the documentary, “The Cream Will Rise,” which featured Hawkins in 1998. She also appeared in the TV show series “Community,” playing herself.
In 2010, she was active with the Waterkeeper Alliance, “an organization of on-the-water advocates who patrol and protect over 100,000 miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in North and South America, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa,” according to her website, and performed in the first Pussycat Festival, a benefit for the Gulf Shore Animal League. She also performed for the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children gala in 2010.
Hawkins is again challenging herself by writing a play that will eventually become a musical.
“Right now I’m working on a song without instruments, making myself work without sitting at a piano because that is what I would usually do. I’m making myself come up with songs in a different way, so by the time I get to an instrument like a piano or whatever I decide to write it on .. it will be different. That’s the same thing with (new album) … I wrote one of the best songs on a ukulele and I wrote a song on a banjo. It’s not that I play these instruments well, I use different ways to get things out of me.”
Also, last year, at 50 years old, Hawkins, who had her embryos frozen nearly 20 years ago, gave birth to daughter Esther Ballantine Hawkins.
Hawkins said she will be releasing a new album later this year.
“It’s simple in a sense that it’s definitely a Sophie B. Hawkins album with unique song writing and a unique ways to say things,” she said.