Nineteen ninety-two was a watershed year in music. Nirvana’s Nevermind hit No. 1. Frank Zappa played his final public performance. Sinéad O’Connor ripped up the pope’s pic on Saturday Night Live. Bobby Brown wedded Whitney Houston. Bill Wyman announced he was leaving the Stones. And a New York–bred singer-songwriter by the name of Sophie Ballantine Hawkins knocked it out of the park with her hit debut single, five minutes and twenty-three seconds of sexy and sophisticated tuneage appropriately titled “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover.”
While the ensuing years haven’t seen Hawkins topping the charts, she’s hardly been quiet, musically or with her activism and art. Calling from her home in Upper Manhattan, Hawkins is pregnant with possibility — in the midst of writing and recording a new record, the follow-up to 2012’s The Crossing — as well as six months actually pregnant, with a baby girl currently being referred to by the “working title” of Bubble-Gum. She’ll join six-year-old brother Dashiell, and Hawkins says with a laugh, “Wouldn’t it be funny: Bubble-Gum for President?”
There’s a lot of joy in Hawkins’s life of late. “I’m not in the trauma or drama,” she says, referring to the unavoidably painful dissolution of a seventeen-year relationship in California and her subsequent return to NYC as a single mom. “Now I’m in a great phase. I feel 50 and free, and my motto is ‘Freedom under any circumstance.’ ”
That’s reflected in the music Hawkins is tackling, honing, and refining for her upcoming album. She was hoping to have it finished before she gave birth, but as she’s writing and workshopping songs and taking fan feedback, plus “actually being patient and working with people and finding the right people,” the baby may drop before the record. And though Bubble-Gum‘s got a certain ring to it, both are as yet unnamed.
On the next page: “I had to live through this. But I have lived through it, and I came through the other side really being happy about it, and I’m finally not regretting the mistakes…”
Hawkins is spending time in the East Village’s Flux Studios with “elegant” producer Fabrice Dupont (Les Nubians, Freshlyground), whose approach is one she praises as “old fashioned.”
“He listens to the songs; he critiques the songs; he says, ‘Go back and write a better bridge,’ ” she says. “He’s not like, ‘Oh, let me put on a few drum loops and I’m going to get writing credit.’ He puts a lot of mental thought into it, because he sees this album as basically — somebody said today I’m renovating my house of my career — but it really feels like I’m coming out fresh…I’m trying to say to the ‘As I Lay Me Down’ and ‘Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover’ people, who a lot of them don’t know that I’ve made six or seven albums in between, ‘This is me.’ ”
She’s also as heartfelt about other endeavors, including past work with nonprofits including the Waterkeeper Alliance (related to the Gulf Oil Crisis), the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and her extensive 2008 campaigning for Hillary Clinton. That said, her onetime political fervor has been tempered by realism. “I thought that people could work together and talk more, but I realize they’re not interested. They like the sides. Politicians use it, and I don’t wanna be in that,” she states. “I like people, I like communities. I’m a community person; I’m really grassroots.”
Of her own community, her audience, Hawkins says, “The nice thing about those fans is that they always have a nice memory about me, and it’s, ‘Where have you been? What have you been doing?’ ” But on the flipside, she notes, “If they go, ‘Oh, she’s had a baby’ — frankly, I find insulting that just because I’ve raised a six-year-old, that [means] I haven’t been working. I want to say, ‘No, he has nothing to do with it.’ OK, he has something to do with it, but the fact that I’m pregnant now has nothing to do with it. I’m still working the same way.”
While the birth of “Bubble-Gum” will no doubt have a profound effect on the emotive artist, Hawkins doesn’t plan much of a break from music-making. “I don’t think it will be put on hold,” she says. “The writing I can always do, because that’s at my house. I can just pick up a guitar at midnight and start writing and recording.” For studio time, she notes, “I can get childcare. I keep telling people that except for the moment that she’s coming out and maybe a couple of days after, I’m good.”
Rekindling local relationships has also given her strength. “Reconnecting with my old friends in New York has been so profound…I’m the first one to say, ‘I can’t go backstage, no one will let me back there, no one knows me!’ But the truth is probably I could. I’m starting to understand that I’m not really a stranger. I am really a part of it all.”
This moment in her life and career, Hawkins says, is all about putting her son, art, and soul first. She casts no blame on her ex, and is now thankful for the anguish and experience that’s fueling her art. “I get it — I had to live through this. But I have lived through it, and I came through the other side really being happy about it, and I’m finally not regretting the mistakes. And actually,” she concludes, “not even looking at them like mistakes.”
Sophie B. Hawkins plays the Rockwood Music Hall on April 30. Tickets are available here.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 29, 2015