In 1992, Sophie B. Hawkins released her first single, "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover," from her debut album, Tongues and Tails. MTV banned the song's original music video, in which Hawkins wore very little and danced quite a lot (the second version featured Hawkins in boot-cut jeans and a sleeveless plaid button-down, dancing somewhat less "suggestively"). This scandal only increased the song's cult status. Additionally, Hawkins publicly identified herself as "omnisexual," long before anyone knew what the fuck that meant (do people even know now?).
This was four years before the first Lilith Fair, a concert tour featuring only female solo artists and female-led bands, which probably explains why Hawkins was seen as something of an iconoclast. Not that the subsequent rise of women singer-songwriters would have made a more suitable home for Hawkins; she staunchly refused to identify with a set notion of "femaleness," either in herself or for her sexual and romantic partners. We talked about love, aging, and the perpetual failure of art-making, and I was impressed by her candidness. She seems genuinely invested in continuing to change and learn, for as long as she can.
Grace Dunham: I heard you're in the process of working on two projects right now, a musical and a new album?
Sophie B. Hawkins: So the album is technically finished. It's a matter of rerecording certain songs, and then there's the stuff that didn't make the album, which may turn out to be better than the album itself. I've written a lot of songs for the musical, but I'm working on the book now.
GD: So what's the story line of the musical?
SBH: The only thing I don't want to tell you is the story line, because it's so close to me. But it's got several layers …
GD: I don't need to know! I trust that you're keeping it a secret because you need to.
SBH: My first album [1992's Tongues and Tails] came out, and it was a whole life's work in there. It's kind of like that with this musical. There's not one day that I don't love working on it, even when I get notes from my director telling me to tear the whole thing apart.
GD: With your first album, you had some huge hits. How do you reckon with that as you move forward and try to keep growing as an artist? Does it ever feel like something that keeps you trapped?
SBH: I always felt I had things to say and to live out. I never knew how I was going to get them out. It was so challenging to figure that out. Recently, I've started to understand that I have something lasting to offer, that I can keep contributing. It makes me feel so good when I sit down to work. It doesn't feel like something to contend with; it feels like something that makes me happy.
Also, I'm single. I often wonder if there's ever gonna be anyone who will fall in love with me, who will be my equal. I went to a certain place, and then I felt like I was on a steady line for too long in my relationship, fighting battles that were really somebody else's battles. And then I finally got to break away, and five years later, I feel free and excited. Really simple and open.
GD: As a young person, I often hope that with time, I'll be less preoccupied with those questions, of finding someone to love, to be loved by …