Sophie B. Hawkins performs at Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sophie B. Hawkins at Tally Ho Theater (Part 1)

She gained fame as a chart-topping singer-songwriter on pop radio in the 1990s.

This Friday, Sophie B. Hawkins performs at Tally Ho Theater in Leesburg, Virginia.

“I’m probably going to do this solo acoustic, which I love because it’s a really dynamic show and I can explore a lot with the audience,” Hawkins told WTOP. “I frequently end up doing duets with the audience. It’s really nice … I haven’t been to Virginia in a long time.”

She’s enjoying being back out on the road after a pandemic hiatus.

“I started getting back out there in February when I played some shows in Connecticut,” Hawkins said. “I did have to cancel some tours because of COVID recently … I have two kids, so COVID wasn’t a lot of (free) time … all of the expectations of performing on Zoom every week … Also my children, their entire lives were thrust upon me as well.”

Born in New York City in 1964, Hawkins grew up without any formal music training.

“I think it’s something that people are born with because in my house nobody was a musician,” Hawkins said. “My mother loved classical music, my father loved jazz, so they did play records a lot … but no one was playing it or giving anybody lessons or anything.”

As a teenager, she discovered a passion for African drumming.

“There was a moment at 14 years old when I said, ‘I have to play African drums,'” Hawkins said. “My Aunt Linda said, ‘Oh, I know an African drum teacher’ … I had wanted to play drums my whole life. I don’t know where that came from … always holding a drum, never getting lessons, but at 14, I found an African drum teacher, quit everything and did that.”

She pursued it seriously by attending the Manhattan School of Music.

“I steadily worked as a drummer,” Hawkins said. “I worked for (singer) Bryan Ferry as a percussionist for a while, then I got fired … for years I was working in different jobs, working as a waitress or a coat check, writing songs, going to acting class, playing drums.”

Her big beak came when Marc Cohn (“Walking in Memphis”) visited her restaurant.

“He said, ‘You have a beautiful singing voice. I bet you’re a singer,'” Hawkins said. “I said, ‘I’m a lousy singer, but I have all these songs.’ I handed him my demo tape and Marc Cohn left it on a desk at a jingle studio … a guy named Ralph Shuckett listened to my tapes on the way home to Brooklyn and called me and said, ‘You should be making records.'”

She signed with Columbia Records for her 1992 debut album “Tongues and Tails.”

“The whole first album was on those cassette tapes,” Hawkins said. “Seven record labels wanted to sign me, but before that, none did. It was great to have seven wanting to sign me and the heads of all the labels courting me, but I went through years of rejections.”

The album featured the hit single “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” (1992).

“I heard that song as massive before other people did,” Hawkins said. “I wrote that and recorded it in my little home studio and it sounded big to me then … radio stations were all totally real people and people were calling in saying that they loved the song, so it was very exciting because it was a very emotional and people-driven success.”

She was nominated for the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1993.

“I have a really intense story about that, but I think I should save it for the book,” Hawkins said. “It was a time of incredible turmoil because Sony thought I was really successful but not successful enough. They wanted me to move to Europe, but the Grammy board was incredible and painted a beautiful picture of me. There were a lot of juxtaposed forces.”

Her second album, “Whaler,” featured an even bigger hit with “As I Lay Me Down” (1995).

“I moved to London and I worked with Steve Lipson, who had done Annie Lennox’s solo album,” Hawkins said. “I said, ‘How can they not hear this? This is so clearly my biggest hit’ … the keyboard, the Juno-60, the 808 drum machine, even background vocals are all from my apartment in New York. We shipped my entire studio to London.”

To this day, they remain her two biggest hits.

“I don’t ever get sick of ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ or ‘As I Lay Me Down,’ because when those came out of me, I said, ‘Oh my God, I am so blessed, this is like a baby coming out,'” Hawkins said. “Those two songs are why you’re talking to me.”

Sony Music delayed the release of her third album, “Timbre” (1999), which was later rereleased under Hawkins’ own independent label, Trumpet Swan Productions.

“I wrote the ‘hit’ for the album, ‘Lose Your Way,’ which was in ‘Dawson’s Creek’ and in the movie ‘Bounce,'” Hawkins said. “‘Lose Your Way’ was written on a banjo. It was a big fight with Sony, who said, ‘This is your big hit, so you need to take off the banjo’ … they were adamant that the banjo had to come out and I was adamant that the banjo had to stay on.”

She self-produced two more albums, “Wilderness” (2004) and “The Crossing” (2012).

“I feel that I’m the sort of artist that my music will be discovered for many years to come in its own quiet way,” Hawkins said. “People discover it and then they get really into it. I do that with other artists too, so I really appreciate it, like when I discovered Bobbie Gentry, for instance, and then I listened to everything Bobbie Gentry did.”

In 2012, Hawkins portrayed rock legend Janis Joplin in the stage play “Room 105.”

“She was one of my idols,” Hawkins said. “Playing Janis Joplin is death-defying … ‘Room 105’ was brilliantly written and has a lot of the emotional depth of Janis with her mother, with the night she took her life. It wasn’t a puff piece … every night on stage, I would pray that she would come to me and I wouldn’t go on stage until I felt her hands on my back.”

She plans to return to the world of theater by penning an original musical.

“I started it a while ago and I’ve been working on it steadily,” Hawkins said. “As musicals go, it sort of goes through different stages, but I’m excited about this stage … there’s all original songs and I’ve written the book. It’s a tremendous amount of work.”

Lately, she’s been doing a deep dive into her own life story by writing a memoir.

“I have all the journals from when I was 15,” Hawkins said. “The working title is ‘Come Inside My Jungle Book,’ a line from ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover.’ I don’t know when it’s going to come out, I’m working on it, but I’m discovering more depth than I ever thought … at first I thought, ‘I’m not going to read my journals’ … then I said, ‘You have to do that.'”

Her childhood journals are fascinating to read as she raises two kids of her own.

“It’s changed me ultimately,” Hawkins said. “I’m just a person trying to do the best I can to protect and raise them. It’s affected some of the new songs and some of the songs in the musical are on a new level. It’s taken me out of myself. That’s the goal when you’re a parent, to get out of yourself and be a person who is a facilitator for their life to take off.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Sophie B. Hawkins at Tally Ho Theater (Part 2)

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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