of Disappear Fear
SONiA & Disappear Fear - Biggest Baddest Heart (2010)
That's SONiA & Disappear Fear, singing about the "Biggest Baddest Heart." That's from their new album, "Blood, Bones & Baltimore," and I just love that album, and I love that artist. This is JD Doyle with Queer Music Heritage. And I think SONiA Rutstein has contributed a lot to our music heritage. This month I'm going to let her tell you her story, and since I'm so thorough this is another two-part show. Part 1 will cover the new CD and then the history and some of the music of the band Disappear Fear, and Part 2, found on my website, will pick up around 1998, when SONiA started releasing solo recordings, billed as SONiA of Disappear Fear. Before we get to the new album, I'll give a quick intro and say that Disappear Fear was primarily SONiA and her sister Cindy Frank and they toured together the first ten years until Cindy opted to devote her time to motherhood. She has over the years continued to contribute to the studio recordings.
This is also a good time to mention that SONiA & Disappear Fear is one of the most honored acts in our community. During the time the GLAMA Awards, the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards, were in existence, SONiA and/or Disappear were nominated for nine awards, winning three. Only Michael Callen, Catie Curtis and the Indigo Girls received as many nominations and wins. And SONiA was also nominated for three Outmusic awards, winning one.
But on SONiA to talk about the new release, their 13th CD, "Blood, Bones & Baltimore."
Rutstein: The new CD is the most organic studio CD we've ever released.
We recorded 80% of it in one day. We going about 10:30 in the morning
and at 11 or so that night I drove home with what was eight songs of
what you're hearing now on the radio. It was thrilling and it's blues.
It's Americana. It's kind of the most rootsy CD I've ever made. That's
why I'm calling it organic and I kind of wanted to get a great sense
of everyone's participation in it and not must my own.
SR: I don't know, I mean I love the blues. It's something that's grown more with me lately. You know it's really just challenging myself in different directions and the blues are really a genre that work in any medium. That is, I'm travelling and performing in countries, touring in countries where English is not the first language, and yet the blues give people a sense of you know, I get an immediate sense of connection in the room, and you know that's why I'm there. It's cool, I love the way it transcends the languages.
To a lot of people this would be a little different sound for you. What's the reaction been?
SR: It's been great! It's been really good, like, whoa, you know, it's been very, very positive. It's still so new, so it's hard to gauge it a year from now, two years from now I'll have a much better picture of how well it's going to fly. But so far it's doing really, really good, very positive response.
Is there a song that so far seems to be getting the most attention?
SR: Ah, really two. One of the songs I would say is "Pack of Newport" for the blues part. Another song that's completely different from the blues genre, it's really more of a singer/songwriter ballad, and that's the song "Who I Am." I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on that one, but that's a much more of what I would consider if there was standard SONiA or Disappear Fear song, that's more in the constant vein of my writing.
I think my favorite is "Pack of Newport," could you talk about that?
SR: Ah, cool, there are different things that fed into that becoming a song. One was that I was a smoker in my early twenties, and that was my brand that I smoked, and quitting was not really easy at all. I smoked I guess between one and two packs a day, but singing and smoking for me really wasn't an option, so I had to quit, and I did. And what I would do is I started running, and I would reward myself with a Newport cigarette at the end of my run, when I first started, and it was really, really powerful. So there was that. So then, all these years later I'm running and I'm seeing these crumpled up you know, you see trash and a frequent trash item I would see on my run was a crinkled up pack of Newport, of smoked Newport, with just the wrapper. And during a run, about a year ago or so that song came to me while I was running. I want to be your pack of Newport, and just playing with that as my metaphor the whole sense of dire desperation and dire addiction really gave the song the blues was the perfect place to put it I want to be and I really wrote most of that melody on my run, came back and figured it out on the guitar.
Well, I was very impressed with that song in particular. I remember listening to it and when it was over I just said "wow, what a perfect blues song, I can just hear Irma Thomas singing that."
SR: Cool, wow, wouldn't that be something.
SONiA & Disappear Fear - Pack of Newport (2010)
Talk about the song "Don't Make Me Wrong"
SR: don't make me Once you're in a relationship, or trying to start a relationship, you always second, third and millionth guess it, you know, yourself, just because of the ups and downs, and the difficulties of when you try to take a romantic love and try to build a lifestyle around that, you know, a partnership around that. It's complicated and it's difficult, and it's like you think, "what the heck am I doing" sometimes
SONiA & Disappear Fear - Don't Make me Wrong (2010)
Please talk about the song "You Got Me."
SR: That's really kind of a song that reaches out in terms of reassurance that I'm going to be there for you, like no matter what. I think that's what that's about. You know, it's funny to talk about these songs because they're really pretty in-your-face. I didn't really encase these songs or cloak them in some sort of mysterious metaphor. I am guilty of that in some songs. I think these are pretty straight-forward and they're really real.
Well, the blues are not really subtle.
SR: No, no, you're absolutely right.
SONiA & Disappear Fear - You Got Me (2010)
That's the new album. Let's go back to some history. Tell me about your first band.
SR: Wow, well the first trio I was in was actually in the third grade with a couple of friends, Sabrina Nast and Terry Rosen. We did "Young Girl." Why I don't know. Love the song but I think we did it really badly at a talent contest, and I think we came in second, so that didn't go so well. Then I had a band, which would actually be considered by first real band, called Sonia and the Night Band. And it was also a trio but this time it had bass and drums. And we did play some in Baltimore and D.C. It was pretty short lived. I just remember rehearsing in the building that became the 9:30 Club, and schlepping our stuff up these steps when the elevator didn't work, and there was no air conditioning in the hot summers, in the 80s. it was tough.
And then there was a band I had called Exhibit A that was a trio and then a quartet. And then my sister came to join that band. Actually, you know what, I'm skipping a band. There was a band called Girl Friday, right before Exhibit A. Exhibit A kind of broke off from Girl Friday. Anyway, when Cindy came to join my band Exhibit A, and I kind of think she just sort of blew everything out of the water, so the band broke up. And Cindy that was the birth of Disappear Fear, cause Cindy and I were really serious about doing music and doing it full time, everywhere we could, and recording and the whole deal. So we did and that was the beginning of Disappear Fear.
Was Cindy in Girl Friday?
SR: No. Cindy was in Exhibit A for a short amount of time before the band imploded.
So, she wasn't in that cool video of "Back to Back"?
SR: No, she wasn't in that no she wasn't.
I asked SONiA about the video of "Girl Friday" doing "Back to Back" because it's included on SONiA's DVD called "Happy Birthday, SONiA" as a bonus video, a rare treat from her history, from 1984. Now, remember this was a fairly early recording, so don't be too hard on the sound quality, but I still wanted to share with you a little bit of it.
Girl Friday - Back to Back (1984)
What was the genesis of the name Disappear Fear?
SR: I was working at the Baltimore Center for Victims of Sexual Assault, And they were looking for a new name for the Center, something a little bit snappier. So I came up with the Disappear Fear Center, because when someone is assaulted and abused the person becomes really, really scared of their world, and I thought that a way to get their lives back into confidence and empowerment, would be to disappear fear. So that's what I came up with, and I presented that name to the board, and they rejected it. So I had written it on this yellow post-it on my desk, and I would see it. And it was at the time my sister had come to join Exhibit A and it didn't work and I just thought, wow, Disappear Fear. The more I thought about it the more it seemed like a really cool name for the band. So Cindy and I had just started singing together and rather than calling ourselves the Rutstein Sisters, we became Disappear Fear.
Okay, this would be a good time to mention that on your albums, you spell SONiA with all caps and a small "i."
SR: Yeah, I do that because it's really just a checkpoint that we're all really just a small I and kind of a reminder of keeping things in check as far as perspective and ego and judgment go. Also I like the shape of it. I like the way it looks and when I put that down as a small i and raise the other ones up it sort of gives it its own sort of sense of logo, regardless of where it is, it sort of makes it pop visually.
I've also seen on your site that your different names have become a marketing disaster. It's Disappear Fear; it's SONiA; it's SONiA of Disappear Fear; it's SONiA & Disappear Fear.
SR: Yes, that's true, like if you want me on iTunes and you want a particular album let's say you want "Almost Chocolate," and you look up Disappear Fear, you won't find it under that, and you have to put in SONiA of Disappear Fear in order to get that particular CD. And the thing that's also frustrating about that, like on iTunes and I think Amazon as well, which are the two big ones, is that it doesn't cross-reference me. For instance, it would say, like SONiA sounds like Tracy Chapman or someone, and it won't say it sounds like Disappear Fear. Well, you think it would, because it's all the same person. Disappear Fear, SONiA, SONiA of Disappear Fear, and SONiA and Disappear Fear are completely synonymous, cause it's all me, on my songs. Yeah, it is, you have to do a little bit of work there
Okay, looking at all the Disappear Fear and SONiA albums, I'm curious which one has been the best selling one?
SR: That's a good question. I think it was Disappear Fear, self-titled, but then I think moving into second place I think "Me, Too" outsold that, and then "No Bomb Is Smart" outsold that. So I think "No Bomb Is Smart" at this point is the biggest.
Under just the name Disappear Fear, there were five CDs between the years 1988 and 1996 and I'll definitely volunteer that it was difficult choosing what songs to ask about, as I love so many of them, but I kind of settled roughly on one song per album, starting with the first album "Echo My Call" and the song "From Baltimore to Anywhere."
SR: "Baltimore to Anywhere," wow, I wrote that in the living room of my one-bedroom apartment that I was sharing with my partner at the time, and it was very, very real. I was in the living room and she was in the kitchen, and I was just sort of reflecting on the moment. It's a slow, sad song, but it's really more about hope and the next phase of things.
Disappear Fear - From Baltimore to Anywhere (1988)
I'm going to slip in sort of a hit parade extra, a song SONiA sent me a few years ago. This is one of their very earliest recordings and one they contributed to a benefit cassette for the homeless in Baltimore. So it would be almost impossible to find, making it all the more appealing for me to share it with you. So we're having a Christmas in July moment, with a little of their song "Christmas Makes Me Realize."
SR: it's a song that I had written I probably actually had written it in 1984/1985. I really wrote it about I was home by myself one Christmas and my girlfriend was at home far away, with her parents, and I was really, really missing her. That's when I sat down and wrote that song. The line is, "Christmas makes me realize how much I love you." So it was a romantic moment, and Cindy and I sang it, and I played the guitar. In the early days of Disappear Fear that was the form. And that's really how the song happened. We were asked to donate a song to a compilation CD that was coming out for Christmas. And I think a lot of people were just doing covers, but I had written this song and I had always wanted to record it, so that was my opportunity, and we did that.
Disappear Fear - Christmas Makes Me Realize (1988)
Disappear Fear and "Christmas Makes Me Realize."
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, there's a Part 2 of this show with much more of the music of SONiA. That's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT; it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
The second album by Disappear Fear was called "Deep Soul Diver," and it contains one of their most popular songs, "Sexual Telepathy."
SR: Hmm, I guess I was nervous that's always a thing in relationships, or maybe in my relationships, where you're just scared, okay, my partner's going to love someone or fall in love with someone who's more sexy than me, or has got something better than me, and I'm kind of worried about it. So it always comes back to be true now. I know that we have something here but I'm sort of worried about losing it.
Disappear Fear - Sexual Telepathy (1989)
One song that I don't think gets enough attention that I've always loved is from your "Live at the Bottom Line" album. It's "Box of Tissues."
SR: Ah, that was an early favorite of a lot of Disappear Fear fans. That was a must-do at concerts and I still get lots of requests for it and in fact when I was in Holland, a little while ago, I did an impromptu concert and the audience was singing the background vocals that Cindy used to sing on it, which I love when the audience does that. In fact it was that song that we sang in the offices of Freddy Bienstock Publishing, in London. I took out my guitar, and the people were standing around the room. And the head of the company at the time said, after we did that song, "sign them up." So that song was the song that really clenched our first publishing deal. So there you are, you got a good head for things.
Well, I remember when you played I've seen you many times but I remember we were at the Mucky Duck in Houston, and I requested that song and you did it.
SR: Oh wow, yeah I love it, I love that song.
Disappear Fear - Box of Tissues (1992)
From the 1994 Disappear Fear album, just called "Disappear Fear," talk about the song "Moment of Glory," please.
SR: That song I wrote most of it I was starting to really tour a whole, whole lot. And I think what I was talking about in it is basically like, I knew a lot of other no, I didn't know a lot. I knew some other famous artists that were lesbians, that were very much in the closet, enjoying a great deal of commercial success. And I was sort of reflecting on my own situation, and I couldn't do it that way. I have to be who I am.
Disappear Fear - Moment of Glory (1994)
That album has some very respectable help on it, like the Indigo Girls and Janis Ian.
SR: Yes, yes, they came in to sing on it. Amy and Emily actually are on three of the eleven tracks of that CD. And Janis does the guitar solo and also singing on "Who's So Scared." She really loves that song. That was cool.
That's the next one I want to ask about. Talk about "Who's So Scared"
SR: "Who's So Scared" started as a poem. It's by Countee Cullen. I took Countee's poem and I wrote the melody underneath it, and I went just naturally to that chorus of "Who's So Scared," like that was such a stopping thing. Like, the question that seems to really inspire me to do something sometimes is, what would I do if I wasn't scared, what would I do. And do that thing, so that's really the essence of that song, and just bringing in the idea of not just racism but homophobia, bringing all that together. Then we actually had gone ahead and recorded it, and then the record label that was on Rounder Records had to get permission from the Countee Cullen estate to use that poem. And fortunately they said yes, and everything was fine.
Disappear Fear - Who's So Scared (1994)
From "Seed in the Sahara" I'd like to hear about "BYOG"
SR: BYOG, BYOG, Bring Your Own God. I was just again I was travelling. We toured so, so much, and I remember when I came up with that idea, BYOG, bring your own God, and I just thought it's so applicable because we do bring our own God everywhere we are, whether that's your position that there isn't a God, or being atheist or agnostic or not, or whatever, it's what you call your God. My idea with the song is to take it from a personal place to the place of it sort of goes from a backward motion, of a more general idea to a more specific idea and then to a very personal idea, on the verses of the song
Disappear Fear - BYOG (Bring Your Own God) (1996)
How do you think your being open about being gay has affected your career?
SR: You know, I get asked that really a lot, and I never know how to answer it. I honestly don't know. For me, JD, there would have been no other option. I have to use the palette that I use. I think it's unfortunate that a lot of people probably are not going to get to hear my music because that's an issue for them. Hopefully, as time goes on more and more people will get to hear it.
This is JD Doyle for Queer Music Heritage and I want to thank you all for listening and SONiA for the wonderful interview. Remember you can hear more of the interview and listen to her talk about her recordings since 1998 at my website, at www.queermusicheritage.com. Closing this part I thought it appropriate to go back to one more song from the new release, "Blood, Bones & Baltimore," and ask her about the song "Call Me SONiA."
SR: Ah, "Call Me SONiA." That was well, what was happening was this, because this was a new genre for me I thought it would be cool to do some more covers by some more blues artists, cause God knows there's some great ones. And I asked some of my friends who I know are really into those genres if they had any samples of stuff they thought I should hear. So they gave me hundreds of songs, and I was listening to their stories a lot. And finally I was just thinking, these are really personal stories. Everyone got sort of a sad story, and it seemed sort of silly for me to be singing someone else's story. Not that I couldn't, but that I had a story as well. So one afternoon when I was listening to all this stuff I just pulled out my guitar and I was like, okay, this is my story in this moment. And I liked the way it sounds. It was really going to be sink or swim I think. Some people will really like that song and some people will be like, what is that, you know.
SONiA & Disappear Fear - Call Me SONiA (2010)
This is JD Doyle welcoming you back to Part 2 of my special interview with SONiA, with this part picking up with her more solo career, and probably my favorite song of hers.
SONiA - Fallin' (1998)
Your first solo album was "Almost Chocolate," and I think my favorite of all your songs is on it. It's "Fallin'"
SR: Ah, cool, I love that song too. I was just very in the moment of it. I was sitting at a hotel in Long Beach, California, and it was at the very beginning of my romantic relationship, which is the person of whom has become my wife, legally, in California, a year and a half ago, and the beginning was just that total rush. Oh my gosh, is it happening, is it just me, was it last night, did I drink too much, what is going on here, is there a possibility of this really being that boom, boom, boom, that feeling that your heart really does do that was completely accurate [It's a very infectious song.] Cool.
SONiA - Cayendo (Fallin') (Tango, 2007)
SONiA has recorded the song "Fallin'" more than once. As I already mentioned, the original was on her 1998 album "Almost Chocolate" and there's a version in Spanish on her multi-language album "Tango," from 2007. That album contains a number of her songs sung in four different languages, Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, and English, with her kind of becoming our own United Nations representative.
The next album was "Me, Too," and I love the title track.
SR: Ah, thank you. That song was really the story of what happened to Terry, who is my manager, but also my wife and my partner and my we're doing this journey together. It's really the story of her dad and what happened when he came home from Viet Nam, when she was six years old, that whole thing was when she said it to me, it was exactly like that. It was exactly through the eyes of a six-year old, what that looked like. I mean, my experience, my personal experience of the Viet Nam War was quite different than that. I didn't have any family members, close family members who were soldiers in the war. Mostly what I saw were demonstrations on television, and that song "Me, Too" really goes through the relationship of Terry and her dad. A lot of people can relate to it, and a lot of people who are vets have come up to me after the song have come up to me and said "thank you, it's the first song ever I have heard that really honors my work as a vet," you know, gay or straight, nothing really to do with that, just like, this is the world we were trying to create. We were trying to make it a better place, and that's how we thought was the best way to do it.
SONiA of Disappear Fear - Me, Too (1999)
SR: This is SONiA of Disappear Fear, and you're listening to Queer Music Heritage. I love what you're doing. It's so needed and it's so necessary and it's so empowering, and you know, you asked me what song makes me the proudest, and I did the song "Me, Too" one time live on the radio, and I talk about this sometimes on stage, but I did it at a country commercial radio station in Texas, to promote the Kerrville Folk Festival, and I was asked to come in and do three songs, and they asked me to do these three songs, so I came in and at the last minute I decided, you know, I really want to do "Me, Too." And then I'll get to my other kind of country songs, and I'll sort of sing it with more of a twang, you know. So I did it, and I was wearing a hat and when I finished the song one of the DJs leaned over the country and says to me, "Great hat, thanks for coming by." And I was like, ah man, I basically got thrown out, and that's the end of the interview, and I was really, really bumming. And then I was just trying to console myself, saying well maybe somebody heard it somewhere that really liked it, and blah blah blah, what a bad choice I made, and everything like that.
SR: So anyway, comes Kerrville the next year and again I'm asked to perform at this country commercial station, and I was really surprised, cause it was the same morning show and it was one of the same DJs. And when I went in there, I went in and he put out his hand to me as soon as I came in to the studio area. He goes, "Sonia, fell in love with the girl next door, I nearly fell off my chair last year when you sang that." I was like, whoa! He just like cut right to the chase, and it was really good, so you just kind of don't know what's going to be, but that's what makes me proud. What makes me proud is that every stage I get on, because most of the places I play are not gay, it's not about that. I'm there because they like my songs. Yes, I'm doing some Pride Festivals this summer, and that's great, but for me it's about the humanity and it's about love. And it's important that I do what I do particularly in the areas where it's not comfortable, because it's not comfortable. But that's what it's about.
That sounds like I asked you the question, why do you do what you do?
SR: Yeah, cause that's really where life really shows up.
I want to talk about a couple songs that are not on your albums. One is a duet with Mark Weigle on "Other Houses."
SR: Oh, yeah, we recorded that I believe in Northern California, not too far from where Mark lives, lived, and Mark had asked me to come in and do it. And it's a pretty song, I remember, kind of an eerie song, so yes, Mark and I became friends and he asked me to sing on that and I remember enjoying it and it was an important song.
Mark Weigle & SONiA - Other Houses (2000)
That was "Other Houses" from Mark Weigle's CD from 2000 called "All That Matters." And from the same year there was a various artists compilation called "Forever Dusty," and you did a song that was a hit in the UK for Dusty Springfield called "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself."
SR: Yeah, yeah, I'm a big Burt Bacharach fan too, me and Elvis Costello and I guess half the world maybe, and so I loved the Dionne Warwick version of the song, and that's really what we were trying to go for when we were doing it. And, yeah, it was great, Rebekah Radisch was running a label at the time, and all of the artists on the CD had donated their time and their song to this compilation CD, which was going I don't think it was going to Dusty directly, it may have just been going to the American Cancer Foundation, but we were all really committed to that. And the sad thing for me was the very night we finished the recording of it and the mixing, was the night that Dusty passed away.
SONiA - I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself (2000)
Let's get on to the album "No Bomb Is Smart," and of course I want to hear about the title track.
SR: Yes, "No Bomb Is Smart," that idea really, really meant a lot to me in regular thinking and normal thinking, who are we basically as human beings think that why would any bomb could possibly be smart. It's just ridiculous. It's absurd. And yet we call them smart bombs and I guess my idea and my impetus behind it is let's get our heads around thinking that bombs are really dumb, on every level, and there's no such thing as a smart bomb. So that's the essence of it. I'd just like to get things going and technology moving in a direction of peace and community, as opposed to one of destruction and violence.
How has that song been received?
SR: Really, really well, actually, I was just invited to do an environmental festival over the weekend because of that song, and now I've been told too that that song is going to be on a compilation CD for the environment that will have an international release. I think people are getting it more too. People relate to songs in different ways, some people hear a beat, some people hear harmony, some people are really into lyrics. And I think that that song can really grab people in different levels.
SONiA - No Bomb Is Smart (2004)
I guess I never would have expected a dance remix CD of that.
SR: Well, I was working with this really talented producer from D.C., Blake Althen, and he said, "let's just get together and do something crazy." So what he did was he got the tracks from the engineer, Bill Cuomo, in Nashville, and they were just basically sent up to him, you know, through the internet, and then he just really rearranged them the way he wanted to. And then Blake in turn had gotten them to another DJ to do a separate mix on it, kind of her mix as well.
How did that go over with your fans?
SR: They loved it. They loved it. We didn't do a big cross the country tour of the dance mix kind of CD, but we did get it out. It was played some in clubs, in dance clubs in the U.S., and they loved it.
SONiA - No Bomb Is Smart (2006, remix)
Is there a song that seems to be the most popular with your audiences?
SR: Just one song? A song that a lot of people seem to love is the song "Won't Let Go," from "No Bomb Is Smart." A lot of people love that song and it's been chosen for various functions and to be on various CDs, outside of me doing it. It's a song that's been translated into Dutch, and we actually did it on a contemporary hits one of the main pop stations in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, last time. A lot of people really, really love that song.
SONiA - Won't Let Go (2004)
From the 2004 album "No Bomb Is Smart" was the song "Won't Let Go." and another song I like from that album was called "Obviously." It also appears on the CD "DF 05 Live."
SR: Well, the song "Obviously" is really just sort of a sad, difficult time for me. And when one person heard the song they said, "well you should did you break up, did you get out of the relationship?" I'm like, no. The songs come from a deep longing and a deep commitment to seeing it through.
SONiA - Obviously (2005)
How many Phil Ochs songs have you recorded?
SR: I believe I've only recorded two, "Is There Anybody Here" and "No More Songs," but I do plan on recording more of his songs.
I understand he's a mentor to you?
SR: Yes, he definitely is, definitely.
What makes him a mentor to you?
SR: He wrote because he had a truth to discover and to share, and it didn't matter, I don't think in the process of it, whether he sold five million CDs, or none. It was just like it was important for him to express that art, regardless of the outcome. The art was complete in the creation of it. And I just really love that. It just touched me on a level that made me say, SONiA, find out what your truth is, and express that in your words and in your music, and it's okay to say what you need to say.
To place him for my listeners, he was probably most active in the mid-60s, and you should infer from that, during the Viet Nam War, so he was writing "I Ain't A Marchin' Anymore" and "There But For Fortune," and songs like that.
SR: And Joan Baez recorded one or two of his songs and that of course helped get the word out about him.
Disappear Fear included that song on their self-titled 1994 album and I'm playing for you the version from the CD "DF 05 Live." This is a terrific song, written by Phil Ochs, "Is There Anybody Here"
SONiA & Disappear Fear - Is There Anybody Here (2005)
I know you're passionate about a variety of causes and you seem to find a way to get your music to reflect that.
SR: Yeah, I just write into the moment of what I'm thinking and feeling. I think probably that's why in some circles I'm a political songwriter for the song "By My Silence," which I actually didn't write. It was written by Ellen Bukstel and Nick Annis, from Florida, and that's a good example of if you don't speak out and it's a very political notion, and then the "Washington Work Song" and other songs like "No Bomb Is Smart," talking about the environment and the history and our neglect and our greed, and how that's doing us in. So yeah, those things come up, but I don't really approach it like a cause. I really approach it as a human being looking at something and saying, "what's going on here, what are you doing, what am I doing, what can I do?"
In 2008 SONiA released a CD called "Splash" and an important song from it is "By My Silence"
SR: It's become a favorite song. It really moves through borders. It's still applicable, anywhere you are, I think. We're confronted by situations all the time where, should I say something or should I not, you know, and it reminds us to disappear fear, to live and love out loud.
& Disappear Fear - By My Silence (2008)
SR: Ah, Laura. Laura's wonderful. She has a degree in voice, I believe, from Towson University, and she also studied percussion there, so she's quite proficient in what she does. And she's just been wonderful to work with. Now she's got her own project. It's called Mama's Black Sheep, and they just released their first CD. It's nice, it's a duo that she's doing.
Is that a duo with another lesbian artist?
SR: Yeah, Ashland Miller, is the duo and also her partner.
I've seen her back you up, but I'd forgotten how good a singer she is, and then I heard her again on your latest album do second vocals, and whoa!
SR: Yeah, yeah, I love it. That's not the kind of singing she's doing on her CD but I've heard her do some covers in her concerts and it's like, whoa, man, it's fantastic.
Now SONiA mentioned that Laura Cerulli and Ashland Miller have their own new CD, under the name Mamas Black Sheep. I love that album and for that reason it happens I also interviewed them recently. I could not resist asking Laura about working with SONiA.
What have you learned from touring with SONiA all these years?
Laura Cerulli: Wow, that's a big question. Everything, touring with SONiA is great. It's kind of exhausting, I mean, touring in general is exhausting, but touring with SONiA in particular because of her schedule is so busy, and there's always so much press in addition to the performance end of things. We're just constantly running. She certainly has broken me in and gotten me used to life on the road, and it's been a great journey with her.
Over the years SONiA has guested on several CDs by other artists, such as the band CommonbonD and folk artist Steven Gellman, and in 2000 SONiA lent her talents in a slightly different direction. She produced, played guitar and sang backups on a CD called "Charmed" by Baltimore artist Sarah Pinsker. The CD even came out on the Disappear Fear label. From that album is the song "Sweet and Strange."
Sarah Pinsker - Sweet & Strange (2000)
Again, that was Sarah Pinsker from the album produced by SONiA called "Charmed." And Sarah Pinsker's album hasn't been the only one produced by SONiA. In 2008 SONiA met a young violinist named Sam Weiser when they were both invited to perform at a concert. And by young, I mean that Sam's a 17-year old prodigy. Sam ended up backing her up on a song and I'm told it was magic. They hit it off and since Sam liked a lot of the different kinds of music SONiA performs, his parents later asked her to produce his first CD, which she did. It's called "Sam I Am." He does three of her songs on the album, on which she does guest vocals, so that's a chance for her fans to hear very different arrangements of them. And it's also a chance to hear them do a song that appears on none of her albums, a cover of the Eddie Vedder song "Rise," from the movie "Into the Wild." Sam Weiser and SONiA and the song "Rise."
Sam Weiser & SONiA - Rise (2010)
And this is JD Doyle getting ready to close Part 2 of my interview with SONiA. I have to share a comment I make often about SONiA. I tell folks all the time that SONiA is one of those people who you meet and within 30 seconds you want to hug them. I sure wish I had that effect on others. Anyway, picking the closing song was difficult because there's so, so many from all the SONiA and/or Disappear Fear albums that I love. But I went with another excellent song from the CD "Me, Too." It has quite a country feel, but how many country songs refer to a Harvey Fierstein quote from the 1998 Gay Games. The song is "Grass For The Lamb."
SR: Ah, "Grass For the Lamb," from "Me, Too." That was a fun kind of song. I love that style and that sort of beat. It's sort of like a slowed-down punk beat, kind of what do they call it punkabilly. It's clearly a song about angst that I was having over those issues. Apathy is a scary thing and I think someone said the opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy, and that's really what the song was.
SONiA of Disappear Fear - Grass For The Lamb (1999)