Editor’s Note: Singer-songwriter SONiA, from Ligeia’s hometown of Baltimore, has been performing her inspiring music around the world sung in 4 different languages! We’ve been lucky enough to see her on stage a couple of times in Baltimore, as well as the Red Roof Women’s Festival in Ontario, Canada.
1. When did you realize you wanted to be a singer/songwriter?
I loved playing and I mean playing guitar when I was quite young – 5 or 6 years old. I would just hold it and strum it and play it and sing at the top of my lungs. When I was 7, I was given a few guitar lessons. I was learning jingle bells, the notes of the melody on one string, and that was not music to me, so I stopped and just continued to sing and play knowing nothing. Until I was 13 and my best friend showed me three chords and I played them for about 6 hours and I would not let go of the neck of the guitar fearful that my fingers would forget where to go…but I fell asleep and when dawn came, alas my fingers remembered and have not forgotten since. I loved music; I loved playing guitar.
I really didn’t think of myself as a songwriter…just that somehow an idea in music with a melody and some rhythm and my voice pushing it all forward comes together. It was not so conscious until one day I was performing with my sister at an event, it was some kind of earth day thing, and lots of kids and bands were making a whole lot of noise and this guy named Eli said that I should take my music seriously because it could be really good. His words seemed true so I did follow that path. Another transformational life event is that I was working later that same year – age 15 – at a local fast food joint and I was making $1.40 an hour. In March, I got the opportunity to perform and I was paid $50 for ten minutes. I did the math: the gig for $50 and playing music was much better than filling ketchup containers and burning my arms on pizza crusts!
2. What was the first song you ever wrote and what inspired it?
Well, at first I was too embarrassed to sing my own silly lyrics so I took a poem from Seventeen Magazine called, THE WIND, and I wrote the melody around the chords and it was a nice little folk song. 30 years later a friend sang it back to me at our high school reunion. Some other friends sang other songs that I had written to them back then. Amusing and lovely all at once.
3. How did you come up with the name Disappear Fear and what made you go solo?
I began to perform solo because I felt the band was getting a bit complicated and I wanted to grow musically and challenge myself to see how good my solo singing and writing and guitar playing were without the power and the cushions of great harmonies, rhythm sections, and soloists. The name Disappear Fear comes from when I worked at the Baltimore Center for Victims of Sexual Assault. They were looking for a new name and I came up with “Disappear Fear” since when one is assaulted, one loses all sense of control over one’s life. So, by disappearing fear, one could take that all back and LIVE again. But the executive board chose a different name.
At the same time, my old band was dissolving and I was forming a new one with my sister. The more I thought about how much fear there is to disappear, it seemed perfect. And since then it has become more than just the name of my band; it is a way of life, a mantra. It is the umbrella for every song I have ever written.
4. You have given performances in so many places. In your experience, what were the most and least welcoming locations for lesbians?
Hmmm I don’t break it down that way. I see a room of hearts with stories in bodies and from that I get a sense of what the vibe is. That’s how I will choose my set list. Someone said to me recently, “You know most of that room is gay. Why didn’t you play more gay songs?” and I just said, they are all gay. I am sure when I did the rotary club in La Jolla a few years ago, there might have been zero lesbians, zero Jews, and zero people under the age of 50 with an income of less than $100,000 in the room, but I was all of that and still managed to find the songs that touch people and they want to take that home with them… thankfully.
I have performed a concert in a Jewish, Republican setting, and one in a southern, Republican, family setting. At both of them, although my wife and I were the only lesbians there, we shined. I really have not had a ton of animosity. I am super sensitive, but I see myself as a respectable human being and I see all others that way, as well, until they prove me wrong. So I am not threatened; I just love out loud in my songs and lifestyle. That’s all. I am sure I am shunned and gossiped about, but if that is how I lived, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t breathe. I don’t want to waste my life sucking into someone’s lie. Rather, I prefer to live my own truth. It feels better. And I am so lucky to have someone even more determined, and less fearful than me, to be on this journey with – my wife/manager.
5. Many of your songs carry a political message. What changes would you like to see in the world?
I was booked to headline this 12-step annual event and then got fired because I was “too political’. Next to Pete Seeger and Rafi, I don’t think there is a popular singer-songwriter alive doing songs that are more non-denominational and inspiring. But my feelings were hurt because I lost the gig. So I called my nephew and asked him “Do you think my music is political?” to which he said that everything about me is political. Truly, I don’t think political is the right word.
The English language and Music Business have not caught up with how to label me or my music. It just stumbles and tries to fit it into something you already know. If you have heard it, there aren’t really a whole lot of comparisons. I tell the truth in my songs. What would I like to see in this world? I would like to see a lot more gratitude for the course of our lives, so that emanating into the universe from earth would be a gigantic YEEESSSSSS instead of a humongous NOOOOOOOOO.
6. How has being a lesbian affected your music?
I think it would be shorter to answer where it didn’t affect my music, and that would be “nowhere”. I have a reminder on my iPhone everyday, except Saturday (when my phone is turned off): “On April 19 1945 the American Allies rescued the 36000 prisoners from Dachau.” This makes me remember that I am a Jewish, American, lesbian with so much freedom. I get this everyday and it diminishes the impact of most drama that I might think is grossly important. What is truly important is that I am free to sing my songs, love my wife, live and love my life.
7. Do you have any regrets or is there anything you would do differently?
Hell yeah! Like the time instead of really connecting with Amy Grant to cover some of my songs, but instead, I told her she could just buy them at Best Buy. That was really stupid! Or when I could have been hanging out with Ellen Degeneres in Los Angeles, and I was so freaking shy that I just said “hi” and quickly ran away.
8. What advice do you have for singer-songwriters just starting out?
- Be true to your talent
- Believe in yourself
- No need to go looking for love when you come from it
9. What performances, projects or events do you have coming up? And where can people find your music?
I have 3 awesome events coming up! First, I go to Europe from March 10 though April 8. Then I have a big concert with Disappear Fear at the Jammin’ Java event in Vienna, Virginia (April 12). Finally, I’m running an All Women Songwriter Retreat in Bethlehem, New Hampshire from April 13 – 17 at the Highlands Inn.
Full details of my touring schedule can be found on my web site: www.disappearfear.com. It’s also where you can get tickets to upcoming shows, listen to my music, and buy clothing and other items. My music is also available on iTunes, Amazon and CDbabyas. If you really want to stay close, there’s an amazing free app with over 40 SONiA and Disappear Fear songs and 30 videos: http://app.mobbase.com/11893/