Singer Sonia discovers the blues and strives to keep fear at a minimum
SONG SONIA BLUE
Sonia, Bonedoc’s House Concerts, 327 Ridgebriar Drive, Richardson. Aug. 30. 4 p.m. $15. Bonedoc1.net.
Sonia has a pixie phone voice, filled with a sweet fragility — the kind you wish nothing bad ever happens to because she embodies an innocence most people have lost by their teenage years.
The thing is, though, Sonia is far from fragile. And despite her wisp of a voice, she sings loudly with optimism.
Sonia Rutstein dropped her surname professionally, but kept the name of her original band, Disappear Fear, alongside her moniker. She hasn’t kept it as a sort of eccentricity like, say St. Vincent, who is really just Annie Clark. It’s a philosophy she holds dear in her work.
"All of my songs pertain to that essence of ‘disappear fear’ because when you do that, what you have left is love. That is what I hope my music will do for people," she says.
The lesbian songwriter began making music with her sister Cindy in their hometown of Baltimore as Disappear Fear some 20 years ago, releasing their first album in 1988. Fast-forward to 1994 when the folk duo released their self-titled fourth album, which ended up winning them a best album award from GLAAD.
By 1998, her sister bowed out of the group in favor of motherhood, with Sonia forging ahead with a solo career. Alone, her style blossomed into that of a worldly artist playing all over the globe.
"I always wanted to be able to live in the fantasy of seeing the world and meeting people from all over, knowing in my heart that we are one family. It’s a huge gift and to be able to perform — I feel incredible and very lucky," she says.
That fantasy has led her to performances in the Middle East, Australia and even Kerrville, Texas. But it was her scheduled performance at International World Pride 2006 in Jerusalem during the second Lebanon war that tested her philosophy of disappearing fear to its fullest.
"There were bombs going off and I wondered if I should perform. I thought back to the obvious answer — ‘disappear fear.’ I had to play. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself knowing I didn’t live up to that standard. So I performed in a bomb shelter," she says nonchalantly.
Her experience in the Middle East sparked an idea.
After a show in the West Bank, an audience of about 100 girls all wanted her guitar.
That gave the singer an a-ha moment: Sonia created the nonprofit organization Guitars for Peace, providing instruments to children in the Middle East and third world countries as an effort to spread peace through music.
"Music feeds the soul. It taps into angst and anger but it feels good to get that out," she says.
Sonia now heads in a different direction with her next recording due in January. She’ll be singing the blues and finds the departure harder than she thought. Despite its basic progression, the blues persona is primal to Sonia and has less to do with academic knowledge and more to do with natural instincts.
"I thought blues was very boring and redundant but at some point it reached into a darker place. I love that because I find it healing to go there and then share that," she says.
Regardless of her musical point of view, she finds it important to always speak to her gay listeners. In fact, it’s crucial.
"There’s discrimination in so many places and sometimes, maybe we discriminate against ourselves in some ways," Sonia says. "I made a vow to myself that I would be honest and not hide my sexuality in metaphors. I have to be true to my music because before that my music sucked."
Those may not be the words of a pixie, but definitely those of an artist.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 28, 2009.