Veteran Artist Releases Career-spanning Compilation
SONiA disappear fear (born Sonia Rutstein) has been a masterful purveyor of her own brand of politically-conscious alt-folk for decades. The Baltimore native and longtime resident began her career in the late-80s folk-punk scene with her band disappear fear, touring relentlessly with their message of radical inclusion.
As SONiA grew to accept and embrace her sexual orientation, eventually coming out publicly, she documented her journey in her art, and became a fixture in the LGBTQ+ music scene. She has earned accolades from GLAAD, GLAMA, the Grammy’s, and more, and has performed onstage with many of her heroes, including Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger.
We wanted to chat with SONiA about her new album and her musical influences. We caught up with SONiA by phone as she was about to return to Baltimore from a brief stay in North Carolina. We found her to be energetic and positive, a delight to chat with.
CQ: How are you, how are you doing in these times?
SONiA: Oh man. I’m figuring it out, just one day at a time. Actually it’s not completely as weird, I think, for me and Terry because my schedule normally changes every day. So it has enough sameness and enough irregularity that it’s different. It’s sort of interesting. And I’m working on an autobiography. And so I’m up to chapter 18 now on the rewrite, and it’s 20 chapters, so I’m very positive about that.
CQ:Okay. So it’s giving you a little a little space to focus on writing.
SONiA: Exactly. Which is good because I tried to do it over the summer under my terms and it was just all over the place. I really didn’t get anywhere except a lot of scribbles in notebooks.
CQ: Yeah, I hear that. Okay, so you’ve got a compilation album coming out, right? What is it called and where can we find it?
SONiA: It is called “Love Out Loud.” And you can find it on all the streaming services and at soniadisappearfear.com.
CQ: So SONiA, what made you decide that now was the right time to put out a collection like this?
SONiA: It’s really been a long time coming. My perspective from when I came out, which was in the early eighties, to the past 30-something years has been very, very interesting. And my songs really document that whole arc of from “No, never,” or “What is that?” to “Yes, it’s okay!” And sure, go for it, you know, to the total embracing, and then also seeing some of the backlash of that now with with our current administration. So the songs talk about that. They talk about me personally, what I’m experiencing at the time. Coming out to myself, coming out to my circle, and then to the world.
CQ: Good. So let me ask you this. When you went to put this collection together, what were the biggest challenges that you ran into?
SONiA: The hardest part was what not to include. Because there are so many other songs that that could go on a CD. In fact, originally the first group of songs was bigger than that. And then I had to dial it back for what would actually sit on the vinyl without making it two vinyl records. So did a compromise there, nine songs on the final record with three download tracks. And then of course in the CD it’s all 12 songs. So these songs are some that have resonated, information that I’ve gotten back from my audience through time, after shows and emails, all these, you know, that sort of infinity, figurative communication back and forth. “You gotta do this, you gotta do that one.” There’s a lot of other songs that certainly could be there. So there may be a “Love Out Louder” in the future.
CQ: So obviously touring is not really an option right now. All the venues are closed. So what are your plans to promote “Love Out Loud”?
SONiA: So what we did do was this: I had a tour in Germany – 20 concerts – scheduled for the spring. My manager and my publicist, they said, well, why don’t you do a concert for every show that you missed? And we’ll just call it “19 Plus One Digital Acts of Kindness” concert. And I did. So every concert that was scheduled, which was for 8:00 PM in Germany, ended up being 2:00 PM on the East Coast. And that was actually really convenient because I had fans in Abu Dhabi and in Tel Aviv and all the way over into Honolulu as well – first thing in the morning or rather late, you know, club time, at night. Which was really cool.
And the hearts were just going off on my Facebook Live concert and I loved it. It was so amazing to be singing to people that I know in quite different circles, and all at the same time. I had a real good time with that. And yes, I was also able to promote that this album was coming out. We also worked with an animation artist named Jessica McLeod-Yu from Australia, and she put together a really cool little video using six of the songs from the compilation CD and an animation. I think it’s just called “The Love Out Loud Trailer”. And that’s on my YouTube channel.
And that’s gotten a little bit of buzz. I’m going to do a CD release concert on June 1st, which is the date that the record comes out. And I’m thinking about doing an every Tuesday “Tuesday at Two” concert thing to keep it going, because people were like, we’re really gonna miss this. You know, cause there were lots of people that tuned in every single time I got on – and that’s a lot of concerts! I mean, it’s probably more than they’ve ever seen of me ever. For someone to hang in there for 20 freaking shows, over like basically a six week period – that’s a lot! So we’ll just keep it going as much as we can. I can do all the songs solo. I love doing it with the band live as well. I’ve been at it a little over 30 years, so I’ll just keep on plugging.
CQ: Good. So I’ve got a a question about your influences. So obviously, you know, the name of our our website is country queer and we’re focused on country and Americana where there is a dearth of representation for LGBTQ artists. I hear definite rock and folk influences in your music and I’m wondering if there were any country artists that also influenced you
SONiA: Yeah, I would say more of the writers. I liked Glen Campbell a lot. And so that writer was Jimmy Webb. And Kris Kristofferson, too. I didn’t listen to the really cool stuff that much. My dad liked jazz and Charlie Parker, that kind of thing. And then some classical guitar – Segovia and that sort of thing. My mom liked total classical stuff and opera. So I didn’t hear as much country, but I did hear a whole lot of folk music and folk music is really right out of that anyway. The Limelighters, Odetta, those harmonies, that’s right out of country. And I loved it. I mean, I sort of got turned onto country later, but there was also a whole lot of feminism awakening in me too, so I would listen to it until I couldn’t, you know.
CQ: Yeah. To me, it’s very interesting, the relationship between folk and country. There was a time when country was first being put out on records where they labeled it Folk. That was before they called it Hillbilly and then they called it Country and Western. And the Carter family, not only was a massive influence on Hank Williams for instance, but also on Woody Guthrie. Half of his songs are Carter Family tunes and obviously he’s sort of ground zero for American folk music. So you know, it, it all comes from the same place.
SONiA: That’s so true. “This Land is Your Land” is basically “You Are my Sunshine.” I was saying that at the Woody festival a couple of years ago, and I got some weird looks. I didn’t say it on stage, I didn’t want to upset anybody. Unless you really research it, like go into that part of it in your brain, unless that’s what you’re really driven to do, then music is more like a blanket, I think, it’s comforting. Or gets you somewhere. But it’s really good to hear you say that.
But I love it. The greatest country performers certainly can just take a guitar and get in front of a microphone and do the same thing that a whole group with a great arrangement does, too, which is a great parallel between folk and country. In Europe they say country music a whole lot. If you’ve got an acoustic guitar, it’s kind of considered country.
CQ: I don’t want to keep you much longer, but I do have one last question for you. It is Bob Dylan’s birthday. So if he was reading this right now, this is a silly question, but I’ll give you a chance to give a silly answer if you want it to. What would you say to Bob?
SONiA: Happy birthday, Bob. You know that he’s a distant cousin, right? Yeah. His his mother’s sister married a man named Rutstein. And that is my last name. And he owned a radio station, and his aunt is the one who gave him piano lessons. Her last name was Rutstein too.
CQ: Super. Cool. I want to mention, I had heard of disappear fear but really hadn’t been familiar with your music. I’ve been checking it out in preparation for this interview and I’m a fan at this point. Definitely big on some influences that I love. You can hear some Patti Smith, some Springsteen. Good stuff. Thank you for making it.
SONiA: Well thank you. And likewise, I just, I was just looking at your website and love it. I’m definitely going to keep checking in. I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing.
CQ: We see a need, right? You know, there’s a culture that needs to get changed, and so we’re trying to try to move that conversation forward just like you’re doing.
SONiA: Absolutely. Every day a little bit more.
CQ: Keep going. Thank you so much, SONiA.
SONiA: Thank you. You too.
Find “Love Out Loud” on all streaming services and on http://soniadisappearfear.com