Written by Chad Taylor of Des Moines Cityview
It’s probably the least original opening ever, but that doesn’t make it a lie. When it comes to movies, TV or music, we like our men to be attractive, but we REALLY like our women to be naked. Depending your point of view, it’s a national obsession that’s demeaning, empowering, or just the cost of doing business.
Sharika Soal and Bonne Finken are two local artists who’ve had plenty of experience with this, and it’s taken their careers down two wildly divergent paths. For Finken, music trumps image every time, and she’s repeatedly turned down potentially life-altering offers because she didn’t want to sacrifice herself. Soal, meanwhile, is the image uber alles mega-diva who has been more than happy to sell out (her words, not mine).
I sat down with both of them last week, to talk about a pair of shows they’ve booked together at Gas Lamp, but the conversation became one about the image of women performers in our society, the constant struggle of sound versus image, and the daily struggle of always having to be “on.” The final article is available for perusal in this week’s Cityview, but the good folks at Band Bombshell have been kind enough to post this transcript of the full conversation. It’s an honest, sometimes intimate look at two talented women, performers and single moms, and I was happy to be a part of it. Enjoy.
Chad Taylor: First of all, how did this idea come together?
Sharika Soal: I don’t know. I think we both had shows at Gas Lamp.
Bonne Finken: Yeah. (To Sharika) I think you contacted me first. She was like ‘Hey, I’ve got a show at Gas Lamp on September 6th, do you want to do it with me’, and I was like ‘ugh, I just can’t split my audience, I’ve got (a show) the very next Friday.’ But my bill wasn’t done yet, and your bill wasn’t done, so it was like ‘why don’t we be on each other’s bills’.”
SS: It was like a 10-minute Facebook conversation: ‘oh yeah, right!’ Boom boom.
BF: We had to run it by (Gas Lamp owner/booker) Frankie (Farrell).
CT: And what did he say when you first brought it up to him?
SS: (laughs) We better not talk about that.
BF: Yeah, let’s not quote Frankie. (laughs)
Putting Yourself Out There
CT: It’s just interesting, because while you ladies are similar in that you’re both very talented women, you’ve taken very different paths to get to where you are. Bonnie, you’re very independent and determined in following your vision, while Sharika has been very much about social media and getting her name out there, what with the MTV thing and the Justin Timberlake project and whatnot. It just doesn’t strike me as a very natural pairing.
BF: I can see that. I think for us, it’s just women artists, end of sentence. There’s not many around.
SS: It’s wanting to support other really hard-working women.
CT: Sharika, does it ever feel like the more difficult path? You’re out there every day, working Facebook and YouTube and making sure people know who you are.
SS: It’s true. I’m out there all day long, posting statuses and talking to people and figuring out ‘what can I put together to announce this next thing?’ I’m constantly socializing with people, because it’s what brought me here. But in real life, I would rather not socialize.
BF: And see, that’s where I wish I had more of that. Because in real life, I don’t want to socialize either—I’m about the music—but I need to be able to do more of what you can do. Sometimes, I think I’m too far the other way. I just—I wish I was a little bit better at talking to people. Putting yourself out there. I don’t know.
SS: Just don’t judge it. I pretend like it’s like this flame that’s coming out of the back of my head, and when it’s over I’m like ‘that’s done, and that’s ok, because nothing lasts forever’. And it’s on to the next thing. This point in my career? If it doesn’t work out, that’s fine, because there’s always the next thing that will last for a little time until the next thing. And that’s exactly how I look at Facebook. It’s like ‘ok, I’m going to say this thing, and go eat a sandwich.’
Women Artists and Image
CT: Is image more important for female artists?
SS: YEAH. This is a MAN’S world. Brittany Spears wouldn’t be Brittany Spears if they didn’t put her on the cover of a magazine when she was 16 years old in her bra and panties, know what I mean? This is a man’s world. I have to be attractive. Have to be. Because women, if we’re attractive to each other, it could be a jealousy thing, or it could be a ‘oh, come and be my best friend’ thing, but with a man, it’s like (snaps fingers) all across the board. I feel like, at the end of the day, that’s who’s signing the checks. The people who own the labels? Those are men. Old, fat, white men. They just want to see titties and ass. Every person who’s ever changed their image, it’s always more skin. That’s all it is. You never see someone be like ‘I’m changing my image and I’m going to wear a muumuu now’ or ‘coveralls and not wear makeup’. No. Anytime you see someone change their image, it’s always more sexual. Like Miley. She changed her image, and what happened? Everybody’s talking, because she’s looking all… (pause) It’s driven by that. (Pause) If I’m not pretty; if I’m not attractive, at least a little bit, I don’t know if I’d be where I’m at.
CT: Have you felt that, Bonne?
BF: Yeah, I’ve had that direct pressure. Like literally four months ago, I had somebody tell me to go research Pink and Gwen (Stefani)’s outfits, and then they would sign me to a recording contract. And I’m not doing it. I’m a rebel, and I’m paying the price for it. If I were to go wear short shorts and cropped t-shirts and get my abs all greased up and go dance around…
SS: What you sayin’ girl? (laughs)
BF: …I would have more going on right now than I do. That’s 100%, verbatim. “Love your music, your voice is incredible, there’s nobody who can do what you do. BUT, we need you to research these outfits and pick out the one you like.”
SS: Like even today, I felt like a piece of crap when a lady in a store said that she didn’t like my hair. I was like ‘oh, man.’ I get worried about changing my hair, because so many people get used to—you know, I’m not Beyonce. I can’t go everywhere and have people just recognize me. I can’t just change my image, especially when the last image was so well received, I felt. So even today when that person said that, I was down. I have an irrational fear that I’m going to lose fans because I change my hair. Because I don’t look good on stage, you know. It’s like, yeah, it totally controls you.
BF: And I have nothing AGAINST cropped t-shirts, if that’s who you are. If you like that and your comfortable. Like, I bet Pink feels pretty comfortable on stage. But I don’t. I feel like my music shouldn’t be compromised like that. If someone feels comfortable in anything—naked even—that’s fine. [To Sharika] It would be like if someone said ‘well actually, you need to wear high collared shirts and…
SS: Well, I’m a total sell-out, so I’d be like, ‘let me go get my high-collared outfits!’ But I respect that about you, you know? I mean, you’ve go to stand for something.
BF: Yeah. I am about the music. And it’s hurt me.
CT: This is kind of what I was getting to back at the beginning, about the directions you guys have taken. Because, Bonne, by my count this is twice that you’ve had the chance to take that next step, and have turned it down…
CT: …and you’ve turned it down because it wasn’t the way you wanted to get it done. Meanwhile Sharika—and you’ve now used the phrase first, so I’m going to go ahead and use it too—you’re more willing to sell out…
SS: (laughs) gimme them dollars, baby! I aim to please!
BF: But see, I’m jealous of that in a way. I want to sell out, but I just can’t.
SS: But you’ve been able to make a lot more money than I have with your shows and stuff. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a perfect thing. [To Bonne] You’re the exact same way that I am, it’s just a different reflection. But I think we’re the exact same.
BF: (pause) I think we’re equally passionate. I believe that, and that’s what led me to talking to you about these shows.
CT: So, where Bonne’s devotion to the sound over the image has cost her at certain points, Sharika, do you ever worry about the image maybe overtaking the sound?
SS: You know, I kind of did trip up on that a little bit. Because I woke up one morning and it was like ‘you know, it’s been a year since I put out any new music’. That can’t go on forever. I’ve been so worried about my image and other projects that I forgot about the music. And so I’ve kicked myself in the butt and I’ve reached out to some people and now I’m working on the music again. But yeah,you said it correctly. I definitely focused on my image for a minute there and was just like ‘yeah, the music can wait’. But now I’m realizing that no, the music can’t wait.
BF: And that’s what I’m realizing: I’m shooting my first music video this week. And it’s because you do have to have both to be successful. Gwen Stefani is a badass, and she looks awesome…
SS: and she’s a mom.
BF: …and she’s a mom. Some kind of combo is needed. So I’m trying to learn from some of the other side, too. I’m not willing to sell out, but I will do a music video and put a bit of the visual side out there with the music.
SS: Selling out just goes with my goals, you know? When I use the words ‘selling out,’ I’m actually referring to the word ‘mass.’ Mass success. Commercial success. Because I want to reach that many people. When I look at Lady Gaga’s career, she’s effected so many people who felt like they couldn’t speak for themselves, or who were depressed, or felt like they didn’t fit in. That’s the type of effect I eventually want to have on people. So I’m willing, in turn, to make partnerships with people where it might look like I’m just selling out, but my overall goals are a good life for my son and to reach people that walk the same line that I’ve walked. I’ve never had anybody but me telling me that I was worth it and that I could make it. When you come from what I’ve come from, you have nobody but yourself to turn to. I just feel like, if I can get really, really successful, then I can help a lot of people. So that’s what I’m going for.
Bonne: And I get that. But I think I’m too shy. I’m shy at heart, where it’s like ‘I’ll do my thing and if it happens to become successful, awesome. But I’m almost where I don’t like the spotlight. It’s very opposite with me. When I made my first album, it didn’t hit me that I would have to sing those songs in front of people. Swear to Christ. And it was scary for me to do that.
CT: People tend to use ‘sell-out’ like it’s a bad thing, and I don’t think that it necessarily is. Because unless you want to have a day job and just make art as a hobby, ultimately everyone sells out to a degree. The Mona Lisa was a piece of commercial art. Somebody paid for that. So every artist, no matter how good they are, has to make money. We’re all paying rent. We have this mindset—more in music than anything else—that says that commercial success comes at the cost of your soul. And it doesn’t have to. I think Lady Gaga is a pretty good example: if you look at some of the old videos of her at NYU when she was just Steffany—you know, a pretty girl in front of a piano with a great voice—at some point someone came to her and said ‘we like the music, the voice is amazing, but we’re going to change all this’ and she made the decision ‘well, if I’m going to sell a million records, I can go ahead and wear meat’. And for some people that’s an acceptable decision. But other people look at it and say ‘ would ever do that’. But I think it just comes down not so much to getting away from who you are, but finding out how far out who you are goes.
SS: Embracing ALL of me. Because I have a huge personality. Nicki Minaj did exactly the same thing. That is not her hair, that is not her body, that is not her teeth, that is not her nose. She didn’t look like that, but she was willing, because she knew. Now, I don’t know if I would ever go that far. I like my body. But if you want it to work out… (pause) I know it sounds crazy. But life responds to what you’re willing to do. Whatever you decide. Tracy Chapman had an amazing career, and never once did you even see cleavage.
BF: So it’s possible.
CT: Melissa Etheridge, Bonny Rait…
BF: One of my big ones is Annie Lennox. Annie Lennox was awesome because she had this big career, and she did it her way. She was maybe a little weird at times, but she was also universal at times and to me that’s great. Even hear weird phases, you knew that was her. That’s awesome, because you could tell that was her. I wish… (trails off).
CT: Is it frustrating for you? To continually run up against that…
BF: Always. This is my fourth offer for a recording contract…
SS: You need to take the next one. Just take it and let the universe work it out.
BF: I couldn’t! I felt sick. OK, actually, this was my third recording offer. The fourth was for the TV show (Bonne was offered a contestant spot on “Rock Star: Supernova” in 2006). But it was too many people trying to put me in a box. And maybe there’s a right box for me, but when somebody is like ‘just go blues’, I’m not just blues! Or when somebody is like ‘I’ll pay for it if you go pop,’ well, I’m not just pop. I’m not going to confine what I write, because it’s not my art then.
SS: You are a good woman. Because I would have been like ‘OK!’
BF: And I just can’t do it.
CT: That was my first thought when you sent me the first track from your next album. I thought ‘it’s good, but they’re going to dress her like Pink for this.’
SS: I can’t wait to hear your music. I mean, I’ve heard it recorded, but I can’t wait to hear it live.
BF: That’s what I love. How can I make an album with songs I don’t like? If I go on the road and I’m singing songs I didn’t write and they helped me put together I’ll hate it. “Step Back Baby” (off her forthcoming album) I wrote, and that’s what sold (producers) on the album, but I don’t want to just write a bunch of Step Back Babys.
SS: You’re authentic. If I thought that people would accept me for looking like this (sports bra and shorts, natural hair) 24/7, I would NEVER wear weave. Do you see all this hair? Do you understand what happens when I put all this under a wig? But I know that black men don’t find women with natural hair attractive. And when you’re going in the direction that I’m going in, that’s what they look at. Look at the videos, what do you see? Long, straight hair. I feel like I’m doing things outside my comfort zone, but I don’t mind it.
BF: Yeah, and if I didn’t mind it, I could do it. But in the whole time with Krompass, I was physically sick. I was going to do it, and it was horrible.
The Definition of “Making It”
CT: So when he first handed you a book and said “pick an outfit,” did you agonize over that decision, or did you just know right away?
BF: It was more hard because my guys were so excited for me. My boyfriend and my dad. And when (Krompass) was like ‘well, I have to show you what your competition is, and we’re going to start fine tuning,’ I hadn’t really thought about those things. And then it was hard because this ball of people around me were like ‘oh my god, you’re getting signed, you’re going to go to LA.’ I had made it. And it was crazy because I couldn’t do it. I felt sick. I just couldn’t do it.
SS: Well that’s not making it then, because making it feels great.
BF: Yeah, and I was like ‘this isn’t right.’ I don’t know, if I would be excited, if I had been like ‘yeah, I’ll wear those outfits,’ I feel like it would have been an easier thing for me. It was SO HARD.
SS: You would have been miserable every day. You would have gotten up every day like ‘I don’t wanna…’
BF: It would have been horrible.
SS: And that’s not how you want to start off your experience.
CT: What about you, Sharika? It is exhausting, the feeling to need to be on all the time?
SS: Yeah, it is. It really makes me depressed, to be honest. I feel like I can’t ever be off. Like, I can’t be like ‘You know what, today I’m having a lot of problems with anxiety and I just want to stay here with my kid’. I can’t do that, because there’s still people who want to talk to me. I can’t be like ‘go away!’ I wake up every day, like 7:30, feed breakfast to my kid, take him to preschool, and go. It’s very frustrating. Some days I just want to be like ‘nah, I don’t give a shit about Ladysoal. I don’t give a shit about Facebook, and I don’t care if you like my songs today.’ But you can’t do that. I understand very well that the people who are attracted to my music are just like me, so I have to take the time to be like ‘thank you, you mean so much to me’. But it’s hard, when you’re having a bad day and you can’t really live out your bad day.
Finken and Soal on Being Moms
CT: One thing that you both have in common is that you’re both single moms. Does that weigh at all? The idea that ‘if I just did this one thing, he’d be fine’?
SS: That’s why America’s Got Talent CRUSHED me. Nobody has any idea. I couldn’t go on Facebook and be like ‘this is what happened, and this is why it didn’t work out.’ And then when The Voice didn’t work out… (pause) I found out the day I went there—mind you, I’d been waiting for 60 days for this private thing they had set up, pretty much telling me that I pretty much had it, then you show up and it’s like (golf clap) ‘next!’ That crushed me. This was for my son, you know? I don’t need a show to tell me if I’m good, because I know I’m good. That was totally out of my comfort zone, it was very expensive to go to Chicago two times within 10 days of each other, and I’m doing it for my kid. I was like ‘this is it. This is the thing I’ve waited for. Because now I’ll be able to afford a nanny, and I’ll get more exposure, which will lead to more shows, and my son won’t have to deal with food stamps’, and then it didn’t work out. That was my ‘I just need to do this, and me and Jacob will be fine’ thing. And both of them didn’t work out. That was really hard to get over. But here I am again.
BF: And for me—(to Sharika) I don’t know if you’ve had this, but I have—I’ve had shitty people in my life, and I’ve been called a bad mom, for being in the music scene. I’ve been called that because they assume that I’m out every night and whatever. And I can’t help but think, do guys get that?
SS: Nobody cares what guys do.
BF: My guys have kids. Nobody thinks Jon Locker’s a bad dad. But if I get that record deal, then I’m the mom of the year, because I’ve got all this money. It’s like all that pressure to make it, just to prove to everyone that I’m worth it. But then it’s like ‘who cares what they think?’ But it does get you sometimes.
SS: I’m always real aggressive with people who try to talk to me about my son. You’re not there. You don’t pay our bills, you’re not seeing our life. Every mother has a situation that’s different, and my son is never going to have a traditional life anyway; that’s just my career. I’ve had very prominent people tell me, basically, that I was a bad mom, and that the responsible thing to do when I got pregnant would have been to go back to school and get a real job. Then they assume that I’m living off my parents, which I’m not. I get money of YouTube, people.
BF: Well, and how many people work at Wells Fargo and still get money from their parents? But somehow that’s a totally different thing.
SS: But that’s the feeling that drives me. That ‘just one more thing.’ Even when I flew to LA for the Justin (Timberlake) thing. They weren’t paying for my ticket; they thought I was already in LA. They were only doing New York and LA artists, but I was like ‘no, no, no, I can get there.’ So I spent the last little money I had to get out there. I landed with no money, other than cash to get in the cab and go to the shoot. But it was worth it, because now I get to talk about it. A lot. (laughs)
CT: So what are your plans now, for the album, Bonne?
BF: Well, it’s now a double album. Because this whole time, I’ve wrote and wrote and wrote. Because part of what was happening in Nashville was a publishing offer as a staff writer. So of course I was writing, writing, writing, trying to build my book. Then when I decided to walk away from it all, well now I’m left with all these songs. So I added 12 more to the album, so I’m looking at a 22 song album. We’ll probably be done recording this fall.
CT: Are you recording with Jon (Locker) again?
BF: Yup. We’ll be putting both Brandon (Darner) and Krompass’s songs on there, too, since I own the rights to them. I’m taking on a new rep, who knows my entire story, so I’m hopeful that maybe I can still do it my way. That somehow, with all the songs on this new album, that it’ll still make it into the world my way.
CT: When you told Krompass no, did he say anything?
BF: Oh yeah. And we still talk. We talked even recently, where he tried to talk me out of my decision. But his first reaction was ‘who do you think you are’, you know? ‘You don’t tell producers who are willing to help you no.’ But I stayed super nice, and just told him ‘you’re entitled to whatever you want to think, I just have to go with what lets me sleep at night.’ But honestly, that reaction confirmed my decision to leave. But then he has come around, and we actually talk. We’re going to incorporate some backing tracks into the live band, and he’s helping with that. So our relationship is good now, I think. We’re still open, maybe, if I ever wanted to go back. So somehow, I didn’t burn that bridge.
CT: So Sharika, after you disbanded Ladysoal the band, what’s a Ladysoal solo show like now?
SS: I just use backing tracks to my original music. The ones that were the funnest: “Sunshine”, “You”, “Bus Driver Blues”, “Karma”. And then I added songs like “Gimme One Reason”, some Amy Winehouse songs—you know, blues rock music—and I have a full set list, five original, five (covers). Then, I added dancers. I’ve always danced, and it’s something that was actually a blessing in disguise, because I got hooked up with The Candies. I’d seen them perform live before, and was like ‘oh, yeahyeahyeah. Match that up with Ladysoal, and we got a show.’ So I took T and Nye and we worked out dance routines; like legit, Beyonce, ‘gimme whatcha got’ stuff. It’s been awesome, because it’s opened up my whole show. Now it’s not just me going crazy with some laid back kids in the back, but it’s me going crazy with these two choreographed dancers. They practice their songs without me, but our moves kind of go together. It’s very nice.
CT: So what’s the next step for you, then?
SS: The most important thing going on right now is the Justin Timberlake Project. Which I wasn’t even sure was still going to happen, because they told us six to eight weeks, and it’s been way more than that. But now they’ve let us know that we need to update our profiles. The video project is kind of a networking project that he’s got going on. He’s trying to make it so it’s just for industry contacts. I still have no idea really what’s going on, I just know that I went and filmed. It was kind of a documentary setup, where I went and they asked me a bunch of questions and I answered them. So that video is a part of this whole project. So I’m just waiting on that to come out. Because Justin Timberlake is doing so well right now, that even him just tweeting about it so I can re-tweet and share, would be awesome. Then MTV’s “Made” comes out in October. We didn’t know when that was going to happen either, but they finally let us know October. And then Jurassic 5 has made their comeback—they played at Cochella this year—and Akil, their MC is actually an acquaintance of mine and he reached out to me, so I have a song coming out with him. I just finished recording the verses and backgrounds to that, and he gave the green light to the sound, so we’re going to go through with that. So that’s pretty much what’s going on. Just trying not to suck.
BF: (laughs) Right.