It's not often that over 30 years into your career,
you get to do some of your most interesting, acclaimed work. However,
that is exactly where Susanna Hoffs finds herself.
That may seem a weird thing to say, because back in
the 1980s, Hoffs was a big time star. As arguably the most visible singer of the
multi-platinum girl group The Bangles, Hoffs was the voice behind such
huge hits as "Manic Monday," "Eternal Flame," "In Your Room" and "If She
Knew What She Wants." She also sang with her bandmates Vicki Peterson
(guitar), Debbi Peterson (drums) and Michael Steele (bass) on the group
vocal smashes "Hazy Shade of Winter" and "Walk Like an Egyptian."
However, at the height of the band's popularity, the
group fractured due to some internal stress, greatly due to the fact
that Hoffs seemed to be getting more attention than
the other band members.
Hoffs released the marginally popular solo albums When You're a Boy
and Susanna Hoffs during the 90s. She also married popular
film director Jay Roach (the Austin Powers movies and the Meet
the Parents movies) and became a mom.
In the very end of the decade, the Bangles got back
together. They released their first album in over a decade with 2003's
Doll Revolution, and then last year the band put out
Sweetheart of the Sun, to some of the best reviews of the already-critically-acclaimed band's history. Also in the past decade, Hoffs has
released two duet cover albums with power-pop God Matthew Sweet (with a
third on the way). "She's delightful," Sweet told me recently. "She's
a lot of fun. We really did those records for
fun... We're like two kids when we work together. What else can I
Continuing her recent spurt of activity, Hoffs
recently released Someday, her third solo album. This lush love
note to 60s pop has also been turning heads and inspiring some of the
most glowing reviews she ever has received. Hoffs seems rejuvenated by the DIY
looseness of recording under her terms. This extended to the brief tour
she had promoting the album. At her first show in Philadelphia, she
learned that she had lost her rhythm section for the first three nights
of the tour. Instead of freaking out, she shared this fact with the
audience and enjoyed the wild, anything might happen vibe of a
spectacular show done on the fly.
Soon after she got off the road for the tour, Hoffs
gave us a call to discuss her career, her new music, her old faves and
her new outlook.
This is the first
solo album that you have done in fifteen years, and also the first one
you have done when you were together with the Bangles. How did you
decide which songs you wanted to keep for yourself rather than do with
That's a good question. A lot of the songs that
ended up on the last two Bangles records were songs that I had intended
to do [solo]. I didn't expect to be making Bangles records, so I just
threw whatever songs [out] that I thought Vicki and Debbi might like,
and in the case of Doll Revolution, Vicki, Debbi and Micki. We
were all just throwing into the pile for consideration. Anything we
thought the other members would like and want to record. So that's what
happened. "Something That You Said" was a song that I'd written with
Charlotte Caffey [of the Go-Go's]. Another song we wrote, "I'll Never
Be Through With You," ended up on Sweetheart of the Sun.
Those were songs I'd been intending to end up on a solo record. I
wasn't really holding anything back, I guess. I had thrown in "November
Sun" [for Doll Revolution.] Part of it was with so many singers
in the Bangles there's kind of a... I don't want to say quota, but we
try to balance it out so that everyone has approximately the same amount
of songs to sing. So "November Sun" for whatever reason just didn't
make it into the final batch [for Doll Revolution]. In the case
of that song, I do remember when Sweetheart of the Sun was
happening that I thought, "Hmm... I wonder if I should throw that one
back into the ring for the Bangles." I thought there's something about
that song. I feel like there is a delicateness about it. I think it
really wants to be on a solo record. In a way, that song was the light
at the end of the tunnel. It was always there as a beacon for this solo
record. I'm glad I kept it in a secret little spot, because it informed
all the other songs. There was something in the naturalness of it. How
it felt when I wrote it and how it felt to sing. That seemed to say
that this is meant to be on a different kind of record than a Bangles
I really loved all
the old-school touches you had in “Always Enough,” – it almost felt like
a Burt Bacharach production. "Picture Me" was a little bit more
How difficult was it to give
a retro vibe and
still make it feel contemporary?
When we were working on the songs initially, they
were very sparse presentations. It was just [co-writer Andrew] Brassell
and me and guitars. [Producer] Mitchell [Froom] came in and would just
sit at the piano. We really worked on these bare bones versions of
them. Figuring out the best arrangements in that setting – just two
guitars and my voice and the piano. As we were working on preparing and
rehearsing more of the songs as the whole picture started to come
together, Mitchell had this thought. He was thinking, from a producer
point of view: What should this record sound like? We started talking
about [the fact that] we wanted to make a modern-sounding 60s record.
It became the theme. It was undeniable that the 60s have been a big
influence on me. No matter what I do, it just seems to come through.
It wasn't like I thought: I'm going to make a 60s sounding record. The
reality is that's my touchstone for everything. It just is. It's what
I get the most excited about, thinking about those songs and how they
inspired me to want to be an artist in the first place. I still look to
those recordings as the highest bar of what I strive to get to
Who were some of the
acts that inspired you to do these songs or even in general in your
The thing that really brought the Bangles together
was mutual love for the Beatles. That will always be true for
everything I do. In the case of this record, I was channeling a bit
more of my inspiration from the female vocalists that I grew up
listening to and who became my vocal teachers as a little kid.
(laughs) That would be Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick. My
mom had all of those records of her singing the Burt Bacharach/Hal David
songs. Then Linda Ronstadt and Lulu and Petula Clark. Those voices.
Diana Ross and the Supremes. Those were the people that I was singing
along to – along with Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt in the 70s. But,
really those girl singers of the 60s were the ones that really caught my
ear as a kid.
What was the first
record you ever bought?
The first record? Either Carole King's Tapestry,
James Taylor's Sweet Baby James or [Crosby Stills Nash &
Déjà Vu. Those
were among the first three that I bought.
What was the first
concert you ever saw?
That's an odd thing. My parents and I wandered into
the Troubadour [in LA] when Judy Collins was playing. My mom says she
took me to see Donovan at the Hollywood Bowl, but I don't remember it.
I do remember we were eating at Santana's and we just wandered in and
Judy Collins was playing. That was one of those records my mom played
constantly during the 60s.
What music do you put on when you are in a bad mood to cheer you up?
The Beatles usually work. Sometimes I like more rock stuff – I'll
listen to the Stones or Led Zeppelin. You know what always gets me in a
good mood? "It's Not Unusual" by Tom Jones. That is just like so
happening. His mojo just shines through everything. That performance
is so incredible.
What record would you say you have listened to more than any other in
I would say Beatles records. Probably Revolver and Rubber
What song do you most wish that you had written?
"Here Comes the Sun."
What song can automatically make you cry when you hear it?
Wow. You know what? Sometimes classical music. I was listening to
Bach the other day on the airplane. "Joy of Man's Desiring." That
piece will make anybody cry. It's so beautiful.
almost all the songs on the album. How did you start working together?
My niece, Miranda Hoffs, grew up outside of
Nashville. She was living in Nashville and going to Vanderbilt
University. She was very, very much a music fan, a music lover, an avid
club [goer], a person who went to see live music almost every night of
the week. Brassell was playing in a band and she knew him from the
indie club music scene in Nashville. They were friends. When she moved
out to LA, he contacted her because he was thinking of maybe
relocating. Having played music in Nashville since he was a teenager,
he was curious what it was like to be a musician in LA. He arrived and
we just adopted him. The whole family did, the Hoffs-Roach clan,
because he was a really nice person and he was very determined to figure
out a way to be a working musician. For me, it was a reminder of what I
was like in my 20s. In a way, it was such a healthy distraction. It
ended up being incredibly fortuitous that our paths crossed.
normal mode [I'm] being a mom and running my household and coming in and
out of town all the time. The Bangles were always going out and doing
gigs around the country and in Europe and Australia and very busy,
actually. Having just released the record Sweetheart of the Sun,
that was around the time that Brassell was here. I just saw this person
with this singular focus on writing songs. He was just a person who
would wake up in the morning and write a song. It ended up he needed a
place to stay, so we had him stay in our guest room. It was like
songwriting camp, unexpectedly, because he was not only observing my
family life, living as a member of the household here in the guest room,
but he was around at times when things were quiet in the evening,
sitting in the living room with his guitar. I just found myself going
in there and sitting down with my guitar. That's how the whole thing
happened. It was very organic and unexpected.
How did Mitchell
Froom get involved with the album?
I just ran into him. He lives very close by. We
ran into each other in our little neck of the woods here. It's kind of
a small town, at local restaurants. Vonda [Shepard, the Ally McBeal
singer who is married to Froom] and I would run into each other as
well. We were just friendly. Then I happened to be at this Ron
Sexsmith/Caitlin Rose show at Largo. I was there to see Caitlin mostly
and Mitchell was there to see Ron. It ended up being just a moment to
chill out and talk and catch up. I'd just written this batch of songs
and I was really excited about them. I introduced him to Brassell. He
called me a couple of days later and said "I want to hear those songs
you were talking about." So we went over with just a couple of guitars
because we hadn't even recorded them or made demos or anything. That's
how that happened.
You were saying at
your show at World Café in Philly a couple of weeks ago that you wrote
“Raining” with Mike Campbell [of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers] many years
ago. How did that originally come about and when did you realize that
you had to record it?
I actually pitched that one to the Bangles, too, for
Sweetheart of the Sun. In the end, it all worked out the way it
was meant to. I had rediscovered it around the time of making that
record, maybe even a little bit before. I was keen to revisit it. I
worked with Mike in 1989 right as the Bangles were winding down. [The
band broke up from 1990-1999.] I really loved working with Mike and
then we just drifted into our different world and the song just kind of
sat there. I'm not really sure why, but I guess it was all for a
reason. I had always in the back of my mind remembered how much I liked
it. I wanted to figure out a way to sing it again. I showed it to
Brassell and he really liked it. We just started jamming on it. Then I
went to see this other artist that Brassell was friends with, this girl
Tristen, at the Echo in Silver Lake. Benmont Tench [another member of
the Heartbreakers] was there. I said I'm working with Brassell. We
came upon the idea of doing a club show doing some of my older songs
that I've been hanging onto all these years. One of them was the one I
did with Mike. Benmont had played on the demo of it, so he kind or
remembered it. He said, "You've got to call Mike. He'll be so happy to
hear from you." I said I'm too scared, I'm too shy, I haven't seen him
in years and years. He said, "No, no, no, definitely call him." I got
up the courage to call him and he answered right away and it was great.
He didn't quite remember how the song went, so I sent him a little .MP3
of it. He said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." He encouraged me to refresh it,
reinvent it a little bit, since it was... well you can do the math, it
was written in 1989, so it had been sitting there for a long time.
That's what we did. Brassell and I presented it to Mitchell and he
said, "I love it. Let's do it." So it ended up on the list.
and Sweetheart of the Sun you have released two albums and
done two tours in just over a year. Previously you went years between
releases. What do you think has led to this spurt of activity?
Well, the Bangles were definitely wanting to do
another studio record. Because our lives are always so complicated...
just to get the three of us in a room together with everybody's families
and life and just juggling and multitasking, it's always complicated.
That record took way too long to make. We started it in... oh, I don't
remember, I want to say early 2010 and we didn't get it done until
midway through 2011, but that's cool. So we finally got that record
done. Again, it just takes longer with the Bangles things. When I
started writing the songs with Brassell and luckily ran into Mitchell,
and we had our team together, I didn't want to waste any time. I also
didn't want to take a long time making the record. Mitchell's whole
plan of action was very, very fast and efficient. Having just spent a
year and a half making Sweetheart of the Sun, I thought, you know
what, I have this little break between tours and Mitchell's available
and Brassell is here. We needed some songs, so we just thought we've
got to get four more songs written in three weeks. And we did. We just
kept the pressure on. That's why this record was made so quickly. It
was just the right time. The stars aligned in my little universe here,
my little creative universe, and it came together. Then there was this
bit of a delay because my record was done and ready to go right when the
Bangles were heading out on tour in the Fall of 2011. I just wasn't
sure how in this day and age to put out a record. So I decided to just
do a distribution deal. The record business is so different. There is
something kind of nice about it. I have to admit, I kind of like the
way that it is. I like the independence that I can experience as an
artist. I mean, you saw the show where I didn't have my rhythm
This whole journey for me is realizing what I can do
and how I can do things with a lot less structure than I thought that I
needed. I can throw myself out there in front of people and if I keep
my wits about me and just open my mouth, sound comes out. If someone
hands me a guitar, it doesn't matter if I've never played that guitar
and it's almost the size of my entire body. I can figure out how to
play it. I can do it. That show that you were at was very special for
me, because I really was terrified. Once I got out there, I just
realized, wait a minute, this doesn't have to be so scary. This can be
fun. I can do it.
It was great the way
you told the audience your rhythm section wasn't there and the crowd was
getting into it being a looser show.
It was really a great night. I'm actually really
happy that so much of it was documented and available for viewing on
YouTube. Because it really was a trial by fire and yet it was such a
lovely night. It will always stay in my memory. The whole tour was
like that, interestingly. Every single show was different. Every
single show had its own energy, it's own set list, ever-changing.
There's something really refreshing about that for me.
What do you think of
the current state of the music business? The label system the Bangles
came up in is obviously broken, but young acts do have many more outlets
to get things out there. Do you think that a band like The Bangles
could have gotten an audience in this atmosphere?
Wow. I don't know. The Bangles were so much a part
of the 80s and the culture of the 80s. MTV and being on the label that
we were on. I don't know how it would have been. The Bangles were a
very determined group of women, so I think that we would have had some
kind of career. I don't know if it would have ended up the way that it
did. I don't know if we would have had quite the exposure. We had
records that were played on Top 40 radio and videos on MTV, so we had
access to the mainstream of where people heard or saw music in that time
period. (laughs) But, again, we were very determined. We were
a hard working little club band for years. Honestly, I was happy doing
that, too. I've always felt happiest playing clubs. I would have been
fine no matter which way it ended up. We did somehow get lucky in terms
of just the mass exposure and having songs like "Walk Like An Egyptian,"
"Manic Monday," "Eternal Flame" and "Hazy Shade of Winter" that got a
tremendous amount of exposure through radio and video.
Now going way, way
back, obviously the band had gotten some acclaim with the Fawlty EP and
Over the Place,
but it was when
Different Light and “Manic Monday” were released that things just really
took off. How surreal was it when after years of trying to make it you
were suddenly all over the radio and TV?
It's pretty crazy. You don't really feel it for a
while. Your lifestyle doesn't change much. Then all of the sudden you
realize you're playing bigger places. There's more pressure. It's
harder to say no. It's harder to stop. It's hard to slow down. It's
pretty high energy. Looking back, it's exhausting, because you're just
on the move all the time. You're in one hotel room, another hotel
room. You're always going from point A to B. Onwards and upwards. I
think it's good that happened to me when I was young. (laughs)
It would be hard to maintain that sort of momentum and movement. I'm
very happy, I guess I should say, at doing things at the pace that I'm
doing it and feeling a sense of control. A little bit more control over
how things go. I think [the old lack of control is] partly the nature
of being in a band. It's partly the nature of being tied to a giant
record company and having your life connected to a tremendous amount of
other bands and a lot of other people with a lot of agendas. It's just
a lot of pressure. I'm glad that it happened when it did, but I don't
necessarily crave it now.
Both Vicki and Debbi
told me that you were the first to suggest that the Bangles originally
reform after being apart for about a decade. In fact, I was at that
first show you all did at the House of Blues in LA.
Oh, you're kidding. That was so cool.
How did the reunion
come about in your eyes? When did you start missing it and how did
everyone go about getting it done. I know Vicki and Micki were the last
It was a long slow process of getting everybody
onboard. Everybody had drifted into their autonomous lives. Vicki was
ensconced in the New Orleans music scene. Very heavily ensconced, in
her life with the Continental Drifters and actually it went beyond New
Orleans, they toured a tremendous amount, Europe and... She was really
loving the life as a musician as a part of that collective which was
full of so many talented people. That wasn't an easy thing, to
transition back to the Bangles with everything that brought up and the
perception of the Bangles as an 80s band. In the end what brought us
together was the idea of the creativity that exists between us and the
potential for that in terms of songwriting and recording and new
material. It was a series of phone calls. Even prior to Vicki opening
her mind to it, Debbi and I had gotten together. The fact that both of
us were young mothers at that point in the 90s brought us together and
was just a fun reunion of the two of us – just sharing what that was
like. I was working on what I thought was going to be a solo record.
Debbi wanted to help me with some songs. We just got together
creatively and had written a bit. Again, those songs ended up
(chuckles) – "Under a Cloud" was during that time period. "Ride the
Ride," which ended up on Doll Revolution, was a song that Debbi
and I had just been working on thinking it would end up on a solo record
of mine. Then, finally Micki came back, and that was because my husband
Jay [Roach, the director of the Austin Powers movies] needed a
song for a particular scene in The Spy Who Shagged Me. We
happened to be all sitting there, not Micki, but Vicki, Debbi and I. He
said, "Look at this scene. Can you guys write something for it?"
That's how "Get the Girl" came about. When we went in to record it,
Micki joined us. That was the beginning of the regrouping, the
reformation of the Bangles.
Michael retired from
the band a few years ago, which was really the only major lineup change
since she joined after the Fawlty EP all those years ago. When working
on and touring for
did it take a while to get used to being a trio?
Well, not really, because we had done quite a bit of
touring before then. We had done a couple of tours of Australia. We
had done a tour of Europe and there was a woman named Abby Travis who
was sitting in for Micki. We never felt we wanted to replace Micki,
because even though we'd had different female bass players over the
years, the Columbia years in the 80s were really the four of us. So,
Abby stepped in. But after a little run with Abby, we started working
with Derrick Anderson. Our longtime keyboard player Greg Hilfman had
been with us as our touring keyboard player since the late 80s. So,
we'd had guys on the stage with us before, so it just solidified the
idea that Vicki, Debbi and I were the ones that had started the band
back in 1981 in my garage. The night we met, we became a band. It was
always the three of is. It's definitely a little bit going way back to
our beginning, as opposed to the heyday of the Bangles [with] Micki...
when we were on Columbia Records and it was the Bangles as we knew it
from that version of it. But the three of us maintained the history,
going back to the very, very, very formation of the band.
I spoke with Matthew
Sweet a few months ago and he said that you and he were in the early
phases of doing an 80s album which he hoped to get finished after you
had released and promoted the solo album. What is happening with that?
I know. Another album that is long overdue, yes.
My focus, now that I'm home, is to finish that up and get that out next
year. And before I forget, I definitely wanted to let you know that
you'll be seeing a little press release about this. Over the summer, I
went and recorded some covers for myself, just for pure, pure love of
singing them. I have a little EP that I'm going to put out in two weeks
to time with the season, just a fun labor of love called From Me to
You. It's just a little group of 1960s songs I love. One of them,
"All I've Got To Do," the Beatles song, I think I sang at the World
show you were at. It will be available on iTunes.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT VICKI PETERSON OF THE BANGLES HAD TO SAY TO
US IN 2003!
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT
DEBBI PETERSON OF THE BANGLES HAD TO SAY TO US IN