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Susanna Hoffs talks solo album, Bangles and Matthew Sweet

Hoffs drew on her love of '60s music for her most recent solo album. Photo: Rebecca Wilson

Hoffs drew on her love of '60s music for her most recent solo album. Photo: Rebecca Wilson

A couple of decades ago, Susanna Hoffs was one of the darlings of pop.

Pretty, perky and armed with a honeyed voice that alternated between flirty (“Manic Monday”) and melancholy (“Eternal Flame”), Hoffs, as lead singer of ‘80s powerhouse band The Bangles, was the cool older sister with the cool friends (Vicki and Debbi Peterson on guitar and drums, respectively, and Michael Steele on bass).

Fast-forward to now and Hoffs, a crazily youthful-looking 53, is still playing the part.

On her recently released solo album, “Someday,” Hoffs’ dulcet tones are as effective as ever as they steer summery confections “Picture Me” and “One Day,” her well-documented love of ‘60s music splashed all over the record.

For “Someday,” her third solo release (her last came in 1996, in another music business lifetime), Hoffs worked with Nashville guitarist Andrew Brassell, a fixture on the club scene there since his teen years. Nine of the 10 songs on “Someday” are Brassell/Hoffs creations, and fans are likely to hear many of them Monday night when Hoffs performs an intimate show at Eddie’s Attic, the first date of 11 solo shows.

Next on her agenda, though, is finishing “Volume 3” of the well-regarded covers albums she’s made with alt-pop melody master Matthew Sweet.

Last Friday afternoon, Hoffs checked in while awaiting a flight from Los Angeles to Miami for some Bangles dates (the Peterson sisters were sitting next to her on the plane), and, while we chatted for nearly 30 minutes, no airline cell phone rules were violated.

The amiable Hoffs talked about her influences for the new album, what the theme is for “Under the Covers Vol. 3” and why she’s happy the tour is kicking off at Eddie’s Attic.

Q. You’re playing such small venues. Is it nerve-wracking knowing that you have to carry the show without the girls behind you?

A. I do feel a little bit nervous, but the excitement is overriding it. I do really love intimate venues; that was my whole intention, to play really small listening rooms where people can have that kind of experience. But it is different. I’m very used to playing with Vicki and Debbie and if not them, Matthew, so it always catches me by surprise when I’m standing by the side of the stage getting ready to go on. But it feels very comfortable in other ways. I’m more comfortable in this [small] setting. In my mind, The Bangles were a club band, the girls who started in a garage.

Q. What can we expect from the show? Will Andrew be playing with you?

A. Andrew will be there, and his parents will be there, since he grew up in Nashville. We also have Derrick Anderson, who has been playing bass with The Bangles, and Jim Laspesa on drums. I wanted to design a set that pulls from all the chapters, so I’m going back to Bangles stuff and reinventing those songs and some of the songs I sing with Matthew and some [other] cover songs. It’s the kind of show that can be spontaneous. I’m glad Eddie’s Attic is the first show. I know I’ll be nervous, but no one is expecting perfect segues. It’s more of a living room.

Q. It’s been a long time since your last solo album. Why now?

A. I think what it was, I got caught up in the Bangles’ resurgence. Some of the songs on [2003’s Bangles record] ‘Doll Revolution’ I thought would be on the solo record. But I was enjoying doing records with the band after being sort of under the radar, and having a lot of fun with it. In 1998 when we started talking about regrouping, the idea would be that we made sure to record new music, but meanwhile I put this [solo album] on the backburner for a really long time between juggling Bangles stuff and my kids were younger. It’s gotten easier now that they’re young men [Hoffs has two sons, 13 and 17]. That was a big chunk of time. I have a kid applying to college now! But it’s fun for [husband] Jay [Roach] and I to look back at how we got here.

 

Even without the gauzy lighting, Hoffs looks great. Photo: Jonathan Kingsbury

Even without the gauzy lighting, Hoffs looks great. Photo: Jonathan Kingsbury

Q. This album has such a distinctive sound, with a lot of nods to artists such as Dusty Springfield and The Byrds. Did you have any particular influences while writing these songs?

 

 

A. All the people you mentioned are influences. Definitely female singers like Dusty, Petula Clark, Linda Ronstadt, Dionne Warwick. I listened to [Warwick’s] phase when she was a muse to Burt Bacharach. All of those female voices and Joni Mitchell too, I was definitely one of those self-taught musicians who learned to sing by copying and mimicking everything that they were doing. It was more the general wish to write songs as melodic as those songs. I wanted to do songs like that and if I could create original songs in that vein, that would be my goal, something I could really sink my teeth into.

I always thought the Bangles’ background was the music of the ‘60s and when I met Vicki and Debbie that first night, we basically said ‘I do’ and made a band that night. It was 1981 when we got together in my garage where I was living and jammed for the first time. The fact that we were all so obsessed with the Beatles – it was not normal in ‘81 to be obsessed with the Beatles – it was clear to me that we had this common ground.

Q. Did your past work with Matthew Sweet set you on this path?

A. Working with Matthew was so eye-opening. Experiencing his whole way of working was very different from my way of making records in the ‘80s or ‘90s. By the time Matthew and I started working together, the music business as we knew it had fallen apart and I had changed to this indie world and Matthew took advantage of all that and built a studio in his house. Here I was in this world of art, and it did really open the door to me thinking of making a record like ‘Someday.’

Q. You worked with Mitchell Froom on the album – and it’s been a long time since you last worked together [Froom plays the keyboards on ‘Manic Monday’]. What did he bring to your sound?

A. Oh my God, so much. When he heard the songs at first, they were presented with two guitars and me singing. He started working with me in my living room and started introducing piano to all of the songs. He’s so brilliant musically; he gave us so many great ideas to arrange. He can hear something and make a little adjustment and the whole thing opens up.

During that period of working, that’s when we hit upon the concept of doing those mid-‘60s arrangements. He would say my singing reminded him so much of Lulu and Petula and Dusty and he wanted to go back and revisit some of those records. Since [‘Someday’] was self-financed. Mitchell was like, ‘I know we have to keep it low-budget, but we can do it.’ The actual recording we basically did live, so it only took about two weeks.

Q. You’re still touring with the Bangles, so how does the band fit in your plans for this album?

A. Well, I’m already overdue on Volume 3 [of the ‘Under the Covers’ series with Sweet]. I’m a little overbooked [laughs]. My analogy is the spinning ball of doom that pops up on my Mac [when there is too much going on]. I’m probably going to have to start not multitasking as much. I would love to keep doing Bangles shows and records down the line, but I definitely have to get the ‘Under the Covers’ record done, so that’s the next step, but I’m not going to stop doing the solo stuff. We all have such unbelievably complicated schedules with kids and families. As it is, it takes a lot of work, so everybody can use the time. [The Bangles] have been doing this since 2000, so we’ve been pretty steady touring.

Q. So what is the status of ‘Volume 3′?

A. It’s pretty far along, but there’s a lot more singing to do. This time we’re doing ‘80s covers – I never thought I’d be the one saying that! But I can’t say much more about it. I’ll let you be surprised.

Q. You released this on your own label [Baroque Folk]. The pros are obviously that you can do what you want, but what about the cons?

A. The only thing I think is hard is that it’s a lot of work. The ability to have control is the payoff. It’s thrilling to be able to say, ‘Hey, I want to book a tour and this is what I want it to be like,’ and try to make it great, even down to the smallest details like the artwork for the poster of the tour. I want everything I do to be great. If I have an idea, I can wake up at 3 a.m. and say, ‘I want to record these songs and make a digital release,’ and that’s what keeps happening! I’m going to have an EP of ‘60s covers that I’ll release in December on iTunes.

Hoffs performs at 8 p.m. (doors at 6:30 p.m.) at Eddie’s Attic. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door. Ticket info: www.eddiesattic.com, 1-877-725-8849.

 

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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene

7 comments Add your comment

That 80's Guy

October 29th, 2012
8:45 am

Susanna,
Great to see you creating music and enjoying life. You are beautiful.

Ron

October 29th, 2012
11:32 am

Smoking hot. Hard to believe she’s over 50!

TD

October 29th, 2012
1:31 pm

Too bad Froom isn’t on the tour. THAT would be awesome!
Great story, smart questions.

Melissa Ruggieri

October 29th, 2012
2:39 pm

Thanks, TD. She made it easy – was great to talk to!

[...] Susanna begins her solo tour for Someday at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta, she spoke to the Atlanta Music Scene about playing smaller rooms: “I do feel a little bit nervous, but the excitement is [...]

[...] In a conversation last week, Hoffs admitted to feeling a bit nervous whenever she goes onstage without her longtime Bangles mates or frequent collaborator Matthew Sweet. On Monday, though, Hoffs didn’t seem nervous so much as wanting to get things right – the proper sound levels, the correct tuning on her guitar, the right feel to a song (she restarted the album’s single, “Picture Me” after the first verse because it didn’t sound quite right to her). [...]

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October 30th, 2012
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[...] Hoffs performed at Eddie’s Attic on Monday. Before the show she talked with my colleague Melissa Ruggieri. [...]