Jonathon Kingsbury Susanna Hoffs' new album Someday has that retro '60s sound…
- Posted on Sep 26th 2011 4:47PM by Cameron Matthews
Spinner caught up with the ever-young Hoffs to talk about the band's new record, her 'Under the Covers' collaborations with Matthew Sweet, balancing children and music and how Prince brought the Bangles megastardom.
What have you been up to lately?
I have actually been finishing up the Bangles record while working [with Matthew Sweet] on 'Under the Covers Vol. 3' and a solo record. I've been doing a ton of recording, so it's been a very creative spring and summer for me. Then we had a little run of Bangles shows in July. So really busy year so far.
The band's new record shows many glimmers of the Bangles' classic sound coupled with a more acoustic approach. What's the inspiration behind It?
We had been meaning to make a record for a long, long time. Our last record, 'Doll Revolution,' came out in 2003. So there was a big gap. We were busy doing a lot of touring under the radar. We also did three tours in Australia during that period, building up a good fan base there for our live shows and writing a little bit. But mostly just juggling being working mothers, taking care of family and kids and doing Bangles stuff whenever we can. It did take us a long time. As we approached the idea of making the record, we started up at Matthew Sweet's house and we went through all the material we had. It turned out that there were a lot of songs that had been sitting, waiting to see the light of day. Like 'Ball and Chain' and 'I'll Never Be Through With You' were a couple that we were holding on to for a long time.
And then as the record starting coming together, we realized a lot of the things that brought the Bangles together in 1981 were still the driving elements. We still see everything through rose-colored glasses from the '60s. It's the music that we grew up with. It's just in our blood, and that's a strong sound on the record.
Being a mother, how do you balance your career and your kids? Does it come out in your songwriting?
Well, it's hard to juggle. I think that's probably true for any working mom because the day is spent multitasking. When you have children, your focus is always a split focus, because they're always at the forefront of your mind, even when you're working. And that's a good thing. We embrace the chaos of our lives -- we have to.
One thing that really helped is that I put a studio in my house. It allowed for us to gather, and if the kids all were with us, they'd be in the other room hanging out. We took the recording thing into the home.
Tell us about the single 'I'll Never Be Through With You.'
It's a song that I wrote back in 1997 with Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go's, who is a brilliant songwriter and a very good friend of mine. We had written a song called 'Something That You Said,' which was the single on 'Doll Revolution' also. We were writing a lot in the '90s, and it was a song that was rediscovered when we were looking for material for the new record. Because it had been sitting away for so many years, I ended up showing it to [longtime songwriting partner] Vicki Peterson, and we ended up rewriting it and making it more "Bangles-y." When Charlotte and I had written it back in the '90s, it was during a period that the Bangles were on hiatus, so we wanted to give it a Bangles spin for this new record.
When you started in the '80s, how did it feel to be a woman in rock 'n' roll compared to now?
There are surprisingly few all-girl bands. I thought that there would be a lot more. I'm always a bit shocked when the conversation about girl bands comes up, as it's often centered around the Go-Go's and the Bangles. I was very inspired by the Go-Go's. I was going to see them in clubs right around the time we were starting, and they were a huge influence on me. I'm surprised that there haven't been more. I'm very close with the members of the Go-Go's, and we all feel very proud. If we did pave the way, for at least girl artists, they let us all know that we inspired them. That's a great feeling.
As far as being a female artist in rock 'n' roll. It feels great. One of the really fun things about being in an all-girl band is that there is a sense of it being a boys club. But there's a girl-power aspect to it. It's fun.
You mentioned that the Bangles went on hiatus in the '90s. Now that you're playing together again, how do you avoid old problems? Have you worked out all the kinks?
I don't know ... I don't think you ever work out all the kinks. I think of bands almost like families. I have been a Bangle for 30 years. I know that sounds like a terrifyingly long time. And we did take a break to have quieter existences and to have children and to have autonomy away from the band during the '90s. But the band functions much better now. Because as we grew up and got through our 20s and into our 30s and way beyond that now, we became smarter people. As mothers, we all learned a lot. You learn how to work through problems. All of us are in marriages that have lasted a long time. You just get better. You get better at communicating. But I can't say that, like any family situation, that there isn't some dysfunction in there. There are moments where people feel hurt or misunderstood, and the real trick is learning to solve those problems and work through them.
What's it like releasing music now, in the digital age? How does it compare to 1986, when 'Different Light' came out.
It feels great. It's a radically different time, I think. The Bangles started in a really indie way. We produced out first single and started our own little record label in 1982. We were a college radio band when we started. We ended up getting signed to Columbia Records, and it was a way different experience being on a major label and going into these big classic studios in Hollywood and recording and feeling that connection to all the music that had been made in these iconic studios.
The first hurdle was winning over the label to get their support. When 'Different Light' came out and 'Manic Monday' was released, [we were a] college radio band driving around in a van, hearing ourselves on KROQ. We owed a lot to Rodney Bingenheimer, who was the first DJ to give us our first break. To see 'Manic Monday' a few years later put out by Columbia and actually have a hit on the radio and travel the world ... so much happened in such a short amount of time. I just feel lucky to still be doing it.
Did you ever meet with Prince during the 'Manic Monday' era?
Oh yeah! A lot! Prince actually discovered us because we had a single on our first Columbia release called 'Hero Takes a Fall.' It was sort of in the heyday of MTV, and we had a video on the channel, and he saw the video and was really intrigued with the band. He started to show up at our gigs and loved that song in particular. He would come onstage and do these awesome solos!
Getting to know him during that period gave him the idea to contact me about 'Manic Monday.' He had a couple of songs that we might be interested in, and we were totally flattered. Prince came to our rehearsal room after the song was recorded, and we had a lot of contact with him back then.
The classic Bangles sound has really influenced a lot of new girl groups, including Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls. Do you hear your influence in any new music?
People tell me that the Bangles sound has worked its way in here and there. Our sound was so influenced by the '60s -- the jangly guitars, the three-part harmonies. Starting with the Beatles, where there were awesome unbelievable harmonies. They were our favorite group, and that was the glue that brought together the Bangles. The Mamas and the Papas, we owe a lot to the way that they stacked their harmonies. In fact, when Rodney Bingenheimer heard our first indie single that we put out, he said, "It sounds like the Mamas and Mamas," and I never forgot that.