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Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson Talk New Album, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen… The Bangles’

Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson Talk New Album, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen… The Bangles’

Hand-selected from their personal archives, the Bangles' new album, Ladies and Gentlemen . . . The Bangles!, is a 16-track collection of re-mastered Eighties-era rarities, demos and live recordings from the band that would burst out of the Paisley Underground music scene and into pop/rock super-stardom.

Unavailable for nearly 35 years, this “new” album, which is set for a June 24 release, includes their debut single, “Getting Out of Hand” (when they were called the Bangs), as well as all of the tracks from their self-titled EP, which was produced by Craig Leon (Ramones/Blondie).

With elements of Motown and punk-inspired beats as well as their trademark, jangly guitar sound and deep harmonies, Ladies and Gentlemen… The Bangles is as real and raw as it gets. Reminding us all just how connected Susanna Hoffs (vocals/guitar), Vicki Peterson (guitar/vocals) and Debbi Peterson (drums/vocals) still are to the music that inspired them.

I recently spoke with Hoffs and Peterson about the project, their careers, gear and more.

What made you decide to revisit your first EP?

Hoffs: It was the right time and we really wanted to make the music available to people. We had originally released the music digitally a few years ago but never got around to putting it into any other format. So when Omnivore Recordings approached us about revisiting it, we knew it was a cool idea.

Peterson: Part of the charm of this record is the distance of looking back and the perspective of what it sounds like. A lot of these songs were covers that we actually played in our live set at the time, and some of them like “Outside Chance” and “Steppin’ Out” pre-date The Bangs. I wanted to get the EP back out into the world again because I’m really proud of it. This album is very reflective of the things we love musically and why we became a band in the first place.

Hoffs: Whenever we do those songs in our set they take us full circle, but they’re just as fresh to us now as they were then. It’s the most core Bangles material that exists.

Let’s discuss a few of those tracks. What can you tell me about “Bitchen Summer/Speedway”?

Hoffs: That song actually pre-dates the Bangs. David Roback (Rain Parade/Mazzy Star) and I were really into surf stuff and started my very first band. David took that sound and “Mazzy Starred” it into a song we called “Speedway." It was one that I brought in during the early period of the Bangs and we crafted it more.

"I’m in Line"

Hoffs: That was one of the first songs that we all wrote together as a band. It had Mamas and the Papas harmony but with a Motown feel underneath in the rhythm section.

How much influence did being part of the Paisley Underground have on you?

Peterson: It was a huge influence. Part of it was because it was a community of friends who were all inspired by the same kind of music. There was a musical aspect where I’d just get blown away by the anarchy and freedom that I heard on stage. It definitely influenced the way I approach guitar.

Hoffs: All of the work that we did to form the band and create our sound stemmed from our influences, and that’s what we shared with many of the bands we found ourselves working with. The fact that we found other like-minded musicians and that it caught on as a scene was an acknowledgement that things were going our way. It really developed a big following and there was this great feeling of community and camaraderie.

Let’s switch gears a little and talk about the album Different Light, which was released 30 years ago. What are some of your best memories of working on that album?

Hoffs: One was getting the song “Manic Monday” so generously given to us by Prince. He really loved our song “Hero Takes a Fall” and would come see us play and jam with us. We were awestruck at his talent and virtuosity as well as his songwriting. It was just an incredible kismet that we all got to know each other. It was an exciting time because we were young and were fully immersed in our lives as musicians.

How did the Bangles come to do a cover of “Hazy Shade of Winter”?

Peterson: We had been asked to contribute a song for the soundtrack of the movie Less Than Zero and decided to take on something that we already knew. That song really reflects what the band was like live.

Hoffs: That was a song we had covered a lot during our early club days. It became a signature number for us, and one that we still almost always open our set with.

 

The Bangles have a string of tour dates coming up this summer. What can you tell me about them?

Peterson: It’s a pretty conscribed tour to celebrate the release of the album. It’s the East Coast and we’ll be coming back to some of the venues that we really like. We’re keeping it small so we can do our stripped-down, rock version and have fun!

What’s your current guitar/amp setup like?

Peterson: For these shows, I’ll go back to using my Fender Super and my touring Les Pauls. I also have my Bangles Daisy Rock that stands in for my Strat to get the jangle thing happening.

Hoffs: I still use the same amp I’ve always had. It’s an old, Sixties Pre-CBS, Fender Deluxe. I’ve never been able to find anything better. It has such great reverb and tremolo. I also still play Rickenbackers as well as my ’66 Guild Starfire 12-string. The jangly sound does something to my DNA on a cellular level. There’s just something about that sounds that’s musical dopamine.

Are there any other projects you’re currently working on?

Peterson: I’m in the mixing stage right now for a new project I’m working on with my husband, John Cowsill, and Billy Mumy called Action Skulls. It’s more [Continental] Drifters than Bangles with three lead singers and a lot of harmony.

Hoffs: I have a lot of cool, creative things in the fire. I’ve recently had a burst of energy and am in the process of writing and recording a bunch of songs.

When all is said and done, how would you like the Bangles be remembered?

Peterson: I think as a guitar-oriented rock band. That might be a bit of stretch of our legacy to use that grand word. Most people might think “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame” when they think of the Bangles, because those were some of our biggest hits. But I also think about songs like “Hazy Shade of Winter” and some of the other songs we loved playing live.

Hoffs: There’s a tradition that came out of the garage bands of Los Angeles. And in that tradition, we took our love of melody, jangly guitar and harmonies and fused them all into a unique blend of pop, rock and folk. The thing that was there with us in the beginning lives on whenever we get together to write and play music. We were a band that came together in the most authentic of ways.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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