The Bangles' Susanna Hoffs Discusses New '80s-Themed 'Under the Covers' Album with Matthew Sweet
For "Sid 'n Susie Under the Covers, Vol. 3: The '80s, Susanna Hoffs' third album of cover songs with power popper Matthew Sweet, the Bangles vocalist/guitarist stuck to a decade that was very kind to her — the 1980s.
Unlike the duo's two previous albums, which focused on material from the '60s and '70s, Under the Covers, Vol. 3 relies less on mainstream hits and focuses more on deeper album tracks.
Along the way, Hoffs and Sweet paint a broad spectrum of sonic art — complete with totally gnarly renditions of tunes by artists including Roxy Music, the Smiths, XTC, Lindsey Buckingham and R.E.M.
I recently spoke to Hoffs about the new album, which will be available November 12. We also discussed a few of her favorite memories from the '80s.
GUITAR WORLD: How did you and Matthew Sweet decide which songs to cover for this album?
Because we're both fans of the music, it was so easy to pick songs. The hard part was actually trying to stop [laughs]. Musically it was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun finding ways to reinvent the songs and put our own stamp on them. We also got to think outside of the box because we approached things as a duet. It gave us a chance to really get into the emotion of the songs.
What was the recording process like?
We did a lot of the writing and arranging via Skype. Matthew would put together tracks in various stages and send them to me and then I would go crazy on harmonies. The whole project was really full of many spontaneous moments.
Can you give us an update on your tour schedule?
Matthew and I will be doing some touring for the new album in 2014. The Bangles will also be reuniting with a group of bands that formed the Paisley Underground on December 5 and 6. We'll be doing two shows, and I'm really looking forward to that as well!
Can you tell us how the Bangles originated?
I was in college majoring in dance and theater and it just so happened to be around the same time that Patti Smith, the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads all came out. I was living in the Bay area at the time and remember going to see all of these really great bands.
I decided to switch my major to art and figured out that what I wanted for my art project; the thing that was a combination of theater, dance and visual was being in a band. Once I got back to LA in 1980, I saw an ad in the local throwaway that eventually hooked me up with Vicki Peterson [Bangles guitarist]. We instantly bonded over the Beatles and '60s music. Even though it was the beginning of the '80s, our sound was all '60s influenced. That's how it started.
What was it like for you when the Bangles opened for Queen on the Magic tour in 1986?
It was the most amazing memory I have of my whole Bangles career. It was festival season in Europe and we opened for Queen, playing in front of 100,000 people. Then we got to watch them perform their entire set from the side of the stage. It was like a religious experience [laughs]. When Freddie Mercury was on stage, it was like his whole being was in complete absorption. Just his connection with the audience, his showmanship and body language. Every cell in his body was into that performance. For me to see that at close range is something I'll never forget.
Do you have any advice to offer up and coming musicians?
Writing is key. That's your true, authentic expression. But also make sure that you learn to play your favorite songs and learn from other musicians. I spent much of my youth playing and singing along to records by Patsy Cline, Linda Ronstadt and the Beatles. I think most musicians start out as fans, but the passion becomes so great that you can't contain it. When you love something that much, it's not enough to just listen to it. You have to be a part of it.
Have you ever given thought to writing a book about your life?
A lot of people have asked me about writing a memoir, but right now I'm into just being in the present. I feel fortunate to have records out three years in a row now [2011's Sweetheart of the Sun (Bangles); 2012's Someday (solo) and 2013's Under The Covers, Vol. 3]. It's keeping me so busy that I don't really want to stop just yet, but I also don't want those memories to fade. I like thinking back, but also want to keep moving forward.
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.