By Jeb Wright
Susanna Hoffs has snuck out from under her role as the lead singer and guitarist of The Bangles to release the solo album, “Someday,” her first since 1996. Unlike her work with The Bangles, Hoffs’ efforts on “Someday” are not poppy. However, they were inspired by her love of 1960s music, and there is a feeling of that era in her heartfelt and introspective new tunes. In the interview that follows, Susanna opens up about her new album, the songwriting process and her ride to the top with The Bangles.
Goldmine: The songwriting on the new album is fabulous. How did you meet the young Andrew Brassell, who you co-wrote with?
Susanna Hoffs: This kid, I met through my niece. He was playing in the Nashville scene for a long time. She is a big fan of his guitar playing and his songwriting, so he came out for a visit, and she introduced him to the family. He decided to come to L.A., and I told him that he could stay in my guest room until he figured out where he wanted to live. He had a guitar glued to him the entire time he was here. It really inspired me to see someone who was playing music constantly. I would be in the kitchen washing dishes, and there would be this music he was playing, and I would start hearing these melodies in my head. I would run in and say, “What is that? Is that a song?” He’d say, “I suppose it could be.”
GM: The music is not a throwback album, but you can really hear the 1960s’ influence in this music.
SH: The intention was not to make a vintage-sounding record. We wanted to take the melodic sense of that period, along with the passion and pure emotion of that time period, and bring it into today. It was conscious, but at the same time, it is a modern record, and it is very fresh. We really set out to blend those influences and those elements. .
GM: Tell me about the title of the album, ‘Someday.’
SH: I was searching and searching for a title for the album, and I was listening to and looking at the lyrics. There were themes of weather and rain and sun, but also of hopefulness and yearning. I think that is something that I use in my songwriting and something that I am attracted to in other songs. I use “Here Comes the Sun” as an example of a song that has this sunny beauty to it, but there is this darkness lurking right under the surface. It is the push and pull between things that are sad and hopeful.
GM: Talk about the song “Picture Me.”
SH: We were talking about being in a relationship, whether it be a new relationship, or like my marriage, which is going on 20 years next spring. Even if you’ve been with someone a long time, there are always periods where you wonder where you stand. With young love, you wonder if it is reciprocated. You pull petals from a daisy going, “He loves me he loves me not.” It is the nature of relationships.
GM: “Regret” is a great song.
SH: There were a lot of times when Brassell would observe me and my life and notice what I was going through. We would be sitting around having coffee, and I would say, “I always wanted to write a song about regret.” I am talking about trying to go back and fix things in your life, even though it is not a very useful thing to do. I think I was mentioning this problem about waking up in the middle of the night and thinking about things I had done and things that I wish I had done differently. It is on the darker side of the emotions on the album.
GM: Was “Raining” the song you did with Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s band all those years ago? Where did that come from?
SH: Part of the reason this solo album took so long was that I was writing for myself, just as a creative outlet, clear back to 1989. I did a couple of solo albums where I collaborated with other people like Mike. Songs that I had just written got left in a shoebox up on a shelf. Things got busy, and the song just stayed in the box. I’m so glad that song survived all of those years in the box. I went to see a show and Benmont Tench, who played on the demo of “Raining” back in 1989, was there. He told me to call Mike. I was really shy. It took a lot of courage for me to call him. He inspired me to do a rewrite on it and bring it up to date. We went back and worked on it, and it has now seen the light of day.
GM: You were young and cute when you were with The Bangles. You were, however, a songwriter, which differentiated you from the norm.
SH: When I started out, it was all about songwriting. It was the opposite of American Idol. It was very garage rock. The Bangles were kids who sat in their rooms writing songs and put a band together and rehearsed in the garage. We then made a cassette that we could take to club owners to get them to let us play in their club. It was very grass roots .
GM: Did you think that girls would look up to you?
SH: I was just being a musician. I was very inspired by The Go-Go’s. It was a fact that I downplayed during The Bangles, because we were compared to them 100 percent of the time. We started to not want to emphasize that. For me, in particular, maybe more so than the other girls in the band, I was very influenced by The Go-Go’s.
I had just graduated from The University of California at Berkeley in the Bay Area and had been smitten by the whole rock scene in the clubs that was going on. I saw The Sex Pistols; I saw Patti Smith. I was going to see all of the punk bands. When I came back to L.A., I was transformed, and I wanted to do this.
GM: Describe the scene to me.
SH: It brought it down from stadium rock, which seemed very inaccessible to kids playing music. It was very raw. It no longer seemed unattainable to be in a band. I was very heavily influenced by Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell back when I was in high school, so I wanted to write songs. I was also influenced by Patti Smith. The bridge between Joni and Patti saw me go from playing acoustic guitar to electric guitar. I was seeing a lot of rock and roll live. When I saw Tina Weymouth playing with the Talking Heads, I got very excited about playing in a band. I think the combination of seeing Tina, Patti and The Go-Go’s and a lot of other bands on the scene led me to start putting ads in The Recycler, and that is how I ended up meeting the girls in The Bangles.
GM: When did you know you were good enough to make it? ?
SH: When we met, though that ad, Vicki [Peterson] and Debbi [Peterson] came over to my house; I was still living at home. We played in the garage, and we became a band that night. We really clicked. We played “White Rabbit” from Jefferson Airplane, which Vicki and Debbi taught me. It was just two chords, and I was like, “Wow, I never realized that. It sounds so complicated.” We played that song, and it sounded really good and I said, “Let’s do this.”
GM: You were very young. Your album came out and was a hit. How were you mature enough to handle the fame?
SH: It was hard. It was very scary. You go from the little bubble of your dreams of musical aspiration and all of this excitement and energy and creating your sound and finding your communal voice as a band. Suddenly, you get signed and enter the business side of it. There are teams of people in suits, mostly men, and they are staring at you and sizing you up and trying to figure out what to do with you and how to sell you. You realize that your little bubble of creativity is no longer a little bubble. You’re out in the world, subject to a list of people’s opinions that you never thought you had to consider. We were managed by Miles Copeland, who I love and who did a fantastic job as our manager. After some time, he started working with an all-girl band that he sort of cherry picked from other bands. I think Daryl Hannah may have been in that band. I don’t quite remember all of the details, but they were a put-together band, and they were also incredibly gorgeous. I remember sitting there with The Bangles, feeling kind of insecure. We were hit with this feeling of ‘How are we going to deal with this?’ We wondered why he was doing that. It was irrational, for sure. I have not even thought of this for years. We thought maybe we were lacking and that there was something missing in The Bangles. It didn’t turn out to be the case, but it is an example of how everyone was judging us and wanting us to deliver things, and we were trying to do that. All of these things come into play, and I think that with all-girl bands, in particular, there is a feeling that it is a novelty. We had this pressure to explain ourselves. People would ask us how we came to play our instruments and why we were an all-girl band. It was like it was an odd concept for a girl to play drums or bass. It felt like nobody believed that there could be an authentic inspiration for us. It was bizarre, and I never really understood that.
GM: Did you ever think “Walk Like an Egyptian” would be the song to go down in Bangles’ history?
SH: No, it was the farthest thing from my mind. I was really surprised when it became a single. When you are in the studio and you’re focusing on getting all of the work down and getting all of the magic you need to get for a great record — then you hand the record out to people. It was a fun song, but we didn’t think it was a huge hit. Everyone started noticing the song, and everyone loved it.
GM: Are you more comfortable thinking of yourself as an influence to other girls who wanted to become musicians?
SH: I am very touched and flattered when people say that The Bangles, or I, have been an influence for them. I’m always surprised, because I don’t think of myself that way. It is so moving to me that I could influence somebody to do something positive or to make music.
I look at Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt and Dusty Springfield and all of the other people that I loved and listened to and taught myself to sing by learning all of their songs and singing along to their records. I get what that’s about. If that is the case, and I have been able to inspire someone to play music, then that is the greatest sign of success that I can think of, for me personally. I love when people make that known to me. It is a rewarding feeling — I can’t tell you how rewarding it is.