The Bangles' Susanna Hoffs: "I Listen a Lot to the '60s Still"
In the '80s, Susanna Hoffs was at the top of her game as a member of all-girl band the Bangles, who had many hits including "Hero Takes a Fall," "Walking Down Your Street," "Walk Like an Egyptian," "Eternal Flame," and countless others.
Photo by Jonathon Kingsbury
Though the band split in 1989, Hoffs reunited with the Bangles in 1999, but maintains a solo career and recently released her new project, Someday. Rocks Off recently spoke with Hoffs via phone about Someday, her love of '60s music, and the time the Bangles performed on the brand-new Sam Houston Tollway... and thought it might collapse
Rocks Off: I'm a fan of the Bangles on Facebook and I noticed that it said that as of July of this year it was 20 years since you guys played a concert to celebrate the opening of the Sam Houston Tollway. What was it like to play that show?
Susanna Hoffs: Oh wow! Oh man, that was a day that's not easily forgotten, but it was an interesting day. It was a promotional thing with a radio station that they had built that overpass. They decided that there should be a free concert on the actual overpass -- on that stretch of freeway that is extended in the air. It was a blazing hot day and we went out there.
They constructed a little stage up there and all these people showed up. At a certain point, everybody started jumping up and down and you could feel -- and I guess that was probably a good thing that it was engineered to kind of move with whatever jiggling was occurring on the toll road.
Vicki [Peterson] said the thing that you should never say because people do the opposite, she said "stop, stop jumping up and down." So people started doing it more. Having grown up in earthquake country in California, it became so scary that I just bolted. I was like, "this whole bridge is gonna collapse, obviously."
It was a really uncomfortable and scary moment. The horror was that even the structural engineer was running away too but I don't know if that was true. But as the Petersons [Vicki and Debbi] always say that "they were like the band on the Titanic" -- they just kept playing until I left. I was too spooked by it. We will always remember that day.
SH: It was a very diverse era for music, but I would have to start by saying the Beatles will probably always be my favorite band. The Beatles were a big influence on the Bangles even in the fact that we had a lot of harmony vocals, jangly guitars and multiple lead singers that can turn out various songs.
There was a lot of great musicians and music that I heard through the airwaves as a very young child that really informed my musical journey. I loved Linda Rondstadt, Lulu, Petula Clarke, and Dionne Warwick when she was singing all those Burt Bacharach songs. Those voices and those kinds of melodies have always stuck with me.
But I also love the Byrds. When I started playing electric guitar, I went out and tried to get the same guitars that made that sound that I loved so much with the Byrds -- a Rickenbacker 12-string. George Harrison played a lot of Rickenbackers as well. I love Bob Dylan and a lot of eclectic mix of stuff.
RO: What inspired you, specifically, about those influences?
SH: I listen a lot to the '60s still. I've never really gotten away from it. I was with Andrew Brassell, who I wrote most all of the songs from the new record apart from one ["November Sun"] on the Someday record. He's a lot younger than me. He didn't experience the '60s firsthand; he was born in the '80s.
We were listening to Sirius Satellite's "60's on 6" on the way over to do a podcast yesterday that we performed on. Again, I'm always struck by this, and it's something that we talked about when we started making the record.
We heard everything from Tom Jones singing "It's Not Unusual" to the Bee Gees singing "To Love Somebody" - the level of emotion that comes through in the vocals is so astounding to me. You don't really think about it consciously, it's just kind of there. It's just this raw emotion that is not tempered by any desire to be playing it cool, humbleness, or anything.
It's moving and compelling to me. I find the kind of passion that was really flowing through that era of music. I think that aspect is something that I've pulled from that era. Also melody, because it was key. I love how melodic those songs were.
RO: Someday, which is really good. Tell us a little bit about the making it.
SH: Thank you. The making of the record was very fast. I didn't have a record contract. I did it on my own, essentially. I funded it myself and I worked with this really brilliant producer [Mitchell Froom], whose worked with everybody from Randy Newman, to Paul McCartney. We did it at his studio and recorded it live -- all the tracking, drums, bass, guitars and including me singing live, which is a very old-school way to do things.
We went into it with the spirit of the '60s in mind. Also, it's a good way to keep the budget kind of contained. It was done fast. Then we put all the embellishments, all of Mitchell's great orchestrations and string parts along with horns, flutes, woodwinds -- all that stuff was added later. We picked really great players to come in and Mitchell created musical charts for them. We had to do that in a timely manner as well.
It was made last summer, actually. I'm really happy that it's seeing the light of day. Beyond that, I'm over the moon about the response I've been getting. It's been getting really great reviews and good feedback, so I'm happy.