by Tadhg Ferry
Member of The Bangles, Susanna Hoffs, embarked on a tour earlier this month in support of her third solo album, Someday, released in mid-summer. I spoke with Susanna about the recording of the album, her influences, and the psychotropic effects of hot tea.
That Music Mag: How would you describe the sound on Someday?
Susanna Hoffs: I would describe it as a modern ’60s-inspired record. The influence is definitely ’60s, and melodic pop, but — with kind of baroque-inspired arrangements — but definitely a modern record.
TMM: I like those. So, like, British Invasion ’60s music?
SH: Um, yeah. Some British Invasion, some, I mean — kind of pulling from the era of like 1966, 1967, ’68, where there started to be kind of a heavy use of horns and strings and stuff. Even on like Rolling Stones records, even records like “She’s a Rainbow” had interesting keyboard parts. And I think getting away from just like a traditional two guitars, bass, and drums sound, and kind of going for a little more stylized arrangement — pulling from that era of the ’60s. Bands like the Left Bank, which — they were an American group — but loads of British groups. I mean, even the Beatles, when they stopped touring live, when they couldn’t hear themselves over all the screaming girls, they went into this phase of really having fun in the studio with arrangements. And so some of the records that kind of came out of that trend in the mid-60s is kind of where we got our inspiration for the arrangements on Someday.
TMM: So, you were doing a lot of acid during the making of the record.
SH.: Oh no no! I thought I heard something funny like that. No, no. Not really. Drinking a lot of coffee and tea.
TMM: Ah, too bad.
SH: I know.
TMM: That’s fun too, though. So when did you first start working on the record?
SH: I started — I had a break after the Bangles released a new studio record called Sweetheart of the Sun in the fall of 2011, and after I did an extensive few months of touring behind that record, I had a little break, and I happened to connect with a new songwriting partner who was a friend of my niece. They’d grown up together in Nashville, he came out to L.A. and needed a place to stay, so I offered up my guest bedroom, which was really a smart idea in retrospect because he’s, you know, he’s a really great music and singer-songwriter and he was around all the time, kind of ensconced in my family life, which was great — we kind of adopted him. And also, he was a presence in the household, which made it impossible for me to avoid writing songs, which is easy to do for me, because I’m always either on the road with the Bangles or juggling, you know, being a mom and trying to do music at the same time, and, you know, life gets really complicated and busy. So, I had this person living in my house who I could write songs with every night for a period of months, and that’s really what kicked off the making of this record, is having a bunch of new songs I was excited about, after a long period of songwriting drought.
TMM: How long did it take to record?
SH: It was very fast. I mean, the tracking of the record was all done live — it probably took two weeks. Every song, we would go in with the band, and the songs were performed live, nobody really went back in later and did much. We just kind of did take after take until we got a good one, including a good lead vocal. And then if we found a take that we all liked, after numerous tries in most cases, the band would step outside, have a bite to eat, I would go in and sing down the song a couple more times and — boom — move on to the next song. So, it was really kind of exciting, and a little bit of a pressurized situation for me — I was used to doing it the other way around where you go in and track and you’re kind of loose and sloppy on the vocal part and then you have kind of weeks to go back in and redo the vocals. But in this case it was not how we did it, and actually I really found it challenging and exciting to have to step up and sing on the mic and get a great take every time, if possible.
TMM: Last question. Who is an artist you like that might surprise people?
SH: I think Patti Smith. She always pops in my mind because, even though our music is fairly different, she was part of this whole revolution taking place in music in the late ’70s kind of loosely called punk rock, but not exactly — it doesn’t really describe everything. And that was a period when I was in college and it was kind of a very important time for me where I realized that the thing that I wanted to do was to be in a band or be musician — that it was kind of the ultimate art project. And kind of coming out of the ’60s loving really melodic pop, going off to UC Berkeley and having this whole kind of revelation about these young bands playing in clubs. I mean I saw the Talking Heads, I saw Patti Smith, I saw the Sex Pistols. I saw all these shows during that period and it really kind of was profound for me in terms of my own journey trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the arts. Because I had started out as a dancer — at that time I was in the dance company at UC Berkeley, and I was pursuing theater and dance, and I wasn’t thinking about music per se. So I think Patti Smith — I would say Patti Smith.
TMM: Great answer. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions today. Best of luck with the tour.
SH: Nice to speak with you! Have a great day.