Susanna Hoffs Hazy Shade of Winter Live 2022
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Conversation with Susanna HoffsNov 6, 2020
In 1982, when The Bangles were still known as The Bangs and playing at Al’s Bar in Los Angeles, Music Connection concluded: “There is no question that all the elements are here to make the group one of the biggest draws around, and 1983 is theirs for the taking.” Sure enough, The Bangles were picked up in 1983 by Columbia records and released their first full album, All Over the Place, the following year. For vocalist and guitarist, Susanna Hoffs, the shift into the spotlight was profound. She explained the contrast to Goldmine in 2012 saying:
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.
In spite of that pressure, Hoffs has maintained an infectious energy for music making and collaboration throughout her rich and diverse musical career. From The Bangles to Ming Tea (her faux-sixties Austin Powers band with Mike Myers and Matthew Sweet), her Under the Covers volumes, with Matthew Sweet, with in her solo work and collaborative projects, Hoffs brings a fresh and enthusiastic voice to the popular music soundscape.
While The Bangles were Hoffs’ first step major musical success, she began her first band, The Unconscious, with David Roback (of Mazzy Star fame) while studying art at UC Berkeley. During her time in college, Hoffs’ studies in the arts were complimented by the late seventies music scene that surrounded her. From Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, to the last Sex Pistols performance at San Francisco’s Wonderland in 1978, Hoffs’ musical ear developed alongside her art studies. Hoffs reflects:
“I wanted to be an artist and I didn’t have a lot of boundaries around that. I studied dance and theatre and I ended up graduating with a degree in art…I painted, I made sculptures, I did photography…and I made a band…that band was just another thing that I made.”
While The Unconscious parted ways after graduation, both Hoffs (in The Bangles) and Roback (in Rain Parade) became active participants in the Paisley Underground scene of their hometown of Los Angeles, bringing that “art band” college experience with them: “The goal wasn’t to play a stadium, the goal was to get a gig at a club, you know, and be like the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s factory and just be part of a happening.”
Hoffs and Roback had been childhood friends (and maintained that friendship until his recent passing in February 2020), but after a relationship that was both musical and romantic in college, Hoffs was ready to find a band without that added tension. Hoffs met Bangles bandmates Vicki and Debbi Peterson through an ad she had placed in The Recycler. From their first meeting playing in Hoffs’ garage, the band was formed.