The artist: In the waning weeks of 1980, Susanna Hoffs first teamed with fellow guitarist Vicki Peterson and drummer Debbi Peterson to form the band that would soon come to be called The Bangles. (Original bassist Annette Zilinskas left The Bangles shortly before the group recorded its first album. Michael Steele, formerly of The Runaways, assumed bass duties for most of the group’s career, but subsequently left the band.) Although they’ve occasionally dissolved for months or even years at a time since then, the group is currently more active than in ages, having returned to the studio—with Matthew Sweet in the producer’s seat, no less—to record Sweetheart Of The Sun, the first new Bangles album since 2003’s Doll Revolution.
The Bangs, “Getting Out of Hand” (1981 7” single)
Susanna Hoffs: Wow! Okay, well, that was our first single. We were basically just a club band at that point, and we were in the total do-it-yourself mode. We all had day jobs at the time. I worked in a ceramics factory, and Vicki worked on a movie lot, but… It was more of a grounds-supervisor kind of job. It wasn’t actually, like, working on films but just more management of the movie lot. And what was Debbi doing? I think Debbi was working at a ticket agency or something like that. I can’t remember. But, anyway, we went to a studio called Radio Tokyo that was owned and run by Ethan James, who had been for some period of time in the band Blue Cheer, and it was a really cool eight-track studio in Venice, California, on… Abbot Kinney Boulevard, I think, which is now populated with really cool stores and restaurants and stuff. It was kind of a really cool area to be working. It was my first official studio experience. Vicki wrote the song, and… I can’t remember the history of the writing part, but we went in and we made the record. The flip side of the single was a song called “Call On Me,” which I think might’ve been the first song Vicki and I ever wrote together… and, actually, my friend David Roback, who was in the Rain Parade and then went on to do Mazzy Star, I think he co-wrote it with me and Vicki. But my memory isn’t totally clear on that. [Laughs.] You are digging back to the real obscure stuff, which is great, thank you. It’s fun to jog my memory now and go back to the early days! But I remember the record cost $35 to make, and David Roback took the photos for the little single sleeve. And it was a very important record for us, because it’s the record that I gave to Rodney Bingenheimer, the KROQ DJ who was known for playing obscure bands and getting them heard on the radio in Los Angeles. He had a big following on KROQ, and, yeah, it kind of got the ball rolling for us. As soon as Rodney started playing it, our shows started selling better, and it went from there.
The A.V. Club: Did your pulse quicken as you handed Rodney the single?
SH: Oh, yeah. [Laughs.] I was very nervous. But I was also, like, very courageous at the time. When I think back on how ballsy I was about everything… It was youth and ignorance about what the music business was all about on my part. I was very green and very ambitious and very determined, and I think it was… an interesting time. Because the punk movement had happened, and there was a big shift in how things were in the music business. We went from stadium rock to the club scene again, but it was still the heyday of big record companies. But there wasn’t any sort of American Idol mentality out there, where you’re vetted by a team of music-biz experts, and that’s how you get known to the public at large. We were very grassroots about everything, and Rodney did a tremendous amount to get The Bangles heard.
AVC: “Getting Out Of Hand” is actually credited to The Bangs. What’s the story behind the band changing its name to The Bangles?
SH: Well, we ended up working with Miles Copeland as our manager, and he had a record company called Faulty Products, which then got changed to IRS Records sometime after the release of our EP. We worked with a wonderful producer called Craig Leon, and we made a five-song EP. The artwork was done, everything was ready, and Miles gets a phone call from a band in New Jersey called Bangs, and… We had to change our name. They basically said, “Pay us X amount of dollars if you really want to use the name,” dollars which we of course didn’t have at the time, and we had, like, 48 hours to think of a new name. We did have the artwork done, so it was somewhat practical three letters to the end of it. [Laughs.] So there was some pragmatism involved in the decision there. But it wasn’t just that. I mean, you know, we were sort of… We were not happy about having to rethink the name, because that’s one of the hardest things about being in a band: coming up with a name, one that hasn’t been taken or used in some form already. So we were just thinking of a thousand different possibilities, but in the end, when we came up with “Bangles,” it kind of had a ring to it that we liked.
There was a little bit of “Beatles,” you know, being Beatlemaniacs. The Beatles were sort of a musical bond for The Bangles. The way we fashioned the band, the way we were a four-piece band and there were multiple singers and songwriters—they inspired a lot of things about The Bangles. And then we were looking up the definition of “Bangles” in the dictionary, and there was one definition that said, “To hang loose,” and we sort of thought that was kind of groovy and ’60s. In the end, I think it’s a better name for the band, weirdly. I would never have thought that back then, ’cause there was a kind of toughness to the Bangs. We were garage-pop. We were firmly rooted in the garage, so we liked the tough aspect of it. Having come out of a sort of post-punk movement in L.A. of pop bands, it was still a lot of the punk energy in the scene. Those were the reasons why we liked The Bangs, but in the end, I think The Bangles was a better name for us… or is a better name for us.
The Bangles, “The Real World” (from 1982’s Bangles EP)
SH: That was another one of the early songs that Vicki and I wrote together. I blatantly kind of fashioned it after… I think it was George Harrison’s “If I Needed Someone” and that whole era of The Beatles’ music. I wanted it to be kind of a jangly, guitar-driven love song in the spirit of that period of The Beatles’ stuff. Yeah, those early songs were my introduction to working with Vicki Peterson as a songwriting team, someone who I’ve now worked with for 30 years on and off. That was a lot of fun. That was one of the earliest ones we wrote together.
AVC: “The Real World” was the single released from the EP, correct?
SH: Yes, that’s right. There’s even a video for it out there somewhere!
AVC: If we can find it, then you can pretty well count on it running right alongside your comments about the song.
SH: [Laughs.] It was filmed at the Viper Room, by the way. What was formally The Central, on the Sunset Strip, and then became the Viper Room years later. Just in case anyone’s curious about that venue.
AVC: What was it like stepping before the camera to make your first video?
SH: Oh, wow. Well, everything was kind of exciting and a little terrifying in the early days. I mean, it was all firsts for me. Really, The Bangles were my first band, and, yeah, that was pretty much our first video, come to think of it. And there’s even a scene, I believe, in the video that’s of a photo session. We had only just done our first professional photo sessions. It was all happening right around that time, and it was all very new to us. But it was exciting. It was sort of the dawn of the video age, in a way. A music video channel, “I want my MTV,” and all that. Everyone looks back now and has nostalgia for what that was when that happened, because it really put a whole new kind of spin on how you do things. I mean, I remember in those days we would be in the studio recording, and we’d be thinking and envisioning what the video might be, having a laugh about how corny or cheesy it would be. I mean, there was a lot of corny, cheesy, silly stuff, and it’s all being spoofed now. Even my kids are looking at these “literal videos,” where the lyrics are a description, like, “Glass falling off in slow motion / shattering to the ground,” a running monologue that’s a description of what’s happening. But it was a fun time. I think that’s why the ’80s have become popular again. There was a funny and lighthearted aspect to it. People weren’t that afraid to make fun of themselves.
The Bangles, “Hero Takes A Fall” (from 1984’s All Over The Place)
SH: That was our first video for All Over The Place, which was our first Columbia Records release. I think we went up to San Francisco, and… I’m spacing on the director’s name. I can’t think of it right now. But that was the video that Prince saw, and then he ended up coming to our shows. He really liked “Hero Takes A Fall,” and he would come to our shows and jump onstage and do these really cool guitar solos. And that led to him giving us the song “Manic Monday.” So those videos were important. It was important exposure for bands. I mean, we have YouTube now, but it was kind of… It was an interesting time, because that visual component became hugely important.
AVC: Do you know if there’s any video or audio documentation of any of Prince’s guitar solos with The Bangles?
SH: There’s audio on YouTube. I think there was a show at the Palace and the Fillmore, in San Francisco, but I think it’s the Palace show where there’s a really good audio clip, with maybe a still photo or something, and he is just going for it with the guitar, being the genius that he is. It was really astounding and awe-inspiring, actually, to stand next to him on stage and hear him play and see him play. It was great.
The Bangles, “Live”/“Going Down To Liverpool” (from 1984’s All Over The Place)
AVC: Speaking of videos, how did Leonard Nimoy come to be driving your limo in “Going Down To Liverpool”?
SH: I had grown up with Leonard. My family was very close to his family—pre-Star Trek, even—and his kids and me and my brothers all played together. Our parents were friends. So it was kind of a natural thing for me to call and ask him if he wouldn’t mind being in a video. I was just amazed that he said “yes.” [Laughs.] And my mother [Tamar Simon Hoffs] ended up directing the video.
AVC: “Going Down To Liverpool” and “Live” were the only two cover songs on All Over The Place. How did you come to choose those particular tracks to tackle?
SH: “Live” we had been covering for years prior to getting signed. That was our love of the more obscure ’60s stuff, which was another bond for us. It was really sort of at the heart of The Bangles, this love of ’60s music. The band was The Merry-Go-Round, and Emitt Rhodes was the singer. He very much fashioned himself after the Paul McCartney sound, in a way, vocally. He even sang with an English accent, a little bit of one, anyway. He’s a really great guy, and he’s still making records today. We actually met with him early on to see if he would produce a record, and at the time he wasn’t really doing pop music or rock music. He was doing all sorts of other music, but not anything that made him feel like he was the man for the job of producing a Bangles record. But we really worshiped him music from those Merry-Go-Round days, and even some solo stuff that he did that was really fantastic. So, yeah, we were just big fans, and we had been covering “Live” for years, anyway.
“Going Down To Liverpool” was a Kimberley Rew song, and—I hope I’m getting this right—he was in the band The Soft Boys, I think, and then Katrina And The Waves. He’s just a great guy, a British guy who writes fantastic pop songs, in the best sense of “pop.” The best kind of pop songs, really catchy melodies but sort of offbeat in a way that always has appealed to The Bangles. I mean, we always seem to be attracted to that kind of thing, and we were just immediately struck by the fact that “Liverpool” was in the title. Again, the Beatles thing, but it was a reference that made us think of The Beatles and where our original inspiration came from, so it was kind of a natural choice for us.
Rainy Day, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (from 1984’s Rainy Day)
SH: Oh, wow. Okay, that goes back to my collaboration with David Roback, because prior to The Bangles forming in 1981, I had been going to the University Of California at Berkeley—I graduated from there—and I had grown up with David Roback, and we were both art majors at Berkeley. I had been in the dance department and then theater. He was doing more academic stuff, and then we both got into doing painting and sculpture. But then the punk thing happened, and that led to the decision to kind of try and create music together. And during that time, the record that was sort of a pivotal record, that I was very, very attached to, was Nico’s Chelsea Girl, which John Cale produced. Her version of the Bob Dylan song “I’ll Keep It With Mine” was really stunning, and, in fact, I had never heard the original Bob Dylan one until much, much later. I only knew the song through the Nico version.
So we recorded that at that same studio in L.A., Radio Tokyo, and it was recorded basically live. My brother, who’s a year older than me, he went to Yale, and his roommate, Will Glenn, who ended up being in the Rain Parade with David, he played the violin part on our version of “I’ll Keep It With Mine.” And I think I played guitar, and David played guitar. That Rainy Day record became a very popular record with the college-radio crowd, and it was kind of a… well, a cult classic, in a way. I’m really proud of my involvement in that record.
I sang background on a bunch of things. It was kind of what was called “the Paisley Underground” scene in L.A., which was The Bangles, the Rain Parade, Green On Red, the Salvation Army, which became the Three O’Clock… There was a whole bunch of ’60s baroque-pop inspired music and bands going on in L.A., and Mike Quercio from the Three O’Clock, formerly the Salvation Army, had coined the phrase “the Paisley Underground.” But that all fit into that Rainy Day record. I still play that song for people when they are curious about stuff I did kind of outside The Bangles early on. Weirdly, Matthew Sweet found out about me for the first time not from The Bangles but from that record. When Matthew and I had been hanging out together, when there was first talk from Shout! Factory about us making a record today, it came up, and Matthew told me that he’d always wanted to produce a record for me or do something with me after that Rainy Day thing. So it’s been an important track for me, and all through my life people seem to like that one. And I like it, too.
The Bangles, “Manic Monday” (from 1986’s Different Light)
AVC: What was it like to have Prince say, “So, hey, I’ve got this song for you”?
SH: It was all very mysterious. I got a call… We were working with Peggy and David Leonard, a husband-and-wife engineer team who had done a lot of stuff with Prince in Minneapolis, and then I guess everybody came west, and they were working in studios in L.A. I think Peggy was working with us at the time, and David was working with Prince? Anyway, somehow word got to me to go to Sunset Sound and pick up the cassette from Prince. It was the old days of cassettes, you know. There were two songs on it, and one of them was “Manic Monday.” I didn’t actually see Prince that day, because… I don’t know, either he wasn’t there or he just wasn’t coming out of the studio or something. [Laughs.] But I just got the tape and played it on the way back to the studio where The Bangles were, and we immediately thought that “Manic Monday” was… [Hesitates.] I’ve got to look for that tape, ’cause there was another song on it, and… I have it somewhere—thank God I didn’t throw it out!—but I just haven’t had a chance to go through my old box of cassette tapes. I should probably do it soon, because that tape’s going to start degrading! [Laughs.] But it was cool. The title was really great. It just reminded me of “Manic Depression,” the Hendrix song, and had kind of a psychedelic thing. And then it had these great harmonies, and I don’t know, there were a lot of things about it where I just thought, “This is a really good fit for The Bangles. So I’m ever after grateful to him for giving us that song, because it ended up being our first radio hit.
AVC: I’ve read both that he is singing background vocals on the song and that he is not singing background vocals. I mean, I can’t actually hear him, but…
SH: He is not singing background vocals. The tape that I had was more than a demo—it was a good sounding recording, and there was a woman singing on it, I’m pretty sure. I don’t think it was him singing. He was singing on the other song, but on “Manic Monday,” I’m pretty sure it was a girl’s voice. Gosh, time has passed since those days… [Laughs.] But at any rate, I think typically when he gave artists songs, which he was doing a fair amount of at that time, they would use his tracks. So I think when he came to the rehearsal studio when we were getting ready to go on the tour and he had finally heard our version of it, we were told—or maybe he said it at the rehearsal studio—that he was surprised that we had re-recorded it, because we could’ve just asked for the tracks and used his tracks. Maybe he even sent the tracks over. I’m trying to remember. But, anyway, he was really happy with how it turned it out. He was really happy with it, so that felt good. And after that, we ended up… He would show up at other concerts, and a couple of times we jammed with him. It was a lot of fun. He’s so great—such a great musician and writer and player and… everything!
The Bangles, “If She Knew What She Wants”/“September Gurls” (from 1986’s Different Light)
SH: Well, we had toured a lot behind All Over The Place, so then there was a lot of rush to get on with the next album. And we were writing a lot, but at the same time, we were looking at covers, since The Bangles have always covered songs. It was just somehow part of our process, and I don’t know why that is. I think it’s how we taught ourselves, because none of us are really formally trained musicians. I think it was our own way of schooling ourselves on how to play music, learning to play songs. But at any rate, “If She Knew What She Wants” was a Jules Shear song, and Jules is a fantastic writer. He had been on Columbia Records. I think he was in a band called Jules And The Polar Bears, and we were familiar with him, but at the time it was kind of an obscure choice. Later, Cyndi Lauper did “All Through The Night,” a really gorgeous Jules Shear song.
With “September Gurls,” we were big Big Star fans. [Hesitates.] Big Big Star fans? That doesn’t sound quite right. We were massive Big Star fans, and there was a curiosity, an interest from the band to cover a Big Star song. It was a logical choice. I think it was either Michael Steele, our bass player at the time, or maybe [producer] David Kahne who thought of it. I don’t remember. It’s interesting that you put the two of those together, because to me there was always some kind of connection between them, like in their style. With that sort of jangly guitar, super-melodic, kind of folk-rock vibe that both songs have, I see them in a similar light.
The Bangles, “Walk Like An Egyptian” (from 1986’s Different Light)
SH: I was up at Columbia on the A&R floor, talking to David Kahne about songs, and he said, “God, I’ve got this crazy song. It’s really cool—I don’t know what you’ll think of it, but…” So now I’m curious. I say, “Okay, play it for me.” So he played me a demo of Marti Jones singing “Walk Like An Egyptian.” Apparently Charlie Sexton had also covered it. It was written by Liam Sternberg, who was from Ohio and had some involvement with Chrissie Hynde from the early Ohio music days, the scene there. Anyway, great guy. So the song had been covered a couple of times or demoed a couple of times, but I heard the Marti Jones thing, and I was immediately struck by how cool it was. She did a really great vocal on it. It was very deadpan, very cool. I liked it. And I think the idea was that we were thinking, y’know, the album had a certain flavor to it, but it might be nice to have something with a very different kind of groove to it, a different attitude, just to kind of make the album seem more well-rounded in a certain way. I guess that’s what David was thinking. At any rate, the band decided, “Yes, let’s go for it. Let’s go ahead and record it.” And we recorded it at the Sound Factory.
You know, as soon as I started having a copy to play for my friends, before it came out, I was amazed that so many people were struck by the song. I guess I had gotten familiar with it and had gotten past that first response where it struck me as very quirky but very original, but I never, ever thought it would be a single, so the reaction to it sort of surprised me initially. But it just sort of kept building. It was the third single on the record, and it ended up being maybe our biggest single in America. I don’t know, maybe “Eternal Flame” was bigger in Europe. But it really caught on. It was such a slow build, though. We made the video with Gary Weis. We were huge fan of his little short films that he was doing on Saturday Night Live, and we were major fans of the Rutles movie that he did [All You Need Is Cash]. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s a must-see, especially for Beatles fans. It’s fantastic.
So we were so lucky to get Gary to do the video. I think doing the video with him had something to do with it—again, it was the era of MTV and videos—but it all just came together. It was a series of very unexpected things that just kind of all came together in just the right way to make that song a hit. I think it just genuinely caught on with people. I don’t think the record company even had to do that much. They sort of just let it happen. They had given up early on, because like I said, it was really slow. It was people calling into radio stations and requesting it. It started developing its own momentum, as I recall. That’s always good when that happens.
Hoodoo Gurus, “Good Times” (from 1987’s Blow Your Cool)
SH: Yeah! That came about because we toured with the Hoodoo Gurus. We loved touring with the Hoodoo Gurus. I’m blanking on the exact time that we did that, but it was sometime in the mid-’80s. We still see them. The Bangles have been to Australia three times in the last five or six years, and we try to see them every time we’re there. Unfortunately, this last time we were there, I think they were in America, or maybe they were just on the other side of their giant continent. [Laughs.] But we love any opportunity to hang out with them. They’re such great guys. And the time before, when we had our gig in Sydney at the Enmore Theater, which is this classic theater that’s just an awesome venue, a couple of the guys—Dave [Faulkner] and Brad [Shepherd]—jumped on stage and jammed with us, and we did some songs with them. That would be a really fun tour, actually. You’re actually making me think about that, because we were just on the phone, the Peterson sisters and I, talking about packaging something fun for a tour. The Bangles and Hoodoo Gurus together again? That would be perfect.
The Bangles, “A Hazy Shade Of Winter” (from 1987’s Less Than Zero soundtrack)
SH: That one goes very far back, to the very earliest period of The Bangles, when we all had day jobs and were rehearsing at night in some little dive in Hollywood. I was working at a ceramics factory, and I would have to sit by myself in this dark room and just kind of sand these little ceramic items, so just to kind of keep myself occupied, I had the radio blasting the whole time—and no one seemed to mind, since I was by myself. [Laughs.] I had the oldies station playing, which was playing a lot of ’60s stuff —K-Earth 101!—and I heard this song come on the radio, and I had the flash, the light bulb going off in my mind, and I thought, “This is such a perfect song for The Bangles: It’s got the harmonies, the cool riff, and this really cool beat.”
So when I went to rehearsal that night, I mentioned it, and Vicki is a huge Paul Simon fan, huge Simon And Garfunkel fan. We all are, and we just kind of did our own version of it with electric guitars instead of the kind of folk-rock thing they were doing with it. We later had an opportunity to meet Paul Simon, and it was pretty exciting. But, anyway, we played the song for years in the clubs, in our early days when we were playing the Whiskey A Go Go, The Roxy, and all these places on the Sunset Strip. But then I was brought in to do some music when a friend of mine, Thomas Newman, the composer, brought me in to meet Jon Avnet, who was producing this movie Less Than Zero. I think I mentioned that song, and we ended up recording it, and it ended up being a hit for us, which was great. It went to No. 2. Not bad. [Laughs.]
The Bangles, “In Your Room”/“Eternal Flame” (from 1988’s Everything)
SH: I started writing with Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg right after we were on the road with the Different Light album, and… I’m trying to remember how I met them. [Laughs.] I’m trying to remember the order of things. We definitely wrote “In Your Room” first, and they were just amazing collaborators. Well, let me start by saying that it’s always interesting to collaborate with other people, because you do inevitably learn something that’s, like, a little treasure that you keep with you all the time. It’s always an intense bonding experience, too, because when you write songs, you’re telling your stories, you’re kind of mining all of this emotional material, and you’re in a room with other people and sharing it. So that makes it really special. But one thing I learned from them was that Billy always liked to bring in a lyric to Tom. He liked to get a head start on a song by starting with the lyrics, and that’s something that was really foreign to me at first. So it was really nice to see how they crafted their magical songs together. Billy could come in with an idea, and it was fairly well worked out, with a lot of lines, but as the songs started to grow out of these lyrics, things would change and shift and be rewritten. But it starts with that. That’s how they would work together. Tom would either grab a guitar or run over to the piano, and—that was another thing. For myself, I don’t play piano, really, so I always play everything on guitar when I’m writing, and it was really interesting for me to work with someone who could play both piano and guitar. Because when you’re writing on the piano, it just takes you to another place. You access melodies differently. So that was really fun.
AVC: If you look at those two songs, there’s isn’t really any question that “Eternal Flame” is a love song, but “In Your Room”? That’s pretty much a lust song.
SH: Yes, well put! Yeah, well, we were young. [Laughs.] And, gosh, you know, it was so exciting, that time period. It was a very hectic period in my life, obviously, because I was just on this non-stop Bangles momentum, but it was really kind of special to be able to have these songs, looking back, that kind of represent different periods of my life and what I was going through. It’s just really fun. The crazy thing is, all these years later, I still enjoy singing those songs. I mean, both of those songs we play in our set, and both are highlights for me. Maybe the meaning has shifted and changed a bit over the years, but I still have this deep connection to that material, and I’m really grateful for that. I really learned a lot working with Billy and Tom, and they’re still really good friends. I was really excited earlier this year when they were inducted into the Songwriting Hall Of Fame, which is a really prestigious honor. And they so deserve it.
Susanna Hoffs, “My Side Of The Bed” (from 1991’s When You’re A Boy)
SH: Well, there you go: That’s another one I wrote with Billy and Tom. That was, gosh, that was in the early ’90s, and it was a continuation with this intense writing thing that was going on with us. We wrote a lot of stuff. In some cases, they would even play me stuff that they were writing with, say, Cyndi Lauper. They had written “Unconditional Love” with her, and I loved it so much that I recorded it for that same record. So that song and “My Side Of The Bed” were both on that first solo record I did for Columbia Records. I remember the video had a little bit of dancing in it. I actually studied in the dance department when I was going to UC-Berkeley, so that was one thing that made that video kind of fun, to have that little moment to do that kind of stuff.
AVC: What are your thoughts on When You’re A Boy when you reflect on it now?
SH: I think it’s a really, really good record. God, you’re just reminding me that there are just so many phases of my life. I’m always looking forward, so I don’t tend to swivel around and start looking back, but it’s been a long time since I performed those songs. At the time, they were just so… singable. I just remember really loving to sing and play both of those songs.
Susanna Hoffs, “Feel Like Making Love” (from Hoffs’ live set circa 1991)
AVC: Okay, you didn’t actually lay down a studio version of this, but I need an excuse to include the video.
SH: [Laughs.] Yes!
AVC: Talk about your lust songs…
SH: I know! That was such fun… And, oh, my God, it’s become such a popular YouTube clip. [Laughs.] Like you were saying, I was promoting When You’re A Boy, so I guess it was the summer of ’91. I was on tour opening for Don Henley all summer, and I had this great band backing me up, a great group of guys. And it was really like an awakening, having been on the road for so many years with girls, to be on the road with a bunch of guys. [Laughs.] They made us seem like nuns or something. They were wild. To put it mildly. But at any rate, they were very protective of me. I was, like, allowed in their boys club, and they were so much fun to be on the road with. And Don Henley was great. It was a long tour. It basically went all summer long, so it was a blast, and it was just like a giant family between our band and the Henley band. An amazing summer. But at any rate, I don’t remember what possessed us to practice that song at rehearsal, but we worked it up and it sounded so good that we thought, “Let’s add it into the set!” And Rusty Anderson, who’s been playing with Paul McCartney for years, I believe you can see his crazy solo in the clip. And I would just grab the tambourine, and the drummer, Rob Ladd, his groove was just so awesome on it. It became, like, the song we all looked forward to playing on the tour, and so many people who saw that tour who I met years later still remembered that we did that song. I said something in rehearsal like, “Oh, I still feel embarrassed a little bit playing this song,” and they said, “That’s really funny! Say it live!” So the clip has me saying it, some little intro about feeling embarrassed about hearing it in the car when I was with my mom, or something like that. So, uh, yeah, that’s become a popular YouTube clip. [Laughs.]
AVC: Yeah, I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think anyone is going to call you out for looking embarrassed during that performance. You pretty much owned the song.
SH: [Laughs.] Well, you know, the music was just so hypnotic. The groove and the band was so tight and so… I don’t know, it was just transformative. It was really taking you so into the music. It was really…it was one of the most incredible things, being on tour and being able to play that song every night and just get that groove going. It was just really, really fun.
Susanna Hoffs, “All I Want” (from 1996’s Susanna Hoffs)
SH: Somebody sent it to me. It’s Ian Broudie, I believe, who wrote it, and I just had made this little demo of it. Charlotte Caffey from The Go-Go’s, her brother Tom had a little studio, and I made this demo of it, and then I ended up using the vocals from the demo. It was just on a cheap microphone, but it had a really cool sound to it. So many great people played on that album. Jon Brion, for one. That was 1996, right? Okay, we really are going down memory lane here. [Laughs.]
AVC: Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse was on there, too, wasn’t he?
SH: That record was a bizarre thing where I made a record for Columbia with Matt Wallace producing, and Mark Linkous and I, he had written a bunch of songs and we had collaborated on the song “Enormous Wings.” But what ended up happening was that I ended up leaving Columbia, and that record ended up never coming out. But a lot of the material, like “Enormous Wings” and… I can’t remember if there were any other ones that I wrote with Mark on there. But we ended up recording another album when I signed with London Records, so he didn’t end up playing on those recordings. He was just on the original recordings, I think.
Ming Tea, “BBC” (from 1997’s Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery soundtrack)
SH: Oh, wow! Well, I met Mike Myers… Oh, what year was that? Oh, I know: It was 1992. And we bonded over music immediately. He knew all about the Rickenbackers I was playing, and he was a major music fan. And then I took Mike to see Matthew Sweet play at McCabe’s, a little club in L.A. And then shortly after that, we decided to do a little band project together, and Matthew and I were in the band along with a couple of other guys. And it was during this period that Mike was writing Austin Powers, and he kind of came up with the whole character. At one point, we did a gig at the Viper Room, and we all wore wigs and called ourselves Ming Tea, from a ’60s movie called The 10th Victim. It’s a very complicated plot line, kind of a futuristic alternate universe. Ah, I don’t even want to try and begin to explain what the reference was. [Laughs.] But it was something from the movie. And the band became this kind of fun thing for Mike, because he was able to, you know, work in a way on the Austin Powers character and figure out different aspects of the character through performing in the band. And then the band ended up being in the Austin Powers movies. It was a really fun collaboration. And we still to this day talk about trying to make a Ming Tea record and trying to do some shows, because it was so much fun. “BBC,” that song came out great. And “Daddy Wasn’t There,” that was another song that we did that came out great, too.
The Bangles, “Tear Off Your Own Head (It’s A Doll Revolution)” (from 2003’s Doll Revolution)
SH: I got a call from T-Bone Burnett, that had to have been around 2001 or somewhere around that time period, and he told me that he and Elvis Costello were working on a TV series idea. I can’t exactly remember what the idea was, except that this song was going to be the theme song for it, and they were looking for a girl singer to sing it, because Elvis had a recording of it with him singing, but in order to pitch this TV series idea, they just thought it would make more sense to have a girl singing it. So I was, like, thrilled and flattered and ecstatic. [Laughs.] And then when T-Bone told me the name of the song, I was so curious to hear the recording. I mean, I was in. I didn’t care what it sounded like. “I’ll sing anything. You guys call me anytime you want. I’ll come down to the studio and gladly lend a hand.” [Laughs.] So, yeah, I went and recorded that, and then… I don’t remember what ended up happening with their TV show, but I do know that I called Michael Steele at the time I was recording the vocal, and I said, “Come down to the studio and put some harmonies on here!” And then she really fell in love with the song.
When we were getting ready to record what would become Doll Revolution, I think she brought it up. She said, “This would be a good Bangles song!” So that’s what happened. And then before our record came out, Elvis ended up releasing his version of it. So that was really fun. And then just this May, I got an email from him, saying that he was performing at the Wilshire and doing the Spinning Wheel thing again, and could we come down and sing it? So that was a great reunion for us.
AVC: Like you said, Michael was on the Doll Revolution album, but she kind of departed the ranks of The Bangles after that. Was it kind of a nice last-hurrah for her in the line-up?
SH: That was a lot of fun making that record, ’cause that was the first time we ever did a record on Pro Tools in a house, as opposed to going to a proper studio. And we worked with Brad Wood, who was great, and everybody had a good time on that one. It just took us so long between Doll Revolution and Sweetheart Of The Sun, and it’s frustrating that it takes us so long. But I’ve been busy recording with Matthew Sweet, and I’ve just recorded a solo record over the summer with Mitchell Froom, who produced. It seems like now I’m getting back on track and getting more music recorded. But it’s still hard with The Bangles, with all of the various children that we have between us. The time that me and Debbi and Vicki can actually be in a room together is fairly limited.
Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, “Different Drum” (from 2006’s Under The Covers, Vol. 1)
SH: I love those Under The Covers records. Well, of course, I’ve known Matthew for all these years, dating back to the early ’90s. The thing that sort of brought us back together right before we came up with the idea of the covers records was that The Bangles did a show at McCabe’s for a charity organization, and we called it Bangles And Friends. So we called up Jules Shear, and he joined, and we called up Matthew, and he was available, too. So we had these really fun rehearsals, ’cause Matthew and Jules are friends, we all knew each other, and it was really a lot of fun just learning covers and going back to some really old Bangles material that we hadn’t played in a really long time, like “The Real World.” We did a lot of really obscure stuff. Anyway, after we did that show at McCabe’s, Matthew said to me, “I really want us to work together on something.” And his initial idea was that he just wanted to produce a solo album for me, to have me sing and play and maybe we’d write some songs together.
We got excited about that, but then Shout! Factory, the charity at McCabe’s was one of their charities, so all the guys from the label were at the show, and they said, “We’d love to talk to you guys about doing something together.” And somehow when we were sitting around brainstorming ideas, it came up about doing an album of ’60s covers. And we thought, “That sounds fun!” [Laughs.] I mean, what could be more fun than playing our favorite records from the ’60s? So it kind of took us by surprise, because we had been thinking about the solo record thing, but in the end, I’m really glad that we did switch gears, because it’s become this collection of records now. We’re now onto Volume 3. We’ve done the ’60s and the ’70s, and now the ’80s. So it’s really become this cult thing that has this really big fanbase for it. It’s surprising, but I just think that something about Matthew’s fans and the people who like Bangles records and the stuff that I do, it’s a very compatible group.
AVC: The Monkees’ Michael Nesmith liked your cover of “Different Drum.” Did you hear from anyone else who liked your versions of their songs?
SH: Well, Steve Howe played all of this fantastic guitar work—the solo, the acoustic part—on “I’ve Seen All Good People,” which was just so thrilling for Matthew and I. And Dhani Harrison played on “Beware Of Darkness.” We got really lucky. We had a lot of great support from fantastic musicians and we’ve heard from a few of the people whose songs we’ve covered. I’m forgetting who else now. But it’s been a really fun thing to work on. I love working with Matthew.
The Bangles, “Anna Lee (Sweetheart Of The Sun)” (from 2011’s Sweetheart Of The Sun)
AVC: The Bangles have certainly been road warriors for the past several years, but what was the inspiration to finally back into the studio and record a new album?
SH: Well, it was in the works for a long time, at least in our minds, anyway. We were very aware that we were long overdue, and… I guess it took over a year to do, but I’ve lost track of when we actually started it. We tracked everything up at Matthew Sweet’s house, and I know that was in 2010. I just don’t remember exactly when we started. I think part of the thing that complicates it for us is that we’re working moms, you know? We’re juggling all the time. And between the touring—which we do quite frequently, although fairly under the radar—and just sort of trying to hold down the fort at home, it’s just hard to find the time for all three of us to be in one room at the same time working on music. But I’m really glad we did, and I’m really looking forward to the tour, because it’s just such a treat to add some brand new music into the set. It’s fun.
AVC: You’ve obviously worked with Matthew plenty in the past, but what was it like to have him producing you in The Bangles?
SH: Well, like I said, I really love working with Matthew, and he really opened my eyes to a whole new way of doing things. He’s very spontaneous in the studio. He’s really a cheerleader. He doesn’t believe that you have to make things perfect. They just have to sound good. It’s not about worrying about little mistakes. In fact, a lot of those things turn out to be happy little accidents, like somebody plays something a way that they didn’t intend to play, but it turns into something more musical than the original idea. So I’ve learned to really embrace the spontaneity and learned to embrace departing from the written chords or harmonies that I thought I was going to do and just have fun. And I think the spirit of fun is the thing that really shines through and is more important than perfection. I really owe a lot of that to Matthew.
AVC: When you listen to the new material, how do you feel about it when compared to where The Bangles were when the band first got started? Can you even recognize yourselves as the same band?
SH: Definitely. I mean, it was very bizarre making this record. It was happening to Debbi and me all the time where we would look at each other and both say, “I’m hearing this on there.” Like, “I’m hearing some bongo drums,” or “I’m hearing an organ part coming in here.” It’s, like, we would literally be channeling the same imaginary musical parts and arrangement ideas, and it reminded me that in the very beginning of The Bangles. I think at that time, the beginning of the ’80s, one thing we shared in common that was unusual and kind of extraordinary was that we were very much in love with ’60s music and very determined to follow that musical path and not be afraid to sort of wear that influence on our sleeves. So I think that in doing this record, we consciously and even unconsciously channeled that early Bangles mindset, and it was really fun for us to kind of revisit that kind of energy in the studio. It felt very fresh. I think sometimes when you’ve been doing this for as long as we have—which is, like, 30 years this year—it’s important to have those moments, because they really remind you of what the connection is. And that connection between me and the Peterson sisters and that love of that music and how important it was to us growing up, it just kind of made it feel… right. And I was really grateful for that. I think people are kind of picking up on that with the record, too. We also wanted to make a record that we knew would be fun to play live, so we definitely had the idea, “Let’s make sure there’s some good up-tempo songs, and loads of harmonies, and our signature jangly guitar stuff.” Hopefully we achieved that.