When we discovered that Bangles singer Susanna Hoffs (“Manic Monday,” “Walk Like an Egyptian”) and alt-rock vocalist Matthew Sweet were banding together for now the second of two covers albums we weren't too surprised.
Longtime friends and collaborators, Hoffs and Sweet have guested on each other's albums and shows for years, and you might even remember their work with Mike Myers as part of Austin Powers’ on-screen band Ming Tea in "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and "Austin Powers in Goldmember."
Taking the name Sid 'n Susie (Sweet's first name is Sidney), they've already released '60s covers album "Under the Covers Vol. 1" (2006) and now return with an homage to the 70's with "Under the Covers Vol. 2," where they reimagine 16 power-pop, glam, classic rock and prog-rock tracks from a sultry rendition of Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," to Hoff's gender-switching leads on Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” Tom Petty's "Here Comes My Girl" and the Raspberries "Go All the Way."
Their beautiful music-making has already garnered much notice in the entertainment world, mostly by good word of mouth. After playing some tracks recently on his Sirius Satellite radio show, Howard Stern gave the record more than just a vote of approval -- he almost raved.
I recently chatted with Hoffs (who by the way looks amazing at age 50) about the covers albums, her dream duet with Out artist Michael Stipe, and "some of the craziest nights of [her] life" with Belinda Carlisle.
You've just released your second covers album with Matthew Sweet, "Under the Covers, Vol. 2," and I have to admit that I didn't know anything about this until last week when Howard Stern talked about the album and played some clips on his show. Since this is "Vol. 2," I take it that these records are selling?
It's an indie-type project, so they sell enough to continue doing this. I mean, thank God we don’t have big bucks behind this and all that kind of pressure. People are learning about this by word of mouth, and the fact that Howard Stern played the songs on his show last week – unsolicited – it was just so great that he did that. It's exactly the kind of thing that's really helping and getting the word out.
There are two factors in this project that spark curiosity. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs recording an album together of 70's songs is surprising enough. But then to see what and who you chose to cover? You've got the Raspberries, Grateful Dead, Television – God, you guys even do "I've Seen All Good People" by Yes, of all things.
I know! Deciding to do the Yes song was a total revelation. Matthew was like, "Oh we should do a Yes song!" and he didn’t even know that I was a big Yes fan. Progressive rock from the 70's is sort of a forgotten thing these days, and some of those Yes songs were just so amazingly melodic. He wanted to do "Starship Trooper," but I said "I've Seen All Good People" because I was obsessed with that song back in the day.
So how do you choose, and also -- are there any songs where you'd say, "absolutely not" because the song is too iconic? For instance, would you ever attempt to cover a Chrissie Hynde song?
Well first of all, that's interesting about recording a Chrissie Hynde song I hadn't thought about that. Hmmm.
But to answer your question, I'm going to say 'yes,' I would. I think Matthew and I have a sort of weird, haphazard way about how we cover these songs. For better or for worse, we're sort of in our own bubble of, 'Oh, I love that song!' and a lot of it is the challenge of just diving in and not knowing what's going to happen. I mean, we try to not destroy the song and to honor the spirit of the song and it's sort of fan appreciation for us and we do it with an open heart and an open mind. We do a lot of songs that don’t make it on the record, so if there's an iconic song or something where we weren't able to capture the spirit of the original, we just keep it on the back burner.
I chose 'Different Drum,' and taking on the Linda Ronstadt stuff was so much fun for me, but I was also so scared to do it because I respect her so much. And oddly enough, out of all the songs I had to try to 'attempt' to sing on this record, the Linda stuff came so easily and quickly to me. I guess it's because I really grew with her and also, I'm self-taught – I don't read music or anything like that. So growing up, how I taught myself music was just by singing along to records and copying along. I remember singing along to Linda all the time. So when it came time to record the Linda songs on this record, I sort of sang them in just two or three takes and thought, 'Wow, I guess I really do know those songs!'
Were there other songs by Linda Ronstadt you considered?
Well, to be honest, I would do a whole record of Linda Ronstadt songs! [Laughs]. If someone allowed me to do it, or if I had the chutzpah, to do it, I would. And maybe I should. I just loved her so much growing up. I just….I revered her. I actually met Linda a couple of times back in the 80's and she's so nice. She's just…I don't think it's possible for me to give her enough praise.
I completely agree with you and I find it baffling that she's not more celebrated now in 2009. Her body of work is amazing -- I hope she starts getting the kind of acknowledgment she deserves.
I'm with you on that and I don’t get it either. But I have to tell you that I've been hearing things and reading stuff from more and more people about her, which is great. Like, I know my niece told me about a local singer in Nashville who's totally obsessed with Linda Ronstadt, and also, I know Sheryl Crow just came out and said Linda was one her biggest influences.
I think it's one of those cyclical things where sometimes – and I don’t know why – but for some people it takes time for a slightly different generation to sort of remember how great someone is and was. She continues to sing beautifully and make great records but, I mean, I think she will gain more and more respect, and I think it's going to happen soon.
You and Matthew sound extremely good together – who knew it would be such a successful pairing of voices? But I'm curious – if God forbid something happened and Matthew was in the hospital or something and couldn’t record and you were contractually obligated to do another record, which other male artist would you choose?
Oh man, that's tough! You know what? I think Neil Finn from Crowded House has a really great voice, but you know what? God, there's just so many great artists. Maybe Michael Stipe. What do you think about me and Michael?
He'd be good, but the thing that works so well with you and Matthew is that, although your voices are both so distinctive separately, they meld perfectly together. Singing with Michael, his voice may overshadow yours.
Good point. Oh – there's also Jackson Browne. Let me go with Jackson Browne because I'm in a heavy phase of him right now. I'm listening to "For Everyman," and the one we used to call, "Saturate Before Using," and "Late for the Sky." Those are three of his that I recently bought that have just... they so bring me back to an earlier time.
I'm into this thing where now I am going back and listening to records I obsessively listened to at other phases of my life and, I swear to God, it's almost like I've been transported back to those parts of my life, and I'm in a completely different world than the world I'm actually in. It's such and odd feeling.
I know exactly what you mean, and you can learn things about yourself when you get into that state. Like if you were listening to a Jackson Browne song that you loved at 15, you can hear it at 50 and think, 'Oh, so that's why that song resonated with me so much as a teen.'
Absolutely! And you find that there all these things, like sexual references and little double-entendres that I just had no idea as I was listening as a kid what they meant. Like I just got 'Court and Spark' again, and I was listening to 'People's Parties,' and I mean, check out that song. Check out all the songs on that record! There's so much going on sexually and the lyrics – I just had no idea what it was about until now.
"People's Parties" would be a good one for you to do. You cover 60's songs in Vol. 1 and 70's songs in Vol. 2. So I have to know – are you going to do a third volume with 80's covers, and if so, which ones?
We're really building a niche audience with these, so we hope that Shout Factory does allow us to continue with this. Regarding which ones we'd want to do, we try to sort of keep the songs we're thinking of doing secret. But one song that always pops into my mind when I think of the 80's is "All Through the Night." It was written by Jules Shears and recorded by Cyndi Lauper. It wasn't really a big hit, but I loved that song.
I always liked "Some Day, Some Way" by Marshall Crenshaw, and maybe we'd do an REM song – like "Radio Free Europe" or something like that.
The idea of you – a former Bangle – going back and doing 80's covers is funny.
I know, but you know what's weird about that? When I was with the Bangles, we didn’t really identify ourselves with the 80's at all, mainly because we were all so 60's-obsessed, and our songs were, too. We were sort of outside all of the techno-y, dance stuff that was popular back then. But now in 2009, the Bangles are so identified with the 80's because of "Walk Like an Egyptian" and stuff.
Speaking of the 80's, your husband (director Jay Roach) directed all of the "Austin Powers" films and my friends and I used to always say how great it would be if they did another one where Austin goes back to the 80's. Could that be coming up on the horizon?
[Laughs]. I'm not privvy to any of that stuff, so I wouldn't know. But like to always say 'never say never.'
'Walk Like an Egyptian' was a huge hit for the Bangles and really put you in the spotlight. Still, was there ever a time where you were like, 'Why did we open this Pandora's Box?'
We love the song and appreciate what it did for the band, but there definitely was a period where we worried that we would only be seen as the band that did that 'wacky song.' At the time we recorded it, we knew it was different than our normal repertoire of our 60's-influenced songs, and we knew it was also a quirky lyric and everything. We definitely wanted to downplay the dance because people would come up and say, [makes guys voice] 'Hey! Walk like an Egyptian for me!,' and we'd get embarrassed and stuff.
But it's become sort of iconic and a celebration of a lot of the good things about the 80's – the escapist and sort of joyful lightheartedness of a lot of the music of the time, you know? It wasn't that meaningful, but it was fun! And you know what? There is a place for fun in everyone's life!
I have a silly question about the video, but you know when it's your part and you do the thing with your eyes going left to right like that?
Do you know that when most people sing along to the song, they do that with their eyes just becuase of the video? And did you do that on purpose or was it an accident?
[Laughing] They do? That's so funny! Well here's what happened with that eye thing. We filmed that in front of a live audience and the cameras were really far away from us. And I didn’t realize it, but the camerawoman had a really tight close up on me because she was so far way, right? And one of the things I used to do to sort of deal with stage fright is I would pick three people in the audience – one person on my left, one person on my right and one person in the middle – and I'd kind of sing to them all night. [Laughing]
[Laughs]. Really? I can see how some people would love that or even be freaked out by it. Or give them, like, false hopes for the rest of their concert-going lives.
Yes! And sometimes, these poor people would be embarrassed and start looking away, or sometimes they'd get really into it, you know? But anyway, that night I kind of looked at my person on my left and my person on the right, and because the camera had such a tight shot on my face, it caught that and it became sort of a 'thing.'
Sometimes, I still do that with the audience, where I'll find somebody to sing to. There's just something to specific people that makes it more... it just gives you that connection.
They're making a biopic about the Runaways right now, but what about the Bangles? Is there enough juicy stuff there for a Bangles movie? I mean, the rumors about the GoGo's biopic have been circulating for years.
The problem with the Bangles is that we had a lot of juicy stuff but nobody knows about it because we were very discreet. But the GoGo's were less discreet [laughs].
The funny thing was the Bangles had less of a good girl image on the outside, and the GoGo's had this Little Miss Sunshine, sweet American pie image. But they were just crazy! I mean, they were just wild, wild chicks, and they'll tell you that themselves. [laughing]. And the Bangles had this other image of kind of being a garage rock band a little bit less you know, 'shiny with a bow in our hair.'
I know Belinda and she's great and I can tell you I've had some of the craziest nights of my life with her, oh my God! She's completely fantastic.
I read that you stopped singing the line 'Come on honey, let's go make some noise,' during 'Manic Monday' at live shows, because you think it's a corny line and something you'd never say. I think Debbie sings that line for you. What I'd like to do is ask our readers here to submit an alternate line right at the bottom of this piece.
Oh that would be really interesting! And you know, I keep wanting someone to translate it into French or something so that I could sing it in French. I want it to just… feel like some sort of seduction line, so it can be anything.
[Editor's note: If you've got a suggestion for an alternate "Manic Monday" line, post it on the comments section below. Who knows? Maybe they'll use it. In the meantime, definitely watch the videos below.]
By Jenny Stewart
Originally Published 2009, PlanetOut.com, Gay.com
Watch now: Walk Like an Egyptian
Watch now: Different Drum
Watch now: Cinnamon Girl