In Conversation With Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs

MSSH.jpgBoth Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (of all-girl band The Bangles) have each found the sweet taste of critical success in their respective music careers over the past two decades. The duo has paired up for two volumes of music where they revisit some of their most favourite songs from decades past. 

The most recent volume of these songs, Under The Covers Volume 2, sees the pop pair covering songs from the 1970s. And a diverse set of artists they cover: The Raspberries, The Grateful Dead, Tom Petty, George Harrison and Yes are among the 15 bands and musicians covered on the 16 tracks on the record. (The duo covers two tracks from musician and producer Todd Rundgren).

Sweet tells me that he and Hoffs first met when Sweet was playing an acoustic show at a music store in Santa Monica, California. The pedal steel player who was sitting in with him for the show was working on a record of Hoffs and Sweet had suggested that she stop by to lend her vocals to some of the songs.

The two quickly hit it off from there, discovering a mutual love of music rooted in the 60s and beyond. According to Sweet, the song selection over the two Under The Covers records has been driven by a love of those specific bands and songs rather than trying to capture the ‘essential’ songs from the 1960s and 1970s.

“The song selection process between us has been very haphazard,” Sweet admits down the line from his home in California. “We didn’t go into these records with a master list of songs we each wanted to cover. In 90 per cent of cases, it was the songs that we both got excited about which would make the cut.

“The 70s record (Volume 2) is very different from the 60s record in that it touched a lot more chords in us because of the memories centered on those songs.”

Hoffs certainly has no lack of memories associated with many of these tracks and is delighted to share her memories with [here] Magazine:

“The Todd Rundgren songs and his album Something Anything I totally associate with being 17 years old,” Hoffs explains. “I graduated high school in 1976 and that record was my whole summer that year, through the time of transition from high school to college.

“Yes was a band that my older brother got me into. I loved Jon Anderson’s voice and Steve Howe’s guitar playing. I remember my brother bringing home a book or program from one of their concerts and I was just completely taken with them,” she says.

Those purchasing Under The Covers Volume 2 via online retailers such as iTunes have the option of purchasing a deluxe version of the record where listeners are treated to an extra 10 tracks from the duo.

This collection of extra songs that primarily focuses on slightly different sides of the 70s: Covers included among the bonus set are songs by Television, The Ramones and Queen. Sweet and Hoffs both felt strongly about the bonus tracks but didn’t feel they necessarily fit well among the rest of the collection, hence the relegation to bonus or deluxe edition status.

“The Ramones were one of the reasons fixed in my mind of why I wanted to be in a band,” Hoffs says. “They were the ultimate band to serve as a transition from these giant stadium acts like the Stones and Led Zeppelin into something more real and artistic.”

Even with the economy in tatters, Sweet and Hoffs are taking their songs to the road this coming fall. Hoffs noted that the duo will be playing acoustic shows in venues like coffee houses to create a more intimate feeling and closer relationship with their audience.

“In July, we played our first show together at the Grammy Museum and it was in this acoustic format. The songs are very stripped down and we found that it made the songs all about the emotion and the melodies,” says Hoffs. “Even in The Bangles, we have never pursued the acoustic side of things. I find it exciting because there’s no place to hide. I found it a little bit scary but it is a lot of fun.”

At the end of the day, do a couple of seasoned vets like Sweet and Hoffs concern themselves with how their versions of these songs are received by the original artists?

“You’re always worried about how the artists will like your version of their song,” Hoffs laughs.

“But having the opportunity to have Lindsay Buckingham play on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Second Hand News’ and Dhani Harrison come in and bring his positive energy to George Harrison’s ‘Beware of Darkness’ was awesome. Having these guys in my studio was mind-blowing and a little surreal.”

Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs’ latest collaboration Under The Covers Volume 2 is in stores and available online now. I highly recommend checking both collections out for those needing a pop-filled dose of nostalgia added to their day.

Link to original