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Oh, Susanna (Hoffs)!



    It’s hard for me to believe that Bangles singer/guitarist Susanna Hoffs is 52 years old. I mean, forget the fact that I had a massive adolescent crush on the dark-haired pop star during the entirety of my formative years, back when she was singing about walking like Egyptians and just how hazy some shades of winter can get, or starring in movies her mother directed like The Allnighter. I was certainly not unique. Every red-blooded male I knew carried a torch for the pixie-voiced singer with those infamous smoldering glances that probably sold just as many records as the undeniably catchy pop tunes that were on them. What blows my mind is that the Bangles are currently celebrating their 30th(!) year together and Hoffs looks exactly the same. Alongside her original partners in crime, the Peterson sisters – singer/guitarist Vicki and drummer Debbi -- the trio is marking the auspicious milestone with a new album, Sweetheart of the Sun, and a new tour, which makes a stop at the House of Blues on Thursday night. Maybe it’s those collaborations with Matthew Sweet or her time in the Austin Powers band, Ming Tea, that have helped preserve Hoffs so well. Who knows? But the diminutive bombshell seems to be having just as much fun as she ever has. I recently caught up with her while she was at her home in Los Angeles on a break from her current tour.

    Scott McDonald: How are you doing?
    Susanna Hoffs: I’m good. Glad to be home. We had a really intense run of shows in October and have also been doing some TV stuff. It’s been nice to have a few days at home to see my kids and family. Then we’re right back out on the road.
    SM: How are the shows going?
    SH: Really well. It’s been surprising in all the right ways. The new album has been so well received, and we just did it as our “little” project. And we honestly didn’t think very many people would take notice of it. We were hoping people would like it, of course, but have been floored by the goodwill, enthusiasm and appreciation. The shows are so much fun for us now with some of these new songs thrown in. It’s just really re-energized the band.
    SM: It’s you, Vicki and Debbie?
    SH: Yes. It’s the original three who met in 1981 and started in the garage at my parent’s house.
    SM: It’s crazy to think that’s 30 years ago now.
    SH: Yeah, it’s a bit daunting. But at the same time, and this probably sounds corny, but the music really does keep us young at heart. I just lose track of it. I’m around all kinds of young musicians all the time and kind of forget. Then I’m like, "Oh, yeah, I guess I have been doing this for awhile. How did this happen again?" It just happens. And then you reflect and start thinking about how long ago 1981 really is. But we’re so grateful that we’re able to keep going.
    SM: Probably hard to imagine when you’re first starting.
    SH: When you’re in your 20s, you don’t even think about being 50. I think we were all far more worried about 30. I’ve actually been going through my storeroom of Bangles stuff, just to see what’s in there, what little treasures I can find -- demos, photos and things -- and going through it, I found the copy of Rolling Stone when we were on the cover. We were interviewed in 1986, and we were discussing what would happen to the Bangles when we got to our 30s, and we were joking about having a Bangle baby and whether we would conceive on the same night. The interviewer asked what year that was going to be, and I threw out "1995." And I actually had a baby in 1995. So it was weird that it happened that way. We were projecting, but not past our 30s. And we essentially worked our entire 20s and took our hiatus around 1990, because we all did want to have regular families.
    SM: Well, it seems like it went according to plan.
    SH: I just wasn’t sure that I’d be able to have a family and be able to do the Bangles the way that I was used to doing the Bangles. We had to come back together as grown women and figure out how to do it again and take care of our families at the same time. Can we be working moms? Is there a formula for it? It’s complicated, just as it is for any working parent. It’s just one day at a time like anything else. And I did a whole lot of solo stuff in there as well. Luckily, we’ve been able to make it work.
    SM: And it sounds like you were having fun on this new record.
    SH: We were. We started the project up at Matthew Sweet’s house -- I had been working with him even before we started the "Under the Covers" series in 2006 -- and I thought he would be a good cheerleader for this. Our recording process was much more formal in the past. It had a different feeling, and Matthew is so free-spirited that I knew his spontaneity and easygoing nature would help with the insane schedule we have between the three of us. And he was really cool with that. We also did some of it at our own studios. And Vicki, Debbi and I followed our instincts and found through that, we tend to think of the exact same thing at the same time. It was very bizarre. We have a language, a shorthand, of references and ideas, coming from the fact that we have been so influenced by the same sounds growing up. We were happy to wear our influences on our sleeves and have a retro-sounding record. We were OK with that. We embraced it.
    SM: Did, or do, you see yourselves as an all-girl band, or just a band?
    SH: We definitely had to pay a lot of dues coming out of the L.A. scene because of it. We definitely had to prove ourselves. For whatever reason, and I don’t know why that is, there aren’t a lot of all-girl bands. There were so many female role models who inspired us that we never even thought twice about the fact that we were all women. We were put to the test, but we wanted people to take us seriously. We were young, we were ambitious, and we never really took no for an answer. We just powered on.
    SM: I’m sorry, but I have to ask you one kitschy question before you have to go. Is that OK?
    SH: Of course.
    SM: Did you really record "Eternal Flame" in the buff?
    SH: [laughs] I did. That’s funny. But I did. And it was all done in a good way -- they couldn’t see me or anything. There was a wall set up. But it was the record producer that tricked me into it. That’s actually an entire interview in itself. We’ll have to talk about that story next time. 
    Blogger Scott McDonald covers music in San Diego for a few different publications and is the editor of Eight24.com.