Susanna Hoffs: Under The Covers


Completely Under The Covers 6LP vinyl box / Susanna Hoffs and Matthew SweetSusanna Hoffs talks to SDE about the three Under The Covers albums she has recorded with Matthew Sweet which have now been compiled into Completely Under The Covers, a brand new 6LP or 4CD box set

SuperDeluxeEdition: I am right in saying that, your partnership with Matthew all the way back to the Ming Tea era and Austin Powers and the like?

Susanna Hoffs: Yeah, definitely. And even before that… I think I met Matthew around 1990-ish. I’m trying to remember, I did this track for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and it was produced by Fred Maher.  So I was working with Fred and I think I met Matthew around that time. I recorded that thing … the soundtrack thing in New York where Matthew was living and then [later] I introduced Mike Myers to Matthew. I was singing with Matthew at a club in Santa Monica, a little room behind a guitar store called McCabe’s and I brought Mike to see the show and then the Ming Tea thing happened.

Then The Bangles were, again at McCabe’s guitar shop doing a little show for charity to raise money for music programmes in schools in the local LA area and I invited Matthew to join us as a special guest for the concert and Matthew and I got talking. Initially he was just keen to kind of just produce a solo record of mine and to collaborate writing… but somehow it spinned to this idea of doing covers and that really came from Shout! Factory, the record company, and they had been the ones who were involved with the charity, so it was all, it was all sort of swirling around until we got to work on it and the first one came out in 2006, but we recorded it in 2005.

SDE: I was going to ask you about the record company because I was wondering whether the album was something you might have just gone off and done on your own for a bit of fun and then afterwards decided to talk to a few labels and see what happens.

SH: Well, I mean Matthew definitely wanted to collaborate with me in some way and I felt the same. You know, I was very, very excited at the thought of that, of doing a project with him… but it just so happened that I had been talking to Shout! Factory I think about just doing something for their label and we had a meeting and then that’s when they pitched the idea. It all sort of fell into place, honestly, it was the show, the charity show and somebody at the record company said something and we sort of had a meeting. Matthew had said to me, you know, “I want to work with you” and I was really excited and it just sort of fell into place really, really seamlessly or whatever the expression is, just very easily.

SDE: Were you were deliberately shying away from doing another solo record at that point because you wanted something that was going to be a little bit more fun to do that would perhaps fit around family life and generally not be too stressful in terms of having to create ‘hit’ songs?

SH: Well, the thing that occurred to both Matthew and me at the time when the Shout! Factory people had pitched this idea of covers, we though well, you know, it does speed the process along because there’s so many amazing songs to record and we can pick and choose our favourite ones. Initially it was going to be all sixties songs which, you know, I have a passion for the music of that time period, as does Matthew, but … it never even occurred to us, it would be a ‘volume 1’ on that record. We just thought it was a one-off thing.

SDE: So you didn’t have a big ten year game plan…

SH: No, I would never have envisioned that we’d be here now with this box set and the whole thing. But, having said that, you mentioned something in your question made me think, you know, I definitely … well, it was appealing to me, the idea of working with Matthew whose process is very different from what I had known in The Bangles and also on my solo, my previous solo records because Matthew’s process is unique to him and he’s just kind of …it’s very spontaneous. He’s kind of a wizard in the studio, kind of a mad wizard,  mixing potions and … I don’t know, it’s just, it’s very different from what I’m used to, which is more regimented and defined and it really was like two kids just hanging out after school, with guitars and messing around. Now, there was a lot of work to do to learn all the songs and record them and do them, but it just felt like we were just playing around. There is just an atmosphere that he has in his house … he’s since moved from that house because it was just wall to wall Keane paintings and art and sculptures and pottery and you really feel like you’re in an artist’s studio and so there’s a chaos to it, but it was sort of what the doctor ordered for me, because there’s was a bit of a learning curve to get used to the looseness of it, but I really feel that the records reflect that and … and looking back, I think, you know, it was a really … really the perfect time for me to switch gears.

SDE: One thing that’s quite interesting about the records is that with cover versions some people try to go out of their way to make their interpretation very different – a different arrangement – but it seems you were enjoying trying to recreate, capture the sound of the original records.

SH: Yeah, I mean, we had to learn them and sort of get under the hood and look at the mechanics of them because when you’re a kid and you’re just in love with a song you don’t … you don’t think about those little things, it’s not until you have to, kind of, recreate it or attempt to learn it or play it, sing it whatever, that you suddenly go, oh what … what are they doing, what are they playing, what are those notes. When I listen to music I kind of just absorb it, I absorb the sensation of it rather than analysing it and I’m not a trained musician so I don’t really read music or anything, but I sort of just feel the music and so there was definitely a bit of work to do for me, you know, for example, doing the Yes song [All Good People]. Now, luckily Steve Howe played on it [laughs] which made that part a whole lot easier, but for me to just to learn what Jon Anderson was doing when he sang it…. There was a bit of study going on, I would drive around LA, where you kind of drive a lot in a town like LA and all spread out and just singing along to the different songs that I had to do and there were so many unexpected ones, like we would make these lists and there would be songs like Maggie May on it and then all of a sudden Matthew would say, “no, you’re singing that” and so I had to cram and learn it overnight – it was really … it was really fun. What can I say, it was a lot of fun.

SDE: Did you have any kind of rules and self-imposed regulations how you’d approach it or who’d do what?

SH: It was extremely loose. I mean, you know, and that was, as I said before a very new thing for me. Sometimes, like on Different Drum, it didn’t even have a guitar on it, all I had was drums and bass I think. You know, getting the pitch off just a bass is really … it was very bare bones.

SDE: So, the songs where you’re singing them, are they in the main what you came up with on your list and vice versa?

SH: Not necessarily. Because like, you know, as I mentioned before with the Maggie May thing, and Bell Bottom Blues was an idea of Matthew’s and I was sure he was going to sing it and then I sang it. And I’d have to look at the list of all the songs to tell you, but bizarrely we both came up with She May Call You Up Tonight, an obscure The Left Banke song and for The Beatles, we both thought of And Your Bird Can Sing…

SDE: That’s a great song…

SH: I think that when that happened to us we kind of like, whoa, we on some kind of cosmic plane here because what’s happening? Why are we thinking of the not very obvious choices, but at the same time very obviously right for what we wanted to do. I think those two songs, kind of informed the feel of what the first volume was.

SDE: And did the record company ever chip in and say, well hang on a second, you’ve got to have some really big, well known ones and not just….

SH: Well, at one point we did a version of The Beat Goes On, Sonny and Cher, which was their idea. Unfortunately, we aren’t sold on the outcome of the recording and I don’t know why, although we are thinking of doing a Volume 4, going back in and looking at all the tracks that for whatever reason didn’t make the final cut. We had intended on making a gatefold, type of double seventies album for Volume 2 and so we recorded 40 songs for Volume 2, but we ended up just putting out a single album because it just was a cost thing, I’m pretty sure of it. It wasn’t quite feasible to put out a double …

SDE: So you’ve more or less got a whole Volume 4 sitting on the shelf then?

SH: Yeah, basically. It’s not finished, but there’s some of my favourite ones that hopefully will see the light of day.

SDE: Were there many tracks where it just kind of didn’t work, for whatever reason?

SH: Sure. Yeah, I mean, there were so many recordings that were made because it was done in a sort of swirl of passion and excitement, honestly. It was … it was so much fun to just have this reason to record a bunch of our favourite songs that sometimes partway through the making of the records we would just suddenly think of all these other songs and start recording more, you know. And because Matthew is so set up to do his art whether he was making pottery or whatever else he was doing, and he just had this control board at his fingertips and he could just stay up all night long and throw down some tracks. It was a very fluid process. So it wasn’t like, “today we’re recording this song”… I mean, we did have a checklist, but compared to other records that I’ve made that have a schedule and an outline … this one was all kind of done in bursts of inspiration.

SDE: You mentioned that Steve Howe.  I believe Lindsey Buckingham played on Second Hand News?

SH: Yep.

SDE: So how was that then? Having the writer of the track in the room with you?

SH: Thrilling. Terrifying, but then not,  because I know Lindsey through our kids and socially and we live quite near each other and he couldn’t have been more easy going, more game. He just walked in and he didn’t care. Which guitars? Didn’t matter, just plug him in and off he went and it was just brilliant. And Lindsey, you know, it’s just really kind of mind blowing. With Steve Howe, Matthew sent him digital, I don’t know, somehow got the material sent over to England and he recorded it there and sent it back, so that was unbelievable as well. I mean, so yeah, so we got some really nice special guests on the record.

SDE: But who else played on the records?

SH: Dhani Harrison came in and played one of his dad’s guitars on Beware of Darkness and then we had people like Greg Leisz playing all over all of them, who’s really a brilliant guitarist and pedal steel player.

SDE: I mean, I kind of assumed that, you know, you and Matthew still did the bulk of it.
SH: Oh yeah. I mean, the thing that Matthew says about the records is that we were just kind of – and I agree with this – we were really focused on capturing the spirit of the records and the emotion of the records rather than note for note accuracy. And Matthew’s idea was that just the fact he and I were going to sing together and the sound of our voices would be the thing that would make them different and be the kind of the touch that sets them apart and gives them their own life. So that took care of itself in a way, it didn’t have to be really analysed. It just was going to sound different and as long as we could get across the spirit and emotion then we would be OK. And so hopefully we accomplished that.

SDE: Were you two living near each other, I mean, were you wandering backwards and forwards to each other’s houses, or was there a bit of sending stuff by computer?
SH: Well, that happened more on the last record, Volume 3, but the first two I would always go to Matthew’s house. Well, on the first one I exclusively recorded at Matthew’s house. By the time we did the second one, Matthew helped me build kind of a sister studio with a mirror of the same equipment that he has so that we could work in separate studios, because we both live in Los Angeles, but it was a bit of a commute to get to his studio depending on traffic and that kind of thing. So, many of the vocals and harmony parts I did on the second record were done at my house, although I would say maybe half and half. And then by the time we got to the third one I did a lot at home and he would Skype me stuff actually, on Skype you can send these giant files, so we did it almost all via Skype, the third record.

SDE: And is that easy for you to work in that way?  I mean, are you comfortable recording digitally?

SH: I’m OK with it. I mean, I have to have someone engineering for me whereas with Matthew he does it all himself, but it’s just too difficult for me to do. Stand there singing and then run back and, you know… I’m not very … I mean I can manage on computers, but it’s not my first language, so… but what was really fun about the third one was that I was able to just go crazy and just do, just a million different harmony ideas, for example, and send them to Matthew and he said it was like opening up a mystery present when he would get the tracks, because he’d be like, “what, there’s 25 tracks of vocals on here” and then he wouldn’t have any clue what I was up to and I just felt very free, because Matthew is free in the way that he works, you know, he could pick and choose, get rid of stuff, use what he wanted and most of the time he used everything. He just would go for it which is really, I don’t know, it was a bit unexpected, but it was kind of fun that it worked out that way.

SDE: How was it doing the eighties on the third one, because obviously the sixties and the seventies, you know, you’re looking back to a previous era where, you were working as a professional musician in the eighties, so did that lend a different feel to that material?

SH: Well, I think it surprised me because when The Bangles thing was going on in the eighties, we always felt strangely apart from some aspect of what was happening, I don’t know why that was. Well, maybe I do. I think it’s because The Bangles were dragging the sixties with us, kicking and screaming, into the decade of the eighties. We, you know, we were very consciously wearing our love of the sixties on our musical sleeves, you know, I mean we just were, and so revisiting the eighties, the way that we did on the third volume, interestingly I had a chance to really fall in love with the era in a kind of new way. I have to say. And I found myself really listening to a lot of eighties music recently. Partly satellite radio and having kids, you know, who are teenagers and young adults. It’s really interesting to me how much I’ve grown to really respect that decade for music.

SDE: I’ve got a 12-year old daughter and I try to get her to listen to eighties stuff, but she’s not interested at the moment. I don’t know why, she just wants to listen to Taylor Swift and stuff like that.

SH: Right, right. I know, but maybe she’ll come round to it. It’s pretty popular here in America with young people. It’s an interesting time because I’m just amazed that kids know so much of all… I mean, like my sons, I have two sons and their friends know music from the fifties through … you know, they know it all. My 16-year old is obsessed with music of the seventies and I think it’s that everything is so accessible now. I mean, when I was growing up, if you wanted to know about The Beatles you’d got to a record store, you had to get to the record store first of all on a bus, then you’d have to go and spend three hours searching, then you’d have to figure out which thing you could afford to buy, then you’d have to listen to it … I mean, there just wasn’t … of course, there was the radio, but it just dealt with very limited to what was played on the radio, so it’s completely acceptable for kids now on the internet, so it’s a different time.

SDE: You mentioned a little bit about Volume 4, so does that mean you don’t have an appetite to get into the nineties then?

SH: Oh no, it’s not that. I mean, Volume 4… it may not be viewed as a Volume 4. What I’m thinking of is just trying to finish up some of this other raw material that … it’s not so raw, in some cases they’re almost completed tracks that just need to be mixed. There’s just some hidden gems that would be nice to put out, because there’s quite a loyal fan base for the Under The Covers series now and with the box set, you know, hopefully that will grow and it just seems like the right thing to do. I mean, I often think, oh this one and that one, you know, it’s a shame they didn’t end up on any of the albums, so … but no, I would keep going. If Matthew’s game, so am I.

SDE: We’re talking about the box set…The vinyl edition in particular looks very snazzy because it’s coloured vinyl. Do you still enjoy buying physical music, or do you tend to download and stream things these days?

SH: I tend to download and stream now. Just for sheer ease and convenience, and also when you’ve gone through all the [format] changes… I have boxes of DAT tapes! There’s just no place to store albums… I’ve given most of my CDs away to people who want them. I’m running out of room, so I have to say there’s something so easy about streaming, although I really, really envy people who have listening rooms in their houses with turntables and really good hi-fis and they can just sit and enjoy music that way and I aspire to have a set up like that. I just haven’t got it together to do that, but I would like to. But there’s something so great about listening to vinyl, you know, it’s a different animal altogether, so I really … I’m excited that this thing is coming out on vinyl.

SDE: What are you going to be working on in the next? Can we expect another solo album, or The Bangles going to get back together and do any recording?

SH: Oh, The Bangles are together, we just tend to play little, spotty little tours, not really long ones and just around town, you know, we do local shows every year and go to the East Coast for 10 days and then come back. We really were hoping to come over to the UK this fall, like now, but it didn’t quite come together. We’re kind of now looking to do more fleshed out touring, every once in a while instead of just little, what we call weekend warrior touring. So what we’re looking to do is a proper tour in June or July  of next year and it might include the UK or it might be in the US, it’s still unclear, people are looking into the different possibilities, our agents are looking to see … because I think it will have a little more impact and maybe people will realise The Bangles are still a functional band, it’s just because we tour this other way that it doesn’t come across that way. I’m also working on solo stuff, I’m writing a book, I’m doing all sorts of stuff.

Thanks to Susanna Hoffs who was talking to Paul Sinclair for SuperDeluxeEdition.

The Completely Under The Covers 4CD and 6LP box sets are out on 23 October 2015. Read more about these sets here, or watch an SDEtv unboxing video of the vinyl set here.


6LP Coloured vinyl box

4CD box



4CD box

Disc: 1
1. I See The Rain
2. And Your Bird Can Sing
3. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
4. Who Knows Where The Time Goes?
5. Cinnamon Girl
6. Alone Again Or
7. The Warmth Of The Sun
8. Different Drum
9. The Kids Are Alright
10. Sunday Morning
11. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
12. Care Of Cell 44
13. Monday, Monday
14. She May Call You Up Tonight
15. Run To Me
16. Village Green Preservation Society
17. I Can See For Miles

Disc: 2
1. Sugar Magnolia
2. Go All The Way
3. Second Hand News
4. Bell Bottom Blues
5. All The Young Dudes
6. You’re So Vain
7. Here Comes My Girl
8. I’ve Seen All Good People: Your Move/All Good People
9. Hello It’s Me
10. Willin’
11. Back Of A Car
12. Couldn’t I Just Tell You
13. Gimme Some Truth
14. Maggie May
15. Everything I Own
16. Beware Of Darkness

Disc: 3
1. Dreaming
2. Marquee Moon
3. I Wanna Be Sedated
4. Baby Blue
5. You Say You Don’t Love Me
6. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
7. You Can Close Your Eyes
8. Melissa
9. Killer Queen
10. A Song For You

Disc: 4
1. Sitting Still
2. Girls Talk
3. Big Brown Eyes
4. Kid
5. Free Fallin’
6. Save It For Later
7. They Don’t Know
8. The Bulrushes
9. Our Lips Are Sealed
10. How Soon Is Now
11. More Than This
12. Towers Of London
13. Killing Moon
14. Trouble
15. Train In Vain
16. You’re My Favorite Waste of Time
17. I Would Die 4 U

S&H 3D

6LP Vinyl box

LP 1/2

VOLUME 1, 1960s

Side A

  • 1. I See The Rain [Marmalade] 3:45
  • 2. And Your Bird Can Sing [The Beatles] 2:10
  • 3. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue [Bob Dylan] 3:45
  • 4. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? [Fairport Convention] 5:51
  • 5. Cinnamon Girl [Neil Young and Crazy Horse] 2:47

Side B

  • 1. Alone Again Or [Love] 3:35
  • 2. The Warmth Of The Sun [The Beach Boys] 3:08
  • 3. Different Drum [Stone Poneys featuring Linda Ronstadt] 2:52
  • 4. The Kids Are Alright [The Who] 2:50

Side C

  • 1. Sunday Morning [The Velvet Underground] 3:26
  • 2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere [Neil Young and Crazy Horse] 2:27
  • 3. Care Of Cell 44 [The Zombies] 3:56
  • 4. Monday, Monday [The Mamas & the Papas] 3:27

Side D

  • 1. She May Call You Up Tonight [The Left Banke] 2:24
  • 2. Run To Me [Bee Gees] 3:06
  • 3. Village Green Preservation Society [The Kinks] 2:57
  • 4. I Can See For Miles [The Who] 4:13

LP 3/4

VOLUME 2, 1970s

Side A

  • 1. Sugar Magnolia [Grateful Dead] 3:32
  • 2. Go All The Way [Raspberries] 3:33
  • 3. Second Hand News [Fleetwood Mac] 3:13
  • 4. All The Young Dudes [Mott The Hoople] 3:52
  • 5. You Can Close Your Eyes [James Taylor] 2:34
  • 6. Marquee Moon [Television] 10:49

Side B

  • 1. Here Comes My Girl [Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers] 4:22
  • 2. I’ve Seen All Good People: Your Move/All Good People [Yes] 7:29
  • 3. Hello It’s Me [Todd Rundgren] 3:51
  • 4. Willin’ [Little Feat] 2:59
  • 5. Back Of A Car [Big Star] 2:32
  • 6. Couldn’t I Just Tell You [Todd Rundgren] 3:27

Side C

  • 1. Gimme Some Truth [John Lennon] 3:27
  • 2. Maggie May [Rod Stewart] 5:32
  • 3. Beware Of Darkness [George Harrison] 3:38
  • 4. Dreaming [Blondie] 2:51
  • 5. Bell Bottom Blues [Derek and the Dominos] 5:02
  • 6. You’re So Vain [Carly Simon] 4:22

Side D

  • 1. I Wanna Be Sedated [Ramones] 2:10
  • 2. Baby Blue [Badfinger] 3:42
  • 3. You Say You Don’t Love Me [Buzzcocks] 2:55
  • 4. (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding [Brinsley Schwarz] 3:57
  • 5. Everything I Own [Bread] 3:09
  • 6. Melissa [Allman Brothers Band] 4:14
  • 7. Killer Queen [Queen] 2:56
  • 8. A Song For You [Gram Parsons] 4:38
  • Side 5 / 6

VOLUME 3, 1980s

Side A

  • 1. Sitting Still [R.E.M.] 3:17
  • 2. Girls Talk [Dave Edmunds] 3:32
  • 3. Big Brown Eyes [The dB’s] 1:54
  • 4. Kid [Pretenders] 3:03
  • 5. Free Fallin’ [Tom Petty] 4:17

Side B

  • 1. Save It For Later [The Beat] 3:27
  • 2. They Don’t Know [Kirsty MacColl] 3:02
  • 3. The Bulrushes [The Bongos] 2:43
  • 4. Our Lips Are Sealed [The Go-Go’s] 2:54

Side C

  • 1. How Soon Is Now [The Smiths] 5:44
  • 2. More Than This [Roxy Music] 4:07
  • 3. Towers Of London [XTC] 4:54
  • 4. Killing Moon [Echo and The Bunnymen] 4:23

Side D

  • 1. Trouble [Lindsey Buckingham] 3:45
  • 2. Train In Vain [The Clash] 2:59
  • 3. You’re My Favorite Waste of Time [Marshall Crenshaw] 2:28
  • 4. I Would Die 4 U [Prince] 2:52


4CD box

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