I have known the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs — aka Sue Hots — for round about 23 years.
I have known the Bangles’ Susanna Hoffs — aka Sue Hots — for round about 23 years. I can honestly say that she is as lovely inside and out as you would hope her to be, moving through the world with humility and kindness as her guides. She’s sort of the anti-rock star rock star, if that makes sense. And this is after selling millions of records and topping pop charts around the world.
Bangles aside, Susanna has taken a couple of stabs at solo albums over the years (1991’s When You’re a Boy and 1996’s Susanna Hoffs), but it wasn’t until her latest set, Someday, debuted back in July that she truly found her voice in that realm. It’s a lush homage to the ’60s pop sound that brought us Petula Clark, Lulu, and Dusty Springfield.
With the first video from the album, though, Hoffs puts a thoroughly modern spin on things by offering an inclusive snapshot of love across a spectrum of three couples — one of which just happens to be lesbian. And she did so without making a big deal about it because, as she puts it, “love is love.”
As the “Picture Me” video’s message of love makes its way into the world, I talked to Susanna about the project and a few other things that she doesn’t often get to talk about.
Vp: You’ve been dubbed the ‘Hottest Frontwoman in Rock’ and the ‘Queen of MILFs’ by various websites. What do you have to say about that?
SH: Oh, man. I don’t know what I have to say about that. Let me start by saying that I’m extremely flattered. I never see myself the way other people see me. I always have this moment right before I walk out on stage when I wonder, “How did I get here?” It still strikes me as surreal. The excitement of performing has remained a consistent and fresh feeling. But, to be honest, I’ve never felt completely comfortable with the aspect of show business that involves red carpets and that sort of thing. That’s the shy side of my personality in conflict with the performer in me.
It has always been much easier for me to sing in front of people than to talk. My friends and family know me as someone who is extremely talkative, but I’ve never been that way in public. I was very shy as a child, especially at school. So I think I was drawn to performing early on as a way to overcome that shyness.
I guess I haven’t answered your question, exactly. I do think that music — particularly rock and roll — by nature, is sexual. It taps into our passions and deeper, often unspoken emotions, and allows us a way to express those intimate things. So, it makes sense that we turn to it. That’s what draws us to music — that kind of truth. There’s an answer in there somewhere, isn’t there?
And then there’s the suggestion that you and Sheryl Crow are tied for the best legs in rock. What’s the secret to great gams? And general beauty?
Wow! That’s such a nice compliment. Well, I was a dancer when I was a young girl, so, early on, I fell in love with the physical connectedness you experience when you dance or play sports as a kid. Through the years, I became addicted to that feeling. One of the things I loved about dancing was that it was always done in conjunction with music. And when I went to UC Berkeley, I was in the dance company.
I’ve continued to be physically active all these years, but now I just stay in shape by walking. The lines have blurred between walking for exercise and walking for peace of mind. I love to be outdoors and it always grounds me, literally, just feeling my feet on the ground, breathing fresh air, looking at flowers, seeing the world. It makes me feel relaxed and ready for the day. I’m religious about it. I’ve joked with friends who have asked me about getting in shape that the best diet in the world is having a great audiobook that you are only allowed to listen to it while you’re walking or exercising.
I also believe in eating healthfully, whatever that means for you. But be mindful of how and what you eat — don’t eat when you watch TV. Eating whole foods whenever possible is a really good idea, too.
Susanna Hoffs in her pop-chart heyday with the Bangles.
Still you’re not 29 anymore… which isn’t to say that older women can’t be sexy. Jessica Lange, Helen Mirren, and lots of other women older than you still got it. And got it good. But our beauty- and youth-obsessed culture makes it hard for women to age gracefully and naturally. You must think about these things.
I saw the French icon Catherine Deneuve, who must be well into her 60s, last summer in Paris walking down Boulevard Saint-Germain, in all her glory and with a spring in her step. I think, in Europe, the culture embraces older women as still vital and sexy. There seems to be a tremendous amount of ageism, as well as a fixation on youth, in the U.S. I often talk with female friends my age about how it can feel like we have an expiration date embossed on our foreheads. A friend recently described the feeling as becoming invisible when we hit our 40s and 50s.
On the other hand, my mother, who has always been a strong role model for me, reminded me recently of what the great anthropologist Margaret Mead said — when women are able to shift focus away from starting families and child rearing, they experience what she calls a sort of creative “zest” in their 50s. It’s real. I’m finding it more and more. The challenge is not letting the cultural obsession get in the way of feeling confident or happy. Obsessing on trying to be something that you’re not is never good. You have to rack focus on what’s important and move forward. To be honest, I’m sort of relieved to be past the point of turning 50. I am really enjoying this time in my life.
I can totally see you in 25 years or so with a big hat and an easel, whiling your days away painting and strolling on the beach.
Yeah. The thing is, you spend so much of your life working toward various goals, trying to accomplish something — even if it’s just crossing things off your to-do list. I actually feel like I’m in a particularly busy phase having started my own label (Baroque Folk) for this new solo project. There is something really thrilling about being the little engine that could and making it happen on my own.
I’m also enjoying a new sense of perspective, being where I am and how far I’ve come. And I’m incredibly grateful for it all. Sometimes it can be hard to watch yourself grow older in our hi-def culture, and I do have a desire to reprioritize, at some point… to travel for travel’s sake, to take a moment to enjoy life, and to not focus on work 24/7.
For now, though, there’s not a day on Twitter or Facebook that some dude doesn’t proclaim his undying love for you. So far, the guys haven’t traded you in for a younger model. Does the gushing ever get old?
I’m always flattered by that, even at my age, but there is a certain pressure when you feel that you have to be a sort of icon and not let everyone down. It’s a hard thing to live up to. But, maybe it’s an indication that, in our culture, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. They aren’t putting us out to pasture or marking us as expired once we hit 40.
The fact that your new video — which represents a nice spectrum of love stories — features Abisha Uhl and Jessica Forsythe (from Sick of Sarah) as one of three featured couples is a pretty nice tip of the hat to equality and diversity. It’s a rare, though much appreciated, move. What made you decide to go there?
In thinking about doing a video for “Picture Me,” I became interested in the way that people actually take pictures of each other and post them on Facebook and Instagram in order to share something that’s positive with each other. I thought that was very compelling and wanted to figure out a way to show it. In a three-minute video, you don’t have a lot of time to do that. I was toying around with the idea of crowdsourcing ways for people to share their images with us, but I realized it would be too complicated. So I refined the idea into finding actual couples in that 20s/social networking demographic. All the couples are people that my 25-year-old niece, Miranda, and I are connected to. For example, I got to know Abisha and Jessica when they toured with the Bangles as our opening act.
We wanted to find interesting couples among people we knew that would be willing to spend some time with us and let us capture their love story to incorporate into the video. That was the unifying idea even though they were all different from each other. And they even captured their moments using everything from a Super 8 camera to an iPhone. It’s an old-fashioned modern love song. The ultimate goal for this video was to be very life-affirming.
We loved the idea of having our couples post their photos on a literal wall as a way to share their pictures. And we decided to create a virtual wall on Tumblr so that everyone else can share their love and pictures with us, too.
What’s really great about it is that the inclusion is so matter-of-fact. The girls are just another example of love, not an exploitation of it. It’s pure, not political… sincere, rather than cynical.
Absolutely. Love is love. And this video is about love. It shouldn’t even be an issue.