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'80s Revival Revived By Bangles' Susanna Hoffs And Matthew Sweet On 'Under The Covers' (INTERVIEW)

Drew Reynolds

The '80s. For those who lived through that, like, totally awesome decade, a mere mention is likely to conjure up memories of big hair, MTV, Live Aid and terrible, terrible fashion. And though many tend to deride the decade, power-pop singer-songwriter Matthew Sweet and beloved Bangles member Susanna Hoffs are here to remind us that the '80s weren’t quite as bad as they are made out to be by some.

“The '60s and '70s were essentially the golden age of music and so musicians in the '80s were in an unenviable position of trying to follow up two whole decades of amazing music having been made,” Hoffs begins. “I feel the decade definitely gets a bad rap. What I think is cool about the '80s is that a lot of music from the time was re-energized from the punk scene of the late '70s.”

“A lot of the people I meet now, especially for those in their 30s or 40s, the decade of the '80s is a favourite decade of theirs. People’s opinion is definitely changing for the better.”

The duo has just released "Under The Covers, Volume 3," a collection of cover songs of some of their favourite tracks from the '80s. Back in 2007, Sweet and Hoffs began their exploration of the music of decades past with "Under The Covers, Volume 1," focussing on '60s songs with faithful covers of the likes of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Two years later, "Under The Covers, Volume 2" was a '70s-inspired set covering the likes of Fleetwood Mac, John Lennon and Yes.

It was only natural that the third volume of their "Under The Covers" series would continue moving the duo forward in time to the '80s. What make this collection more unique is the fact that both Hoffs and Sweet were both actively making music during the '80s. In 1986, the same year that Sweet released his debut record "Inside," Hoffs and The Bangles were riding a huge wave of success thanks to MTV staples such as “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Manic Monday.”

Interview continues after this slideshow

“For a lot of people, the '80s were this whole quirky, new-wave, 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' kind of image,” Sweet says. “It was very much a ‘let’s have fun’ kind of decade. There was a lot of good stuff happening but looking back in another sense, it was also the decade of excess, groupies and hedonistic behaviour. Are people embarrassed by it? Maybe so but it is definitely a popular era.”

"Under The Covers, Volume 3" draws upon music from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. From their fellow American songwriters, Sweet and Hoffs selected a mix of both well-known and lesser-known songs including the classic Tom Petty track “Free Fallin’” and The Go-Gos' “Our Lips Are Sealed” as well as an early R.E.M. song, “Sitting Still”.

Music from across the pond proved to be a popular choice for the duo as well. XTC, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Smiths and The English Beat are all given representation on "Under The Covers, Volume 3."

Susanna says that narrowing down the track listing for their newest collection was no easy task. She says that both she and Matthew were committed to not being quite as ambitious with their newest album as they were with the 26 songs found on "Under The Covers, Volume 2."

“It was like we were two kinds in a candy store,” Susanna picks up. “Matthew and I were crafting our list for the record and quickly found an anchor in bands like R.E.M. and other indie rock bands from the time. I wasn’t quite as familiar with the dB’s and The Bongos but those kinds of guitar-driven bands certainly fit with the flow of the record.

“For me personally, the English Beat were important to be included as The Bangles did one of our first tours with them. But including other bands like XTC, Roxy Music and Echo & the Bunnymen makes the record more guitar-driven than the previous records were.”

“The finished product reflects a diverse selection of songs. There was plenty of tracks that we liked that just didn’t get included,” Matthew says. “We could have kept going but we just had to stop ourselves.”

One group that is conspicuously absent from the record? Hoffs' own Bangles. Both Matthew and Susanna freely admit it was merely an oversight on their part and not an attempt to hide or disrespect Hoffs’ past.

“In 2009, as Matthew and I were touring the last 'Under The Covers' record, we would often mix in his solo stuff and songs from The Bangles into our set. We even agreed that including The Bangles would be a great idea. We even went so far to discuss Matthew singing the song. It just slipped our minds; we didn’t consciously not do a Bangles song.”

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