In 1983, a group of Los
Angeles musicians collectively dubbed "the Paisley Underground" -- an
evocative description based on their fondness for '60s psychedelic sounds
and fashions, though it was a tag they'd come to dislike as much as the
rockers in Seattle a decade later would hate "grunge" -- joined together to
cover some of the artists they loved most, including Bob Dylan, the Beach
Boys, Buffalo Springfield and Big Star, on a memorable album called "Rainy
who participated in this indie-rock hootenanny were members of the Rain
Parade, the Dream Syndicate and the Three O'Clock, all of whom remain cult
heroes, though another group, the Bangles, actually went on to considerable
success. The gorgeous vocals of Bangles leader Susanna Hoffs are one of the
biggest charms on "Rainy Day," and now, more than two decades later, Hoffs
has lent her voice to another collaborative covers album, the new "Under the
Covers Vol. 1."
The new disc finds her
and power-pop maestro Matthew Sweet paying homage to the Beatles ("And Your
Bird Can Sing"), the Beach Boys ("The Warmth of the Sun"), Dylan ("It's All
Over Now, Baby Blue"), Love ("Alone Again Or"), the Mamas and the Papas
("Monday, Monday") and Neil Young ("Cinnamon Girl"), among others.
Along with their '60s
predecessors, the Paisley Underground bands were one of the influences that
prompted Sweet to make albums of his own -- including 1991's classic
"Girlfriend" -- and he says he always loved the "Rainy Day" album in
particular. "I remember really fixating on Sue's voice on that record and
thinking, 'Wow!' I really love that Dylan song 'I'll Keep It With Mine,' and
she sang on it. That was always in my mind and when I got to know her later
on, and I'd say to her, 'If you want to do anything, I'd love to produce
you!' So that seed was always there."
Hoffs remembers it, too.
"I called Matthew up about two years ago to sing with the Bangles one night
at [the L.A. club] McCabes -- we were doing a fund-raiser -- and he
mentioned to me during a break in rehearsal that he always wanted to produce
a solo record for me," Hoffs adds. "He was thinking about his early days of
listening to the 'Rainy Day' record, and that's how he first heard me.
"When we decided to do
this covers album, the thing that was so bizarre was that the first thing he
said was, 'Well, what are your ideas about songs?' And I said, "What about
'She May Call You Up' by the Left Banke?' And he just went, 'That is so
weird! That's the first one on my list!' He actually had a little
handwritten list, as did I. We had both listed a ton of songs, and it was
really fun trying them out. When you're obsessed with music from that time
anyway, it's just so much fun to try and play those songs."
That sense of enthusiasm
is palpable throughout "Under the Covers," which Hoffs and Sweet recorded at
his L.A. home studio with help from talented accompanists such as drummer
Rick Menck, legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks and guitarists
Ivan Julian, Greg Leisz and Richard Lloyd. While the two singers are clearly
fans of the songs they tackled, they didn't hesitate to add their own unique
stamp, and that sense of immediacy and inspiration, combined with a very
vital and alive production, marks the album as more than a mere exercise in
"The challenge of living
up to these songs was fantastic, special and magical," Hoffs says. "Many of
the originals were done very quickly using what we would think of now as
very primitive equipment, but there is so much heart, melody, sophistication
and arrangement genius."
"When you say the album
sounds 'vital and alive,' that's really what we were going after," Sweet
says. "In some ways, we were pretty traditional about how we did everything,
because we really wanted to capture what made these songs good in the first
place, which is very often that sense of being 'vital and alive.' But I
think it's worth stressing that it wasn't like we were fearing this giant
mantle of, 'Oh my God, we're covering these amazing things and everyone is
going to judge us.' We were sort of blissfully ignoring that and doing our
own little thing."
Sweet, 41, and Hoffs, a
47-year-old mother of two with her husband, director Jay Roach, have both
experienced the highs and lows of the music business, rising from the
independent underground to mainstream success -- to a point where they are
once again recording for the indies. (The Bangles' last new album, 2000's
"Doll Revolution," was issued by Koch; Sweet's 2004 solo disc "Living
Things" came out on RACM, and "Under the Covers" was released by Shout
But both seem content
with their place on the current music scene, appreciative of their enduring
followings and no longer concerned about the pressures of pop stardom, and
that vibe is the final ingredient that makes "Under the Covers" so much fun.
"I don't really know
what I'm going to do with my next [solo] record -- if I need a label at
all," Sweet says. "A couple of years ago, when we were promoting that Thorns
record that I made with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins, it was a thing where
Columbia begged us to make this record, and we worked really, really hard
and sold a couple of hundred thousand copies. But that was failure to
everybody at the company, and it all just seems wrong."
Adds Hoffs: "Having been
there and done that with all of the ways that records are put out and the
kind of huge marketing machine that you go through ... Well, we've seen it
all, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and this time we just
wanted to make this music for fun. We just wanted to make a record that we
love, and we did, and I hope that everybody can hear that."