❉ We’re asking, they’re answering. This week: Singer/songwriter Lauren Hoffman on her inspirations, influences and much more.
Songwriter, singer, musician, producer, and independent recording artist Lauren Hoffman was nineteen when her debut album, Megiddo, was released on Virgin Records. It got outstanding critical praise and was a cult hit in France, but shifting personnel and corporate mergers left Megiddo poorly promoted, lost in the shuffle. Now 20 years later, that record is being reissued on vinyl through PledgeMusic. Since then Lauren has independently produced and released four more eclectic full-length albums (From The Blue House, Choreography, Interplanetary Traveler, Family Ghost) and is working on her sixth, due out in 2018.
Who were your heroes growing up?
When I was 5 and under: John Lennon, Bob Marley, my dad. As a teenager: PJ Harvey, Sylvia Plath, Tom Waits. Currently: Aimee Mann, Josh Homme, Frances McDormand.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Being an independent artist 😉 It’s like doing the jobs of 15 people but competing with artists who have teams and agents and labels behind them. Can’t stop though, cuz it’s my Purpose.
What are your best and worst qualities?
Monty Python: Is it funny?
Sure, but it’s very male and very British, so it’s not my favourite.
What was the last film that you watched?
Arrival. Loved it and cried a lot.
What film could you watch every day?
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
Tom Waits, Cher, Ewen McGregor and Penelope Cruz, in a musical.
Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?
Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?
Depends on the friend… but probably Mental Illness by Aimee Mann.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
That the love and devotion for it is hardcore and lasting, and is more important than it’s commercial success.
What are you reading at present?
A book about the stories behind the Beatles’ songs – A Hard Day’s Write.
So how did your life in music begin and what inspired you to make a career out of it?
Music was always in my life, mostly because of my dad. His enthusiasm ushered me into a lifelong adoration for the craft of song-writing and the emotional/spiritual experience of playing or listening to music. When I was 11 I started playing bass guitar in the ‘Middle School Rock Band’ at my small, hippie school. My childhood had not been idyllic although that wasn’t obvious from the outside, but by age 12/13 I already felt so damaged and angry.
Music was my therapy and comfort through those dark years. I switched from bass to guitar at 13. I learned to play songs like Joey by Concrete Blonde, Sanitarium by Metallica, and Just Like You Said It Would Be by Sinead O’Connor. I wrote my own songs and a lot of poetry.
As I started to come out of the darkest years of my adolescence, I knew I wanted music to be my life. I decided against college and have been writing and making records ever since.
Which other singers, musicians, or producers have inspired you over the years?
I love so much music and it all inspires me. I’ve been through a lot of phases of intense focus on one, like PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley, Elliott Smith… But I think I’m more into individual songs than into artists as a whole. And I’ve been inspired by a million songs in hundreds of different ways – a cool chord change, a perfect lyric, an interesting arrangement choice, or an unexpected guitar sound, etc. Could be in a pop song or a metal song or anything in between, it all inspires me.
You’ve recently launched a PledgeMusic campaign to reissue your 1997 album Megiddo, can you tell us a little about that?
I broke my contract with Virgin Records in 1999 and the rights to all my recorded work reverted to me. So I’ve had all the reels of tape in storage for years and years. A fan suggested that I release a 20th anniversary vinyl edition of Megiddo and I thought it was a great idea! Especially because the original studio masters are on tape, I was excited to be able to release a vinyl record that would be truly an all-analog, never digitized at all. The same fan suggested I do it through Pledgemusic. I’ve never done a crowdfunding campaign before, but Pledgemusic appeals to me more than other services because it’s really tailored to music projects, and works mostly as a pre-order site. Virgin Records really let me down by not promoting my record back in 1997, so this opportunity to re-release it and give it another little moment in the sun feels like a really good kind of closure for me.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
Definitely. We live in such a short-attention-span era. I love when people take the time, get curious, and meet me where I am. None of us can be truly represented by a short post, bio, video, or Q&A. One of my goals for 2018 is to be more communicative and reveal a bit more about the stories behind my songs and my creative process. Forlauren.com or
youtube.com/forlauren are great places to get to know me better.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Bringing songs from the ether and turning them into something that other people can hear. It’s like making something from nothing, which is super cool. But it’s also like receiving something from nothing, because most of the time the songs just show up in my mind so quickly that it doesn’t feel like I am writing them.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?
Well, I love making records so much, and every final mix and finished album is the ‘most rewarding project’ for me. But I will say that the most rewarding highlights from my career have been: Watching ‘Chinese idol’ Hao Feier covering my song Another Song About the Darkness on YouTube. Finding out that a friend’s sister used my song As The Stars as the ‘first dance’ at her wedding. The crazy amount of people (mostly young women) who have tweeted my lyrics “You’re a little bit damaged? I’m a sucker for that” from Broken. I love it when my song-babies go forge their own path out in other peoples’ worlds, that’s my favourite.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m currently recording and preparing to perform about 16 new songs! I think I will keep working with PledgeMusic for my new releases after the Megiddo 20th Anniversary Vinyl project, so far I’m liking how that’s going. I’m planning to make more use of my YouTube channel because it’s really hard for me to tour as a single mom.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
“Let your freak flag fly”. I’m still working on that. Musically, when it comes to songwriting and recording, I feel very transparent, open, honest – very ‘myself’. But when it comes to showing myself as a person, I know I am more guarded. People are so quick to judge, criticize, and dismiss you, and I’m not the kind of ‘give no fucks’ person who isn’t affected by that.
Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?
David Lowery (Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven). When I was 17, I recorded demos of my songs at a recording studio that David co-owned with engineer John Morand. When John played David my demos, the two of them offered me an on-spec production deal that led to my contract with Virgin Records and my debut album Megiddo, which was released two years later in 1997.
Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?
No way. You just have to remember that everyone is human, and they probably don’t feel like heroes. Their flaws, their greatness, it’s all worth learning from.
We are at a bar, what are you drinking?
Tanqueray and tonic in the summer, Makers and ginger in the winter.
What are your three favourite cities?
Well, they used to be New York, London, and Paris. I toured in France with my first three records and loved the times I would be based in Paris for a week or two for promotion and shows. My godparents live in London and I used to go live on their sofa a lot in my nomad year. And New York was amazing in the 90s but it’s a bit too elite and corporate now for my taste. I haven’t been able to travel much in the last ten years, but I’m hoping I’ll get out there and find some new favourite cities!
What do you do to chill out?
Play piano, chill with close friends over a bottle of wine, watch a movie with my kid.
What would you like to be your epitaph?
How can our readers discover more about you and your work?
I would recommend my bandcamp page because all of my records are there, with lyrics, production credits, and some of my personal comments and anecdotes.
❉ Pre-order Lauren’s “bloody”, “enchanting”, “demented” 1997 debut album, Megiddo, in a deluxe 20th-anniversary vinyl package here: https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/megiddo
❉ NoiseTrade has just released, ‘Lauren Hoffman: 2 x 5 + 1’, a free-to-download ‘best of’ compilation, with two songs from each of her five records, plus one acoustic demo of a new unreleased song. Check it out here: https://noisetrade.com/laurenhoffman/2-x-5-1