Twenty-year-old Lauren Hoffman has many reasons to celebrate. Not only has her debut release on Virgin, Megiddo, been praised even among the toughest critics, but she also has had the honor of being selected to perform on the first four dates of Sarah McLachlan’s summer female mega-tour, Lilith Fair.
On day one of Lilith Fair, Hoffman took the stage after McLachlan had played a few songs solo to kick off the tour. Hoffman quipped that McLachlan might actually have a future in the music business, a remark that was one of the most well-received and written about the opening day.
We spoke with Hoffman prior to her performance on day three of Lilith Fair in Mountain View, California. She was in good spirits and getting into the groove of the festival.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
Well, I grew up in Virginia. My parents were not really hippies, but certainly weirdoes. Spiritually they’re not religious. They don’t conform to regular religion. My mom’s a vegetarian. Dad’s a musician. He’s in the music business and mom’s really into yoga and spiritual quest and all that kind of stuff like that. So we were always strange.
What does your dad do in the music business?
Well, right now he’s involved in the Hanson thing. He is a partner in the management company.
Has it helped or hurt you to have a dad in the industry?
I think it’s helped because I have somebody who I trust, who loves me, who cares about me, who can tell me things from a point of view that most parents can’t.
Is he involved in what you’re doing?
Somewhat. He lends his opinion.
Is your mom musical?
Yes, she plays Irish music. Just for fun, though.
What about siblings?
I have a younger sister. She sings background vocals on the record, actually, on “Fall Away.”
How long have you been playing music and how did you decide it was something you wanted to do?
As a kid I used to play around on musical instruments. I was always taking lessons on something: piano, violin, recorded or whatever it was. But nothing really stuck until middle school. I wanted to play guitar. All the boys played guitar, and they had this little middle school rock band If I was going to be in the middle school rock band I had to play bass so I started playing bass. Pretty soon after that I started writing songs and playing guitar.
In middle school I was a boy’s girl. All my friends were boys, and I would be the girl who would go back and forth and tell Maggie that Alex liked her and that kind of thing.
How did you decide that guitar was the instrument that you wanted to play?
Like I said, I wanted to play guitar before I started playing bass. I’m not really sure. It just kind of drew me. My dad played guitar and guitar is cool and guitar is what you see your role models playing. Also, I wanted to be able to write songs and accompany myself and sing.
It’s hard to do that on the recorder. So, do you remember writing your first song?
Well, no, not really, because I have written songs since I was three. I remember writing a song on bass. It was really depressing, dark and I said all kinds of Metallica-induced things. That was an early one.
How old were you?
Twelve? Then I had a horrible, unpleasant adolescence and came out the other side with a lot to write about.
Anything you care to discuss?
If I keep it where it is, then there’s fodder for my music.
What’s the significance of the title, Meggido?
I couldn’t think of anything and my godmother suggested it. I was trying to think of things that sort of had to do with duality because I’m a Gemini. There’s sort of a sense of different sides of me on this record that I wanted to talk about in the title and so Meggido is about Armageddon, good and evil, having the final battle and all that stuff. But it’s also that personal thing. My parents made this joke of calling me that before I was born, which shows how they felt about impending parenthood.
How did you get your record deal?
I was playing bass for Shannon Worrell, September 67, and we did a demo tape of what wound up being their record, Ugly Shoe. She put out a compilation of Charlottesville artists to benefit the local radio station. So I went back to the studio where she demo taped and recorded a song that David Lowery of Cracker heard. From there, that was a big enough connection. After that, it was all about schmoozing, I guess.
How’s that for you?
Well, it’s hard, because a lot of times you make genuine connections with people, and a lot of times you’re just in a fine mood and there’s people and why not, you know? It’s cool. But then there’s those days when you’re really off, and you’re really upset, or it’s just too much and you’re in a bad fucking mood. I did an interview with a really cool magazine, and I came off sounding like a spoiled brat because I felt like shit, and I was just having a bad day. Every time that I have one of those bad days, I meet however many people I meet, and those people are going to think I’m a bitch. That’s really lame.
There seem to be a lot of PR ghettos that young women especially seem to fall in to. Do you feel your age is an advantage for you or in some ways limiting?
Well, being a young woman right now, I guess is a good thing to open a door because “young” and “women” are main trends at the moment. How you sell anything in America is with pretty, young girls. So why not sell records with pretty, young girls? If I’m going to be an artist, then being an artist and being sellable are almost separate. Whoever you are, they want to batch you up so that they can understand what’s going on.
Is that limiting to you?
I think it’s limiting to the people who do it, not to me.
Have you been happy with the amount of creative control that you’ve had until now?
Yeah, but I’d also say that I wouldn’t be working with all these people if I didn’t value their opinions and feel like it’s a team effort. It’s not like I’m sitting here trying to keep everybody from telling me what to do, because I want to hear their opinions. I value them as people. They’re a part of this team, so it’s never been an issue.
Tell me about your CD. Do you have favorite songs on it?
Well, at this point I’m pretty much concentrating on playing live, so I have favorite songs to play live. “Lolita” is a lot of fun to play live. And “Fall Away” is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. All in all, I’m really proud of it and I’ve put a lot of work into it. I’ve released it so I don’t really think about it much any more. It’s just done. My time of really contemplating it is over and it’s time to give Meggido to everybody else.
Did you have to make any changes to any of the songs to accommodate playing them solo?
I’m trying to grab people’s attention, so I’m playing the poppiest, most catchy songs I can. Some of the songs on the record aren’t really poppy or catchy at all. Playing solo is something that I really struggle with because it’s so much more about your relationship with the audience whereas when I have a band up there, for me it can often be about my relationship with the band to fall back on. And playing with other musicians is really a lot of fun. When you have great musicians onstage with you, it’s a really great feeling. It’s much more naked and much scarier to play by yourself. It’s easier to hear all the little subtleties. When you don’t hit that fret in the absolutely perfect place and it makes a little buzzing noise, you feel like you’ve made this huge mistake. Whereas with a band behind you, who gives a fuck?
It’s harder to get through a song, too, when you feel like you’ve made a mistake. What kind of experience has playing Lilith Fair been so far for you?
At first it was intimidating and I felt there was a certain amount of rivalry between women. Sarah (McLachlan) talks about wanting to break this down. But you see other women, you check them out and you kind of get defensive. I definitely felt that on the first day. And then the second day I saw Kinnie Starr play. I saw all these young women walking around. I heard all these women playing music. And I really got into the spirit of it. It’s a cool thing.
Are you going up there with a set list of are you just sort of winging it?
I sort of know what I’m going to play, but it’s so short that I don’t need to write it down.
Here’s my really stupid Barbara Walters question: Where would you like to be five years from now?
I think I’d like to be more self-aware. There’s a lot of self-discovery involved in writing and in the whole process of performing.
This interview appeared in ROCKRGRL issue #17, September/October 1997.