(Originally appeared in Mutant Renegade Zine #11, Summer 1999)
I first heard of Lauren Hoffman in a subtle way. A year or two ago Wendy at Virgin sent me a slew of CD’s to review and one of the better ones was Megiddo by Lauren Hoffman. I liked the music, gave it a favorable review and held onto the disc. There was an email address for Lauren so I sent her info on the review then stashed the CD in my collection. Eventually the CD faded from my thoughts.
Fast-forward to spring 1999. I received a mass email from Lauren regarding her upcoming tour. I decided to write her back to see if she had a new release out on Virgin and if she was going to play anywhere in Ohio. To my surprise she wrote back to me personally a few days later and told me that she was no longer on Virgin and that most of her tour was in Europe. We soon began to correspond regularly and I found out more and more about this interesting woman. One of the biggest surprises to em is that she is only 21 (she’ll be 22 by the time you read this…her birthday is June 12th, the day after mine). She has done more at her age, than most people do by 40.
By the time she was 21 Lauren had: interned with Dave Matthews independent label, had an all girl band that played SXSW, signed a six album deal with Virgin records, recorded with David Lowery, played at Lilth Fair, and cashed out of her six album deal with Virgin after one album. Now she has started her own label, tours Europe and the US, is a fledgling engineer, runs a website and is finishing up her latest release which Mite reviewed in this issue.
Lauren is a very easy to get along with person, who is very real and totally unpretentious. I’m really glad I’ve gotten to know her and consider her a friend. In the beginning I wasn’t planning on doing an interview with Lauren, but the more I learned about her and what she has to say, the more I realized that she would fit perfectly into the theme of this issue. I also feel that given her ability, talent, integrity and intelligence, she could be one of the people who will shape the future of the music industry.
Due to our busy schedules we conducted the interview via email, but we never had a chance to finish it off. There may be a continuation next issue…so look for it. Also check out her website which is listed at the end of the interview. That’s it for now…let’s dig in.
MR – Your Virgin Records debut “Megiddo” had a very Gothic and sensual feel to the songs. I was wondering whom your main influences (musical or otherwise) have been in your song writing style?
Lauren – When I wrote Megiddo I was mostly 16-18 years old, and during those years I read a lot of Anne Rice, watched movies like Sid and Nancy, the Hunger and Fire Walk With Me, and listened to the Cure, Bauhaus, and NIN, all of which I’m sure contributed to the “gothic” feel of that record.
As a songwriter, I wouldn’t write songs at all if I wasn’t so destroyed and seduced by great songwriting ever since I was a little kid… I live for great songs.
I think that there is an implication in that question of “Who did you–or, who would you have liked to–rip off when you made this?” For Megiddo, I would have said “I am influenced by everything in life. I don’t write songs in a vacuum” For the new record, I would say that I was definitely inspired by the sparse, vibe-y, one-take feel of Elliott Smith’s first albums and some of John Lennons solo work, as well as Tori Amos’ sexually-charged uniqueness and Jill Sobule’s sense of humor . I was zealously intrigued by raw-ness and real-ness.
MR – It seems to me that several of your songs could easily be stand alone poems. How do you generally go about the song writing process?
Lauren – Thank you! That’s a great compliment! I almost always feel stupid when I see my lyrics typed out or printed. A few songs started as poems, Persephone was a poem for about a week before it became a song, but the vast majority of my songs are written in a few hours, words and music at the same time. Most song fragments or unfinished songs remain that way. ‘Alive’ is the only exception I can think of at the moment: I really liked the riff in seven so I kept playing it until the rest of the song came.
MR – Why did you choose the title “Megiddo” for your album?
Lauren – Well, I’m not very good at naming things, and that one was especially hard. Megiddo was my godmother’s idea. She remembered that my parents had made some jokes about naming me that, and that it was mentioned in the bible as the “city of Armageddon”. I was into thinking about the concept of duality at the time, and I thought that the imagery of a showdown between good and evil was pretty cool. And I thought it said something interesting about my parents’ sense of humor, and what they expected from my impending birth…
MR – What would you list as your ten “must have” albums?
Lauren – I tend to wear records out, so what I might have listed six months ago and what I’ll say in a year would be vastly different. But right now I would say: John Lennon–either Plastic Ono Band or Imagine Heatmiser–Mic City Sons Radiohead–The Bends PJ Harvey-Dry Jill Sobule–Happy Town Soul Coughing–El Oso Sparklehorse-Vivaladixiesubmarinetransmissionplot Elliott Smith–any of the first three, Roman Candle, self-titled or Either/Or I also really like the new records by the Cardigans and Built To Spill I don’t know how I would live without Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Cure, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Bjork, the Rolling Stones,
MR – What inspires you?
Lauren – Longing. The feeling that there is something beautiful and perfect just beyond my senses. The music of the above artists. The people who love me and the people I love.
MR – You have been through a major label bidding war in the past. Do you think in retrospect that bidding wars are essentially good or bad for artists?
Lauren – Every instance is so different. I have only learned from my own experience what is right for me right now. In the end, I made money and got all of my masters back and get to start my own label and record music in my own studio–I came out ahead! Most people are not so lucky. Most seem to wind up in rehab or dead way too young, or just soul-dead.
Most record companies are not in the business of nurturing art or artists or furthering great music. They are in the business of selling a large amount of a popular product. So, I think that a bidding war is usually not-so-good for a new artist, and should be reserved for established artists who have proved that they can make the kind of money that they will be expected to make, and can handle the pressure that goes along with that.
I think it depends on the artist, their goals and values, and their level of personal development and experience, but in general, I think that massive corporate sponsorship and it’s implicit pressures almost never have a positive influence on art.
MR – Even though there has been much progress in recent years, do you think it is still difficult for female musicians to be seen by labels as equals to male musicians?
Lauren – I think that all artists, regardless of their race or sex, face very similar problems when they deal with big labels. The question of sexism in modern culture is one that is way to big to get into here, but it affects the music business in very much the same ways that it affects every facet of society–more than some, less than others. I think that when music hits media, that’s where the sexism comes in–not so much within the music community itself. My EX-manager used to say to me, “You know, you wouldn’t have this big record deal if you were unattractive”
MR – What do you see as the most pressing concern for America today, America’s youth and the world in general?
Lauren – I feel that we could be a little less money-oriented in America–a way of life we’re spreading all over the world. It seems that money is the priority factor for so many people; whether they have it or not, it is an obsession. Greed is encouraged in our society and I think that that is pretty lame.
I think that people should make sure not to spend too much time in isolated activities like watching TV and surfing the web and playing computer games. I’m pretty sure that lack of social interaction breeds mental illness and emotional instability.
It would probably be a good idea for people to be wary of the pharmaceutical industry and I wish that we valued our elders more and youth less. I wish that we had less stringent rules about what makes people beautiful. I wish that we strove more for beauty in our environment, instead of convenience and cost-effectiveness always coming first. We’re probably all more depressed because we have been around a lot of ugly shit like power lines, highways, office parks, etc.
I try not to spend a lot of time thinking about what’s wrong with the world, because you could spend your whole life doing that. I’d rather focus on the good stuff and try to be a part of that.
MR – Do you think that musicians and entertainers have an obligation to publicize their personal opinions regarding supporting certain charities and controversial issues, since many fans see them as trendsetters?
Lauren – Isn’t it a ridiculous assumption that just because someone is a famous entertainer they have capacity to form intelligent opinions on the state of the world? I don’t think that musicians and entertainers have an obligation, but people tend to be interested in what they have to say, so they say what they think (or what the people who influence them tell them to think). I’ve always thought that using humor and music and art to make political and social statements more easily digestible is a very cool thing. Nobody likes to be told, “you really should do this”, but when art moves you to do something for others, or just be more aware of what’s going on outside of your myopic scene, that feels good.
MR – Any advise for young aspiring musicians out there?
Lauren – Just that they should really think about what they want. Do you want to be a big star? a good musician? a good songwriter? Do you want to affect social change or just make a lot of money? Then make sure to surround yourself with people who have the compatible goals
MR – You have accomplished (in conventional terms) more musically than many musicians twice your age. Do you find yourself pressured in any way to surpass your past efforts?
Lauren – No, I feel excited about learning and growing and changing and experimenting. One of the problems that I found in the mainstream music business is the comparison factor–you’re work is always being compared to other peoples’ work, to your past work, to the current trend etc. It seems like those people don’t know how to just put on a record and enjoy it.
MR – Where do you see yourself musically, personally and geographically in ten years?
Lauren – I have no idea. Really. I can’t think that far ahead. I can only really hope to have a small clue about what the next 6 months might be like. But in my life so far things change really fast, so I don’t even put much stock in my plans for next month. My only hope always is to be as much of an instrument for inspiration as possible; to stay open to life and never take myself too seriously.