Back in 2013, four of the main players in Los Angeles' often overlooked paisley underground scene managed to get together for two successful shows, one here and one in San Francisco. The bands — The Dream Syndicate, The 3 O'Clock, The Rain Parade and The Bangles — had all moved on from their halcyon days of the 1980s. Sure, the reunion trail was proving a worthwhile route, in varying degrees. But times were very different. Without the safety net of a local scene, each band had been, until 2013, going it alone.
The “paisley underground” tag was coined by Michael Quercio of The 3 O'Clock to describe a subgenre encompassing those garage bands that were looking up at Laurel Canyon and back at the 1960s with unadulterated glee. The influences were widespread — The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Love, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Mamas & the Papas — all were reference points in what was an ultimately short-lived but exciting scene. For Bangles frontwoman Susanna Hoffs, it was all about a shared passion for the music of a certain era.
“We were definitely a community of friends and artists, in the best sense,” Hoffs says. “We would go to see screenings of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Michael [Quercio] was the Z Man [John LaZar's character, which was based on Phil Spector]. I think it was those of us in the '80s who were gravitating toward the start of our mutual love affairs with music and how it tapped into our childhoods in the '60s, and the wanting to go back and understand what it was that made that music so special. Yeah, it was a feeling that music communicated. To this day, I gravitate toward ['60s music]. It moves me more deeply than a lot of stuff. There's something richly emotional about it. So much emotion in the delivery.”
To expand on those 2013 shows, the same four bands have reconvened on a new album called 3 X 4, which sees each of them covering a song by the other three. So we get Dream Syndicate, Rain Parade and 3 O'Clock versions of Bangles songs, and so on. The album's concept is credited to Vicki Peterson (The Bangles), Danny Benair (The 3 O'Clock) and Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate), though Hoffs isn't quite sure who had the idea first.
“There was talk of doing something [at the 2-1 shows], and the idea was floating around,” she says. “The idea of covering each other's songs was talked about on that mini tour. I remember talking to Matt [Piucci] from Rain Parade and I had just watched them from the side of the stage perform 'What She's Done to Your Mind.' I said, 'I would love to sing that one.' I ended up singing a different one because The 3 O'Clock claimed it before I had a chance to. But Matt said, 'That's funny, because that song was written about you.'”
Hoffs says it was natural that she would sing a Rain Parade song (“Talking in My Sleep”) because of those connections, while it was equally obvious that Vicki Peterson would sing a Dream Syndicate song (“That's What You Always Say”) and Debbi Peterson would sing a 3 O'Clock song (“Jet Fighter”).
“It just sort of fell into place that way, but it all made sense,” Hoffs says. “There had been some lore about 'Hero Takes a Fall' being about Steve Wynn, and it was more of a composite but there was some connection there. Of the paisley underground bands, I always felt that Dream Syndicate were the most Velvet Underground–inspired. The Bangles were more Byrds, Beatles, Mamas & the Papas. When I first brought our single 'Getting Out of Hand' to Rodney Bingenheimer he was like, 'You guys sound like the Mamas and the Mamas.' The 3 O'Clock were somewhere between the Jefferson Airplane and The Yardbirds. A little more psychedelic with a lot of pop in there. The bands took different influences from an era we were all obsessed with.”
Of course, The Bangles went on to have huge success in a poppier direction, thanks to mega-hits such as “Eternal Flame” and the Prince-penned “Manic Monday.” For Hoffs, that was slightly weird because The Bangles were the perennial opening band during the paisley period. That, she says, boosted her punk-rock cred.
“We joke about it now, and not because we felt we shouldn't have been the opener but it always would fall into place that way,” she says. “It was the most fun ever. I can't even tell you how wonderful it was to be part of something bigger than ourselves. To have this camaraderie with musicians that we admired so much and had such a fun friendship with. Bands like Redd Kross were not particularly paisley underground but they were part of the scene. There were a lot of connections with punk bands at the time. We played with the Descendents and the Circle Jerks. There was a merging of scenes and styles going on. If it wasn't for the Sex Pistols and Patti Smith, I wouldn't have thought that I wanted to start a band or be in a band.”
Before 3 X 4, the most recent release from The Bangles was 2014's Ladies and Gentlemen … The Bangles!, a compilation of the band's early material. All of which means that they've been looking backward a lot of late.
“It's really fun to go back and remember — there was something so hopeful and exciting, and I see it in the things my kids are doing,” Hoffs says. “Being a content creator, an artist, somebody who's crafting something and trying to tell a story, in that period in your 20s — it's a magical time. There was a fearlessness that we had. We had a lot of passion and were boldly throwing ourselves out there. There was a lot of resistance to The Bangles. We went on tour with The English Beat and people were throwing tomatoes at us, but we didn't really care. We were just so driven to keep going. It was so fun.”
As we look forward into 2019, Hoffs is working on a solo album as well as her first novel, though she's revealing very little about either right now. What we do know is that The Bangles will be playing an '80s package gig with the likes of Bananarama and OMD in January.
“There was a period where there was a circuit that you could spend your life on if you weren't careful,” Hoffs says. “But then we had this opportunity in January 2018 and it was so fun to perform with Boy George, Adam Ant and The Violent Femmes. It was this crazy, wonderful group of artists from the day and it was so much fun.”
3 X 4 is released worldwide via Yep Roc on Jan. 11.