Lauren Hoffman Biography
Last updated: 08/23/2005
This biography is from Lauren's offical website
ever since i was a little naked hippie-kid living on a farm in rural virginia, i have always loved music. my parents were musicians and their best friends --john d'earth, dawn thompson and robert jospe--were the members of a jazz band, cosmology. my father's love of music has been his driving force in life, and, as parents do, he instilled me with that love, teaching me the history of rock and roll, explaining song form (“this is the verse. and the part that repeats, that's the chorus”), and trying to get me to appreciate the beach boys (never worked). as a child i tried many different instruments and had a few requisite violin and piano lessons, but nothing stuck. then, when I was eleven, i switched to tandem school, where john d'earth was the music teacher. he led the “middle school rock band”. i really wanted to play guitar, but because there were already plenty of boys playing guitar, john suggested i take up the bass.
at first, i couldn't even hear bass lines when i would listen to records. now, i love the bass for that subtlety, how it can change the attitude and atmosphere of a song, steering the whole ship without being noticed.
at twelve i traded in madonna for black sabbath and started sneaking cigarettes in the woods with the 'bad influences' at lunch break; the beginning of an adolescense rife with confused rebellion, drug expirimentation, home-made piercings, near-death expiriences, and nights spent listening to the cure's disintigration. my first songs, written on bass, were dark. darker than those on megiddo. at thirteen, i took up the guitar and my songs took a decidedly folkier turn, which always embarrassed me. i wanted to be trent rezner but i always seemed to come out edie brickell.
around this time, a bartender at miller's named dave matthews revealed his talents as a songwriter to my father, ross, and they began to get together regularly at my dad's apartment to work on songs. i would hang out and try to be a fly on the wall while they worked up outros and put fragments from different songs together for a stronger result. watching this kind of editing of inspiration taught me skills that would probably have taken me a long time to figure out on my own.
four years later, i was a senior in high school. the dave matthews band were becoming huge and i was interning in their rapidly-expanding indie label/merchandise company, bama rags. one night i caught a ride up to the birchmere, a club just outside washington dc, to catch one of dave's solo sets. i walked in during the opening act, a young, beautiful man with an equally beautiful voice named jeff buckley, he was touring solo in support of his ep, 'live at sin-e'. after his set, i went backstage to look for my father (who still worked with dave at the time) but instead i found jeff, playing piano. i asked him if he'd seen my dad (he did't know) and if his music was “always that depressing” (??? me=dork) we wound up spending the whole night in his dressing room smoking a little pot i had with me (i was kind of a stoner back then). i don't think i saw any of dave's set.
i stayed on part time at bama rags after i graduated and it was there that i met shannon worrell, she had an independent album out (three wishes) that we were helping to distribute. at that time i was still writing songs, but very reluctant about playing my music for people. i wanted to be on the business side, close to music but safe from the shit that destroys people like it destroyed kurt cobain. but shannon needed a bass player and she asked me to be in the band. she also liked some of my songs and encouraged me to play “persephone” at our shows.
and it was really fun! we played weekly at a local thai restaurant called monsoon and named ourselves after it. we giggled and gossiped and bonded and had 'slumber parties' at her house after practice. she took me on my first tour, to nashville and austin and colorado and the south by southwest music conference and new york city. she was a fan of jeff's, so i took her to meet him in dc, and he introduced us at one of our shows in new york. she invited him up at the end and he played an amazing rendition of MC5's “kick out the jams” but all of shannon's support and encouragement backfired on her. i gained self-confidence and realized that i really wanted to play my own music. so i left the band. and it was a little messy. we still argue about it all from time to time. she wrote a beautiful song about it called “bring back the weight” and recorded it for her second album, lucky shoe (released under the band name 'september 67').
i met john morand of the sound of music studios when monsoon recorded demos there, so i called him and we recorded a song called “still be here” (later re-named “don't wanna be your girl”). shannon included it in dear charlottesville, the compilation she released to benefit the college radio station WTJU . john has a soft-spot for indie-pop girl singers and he played the song for his partner, david lowery (lead singer and songwriter for cracker and camper van beethoven). david liked it too, and he called me to ask if i'd like to record an EP with him to put out on his new virgin records imprint, pitch-a-tent.
i was ridiculously, pig-in-shit happy. john, david and i started recording a week after my 18th birthday. we laid down the basics for “fall away,” “rock star,” and “the ashram song,”, which wound up on megiddo, and versions of “persephone” and “hope you don't mind,” (which did not). i was a little star-struck by david at first because i had been a fan of cracker's since “teen angst (what the world needs now)”.but i got over it and we had a great week. working with them was so perfect and easy, the studio felt like home. it was probably the coolest thing that had ever happened to me.
armed with these recordings--and a cocky little attitude--i headed off to new york (a long-time dream) to play open mic nights. i crashed with charles newman, a friend of my fathers and, briefly, the dave matthews band's original manager. he soon started to casually manage me, invited to do so by a red-wine-laden comment from me along the lines of, “so, you gonna help make me a rock star?”
charles introduced me to steve savoca, a drummer who also worked at c.m.j. (college music journal). when he saw david's name on the six-song 'demo' tape, he jadedly asked questions like, “so you wrote the lyrics and sang, but he wrote and played all the music, right?” argh. but then he listened to the tape and surprised us by writing an extremely favorable review of it in c.m.j.'s 'futures' section. and apparently, record companies pay attention to c.m.j., because in the week following that issue's release, we got a phone call from just about all of them--including virgin, who had decided that instead of the EP thing on david lowery's label, they wanted to sign me directly and make a full-length record. woo-hoo! so, the 'buzz' around me grew; i was the right sex at the right age at the right time. alanis morrisette was selling gazillions of albums and major-labels were snatching up chicks left and right.
david, john and i kept recording songs when we could, pretty sure that the record would get paid for one way or another, since we were being schmoozed and boozed by mercury, atlantic, virgin, outpost, warner bros., and enclave records. i continued to play in new york with a little band--steve savoca on the drums and steve kirby, a full-blooded old-school jazz guy, playing the acoustic, stand-up bass. we played at cbgb's gallery, brownie's, and mercury lounge regularly, and we opened for morphine at the westbeth theater. i met doughty from soul coughing at that show, and soul coughing was (my manager) charles's favorite band, so when they became friends through me, we both thought that was pretty cool. around this time, mr. savoca and i had a falling out over money, so david introduced me to johnny hott, a richmond, va-based drummer/keyboard-player who became an intregal part of my sound over the years. he was into the velvet underground and contemporary (and classical) orchestral music and his ideas about ar
rangement really inspired and intregued me. (i also found him intreguing in other ways, and we had a brief and strange romantic relationship.)
with johnny, we recorded “cold and gray,” “alive,” “blood,” “build a home” and “strange man.” i really took to being in the studio and tried to pay a lot of attention to what was going on technically. the sound of music was expanding rather dramatically over the months that i worked there, going from a 16-track, one-tracking-room affair to the three-storey, you-want-it-we-got-it place it is today, and i learned a lot by watching that process. in the summer of 1996, i turned nineteen and signed the six-album record deal wih virgin. i was rather wary of the major-music business, what with the horror stories i was starting to hear from jeff about columbia, but it was a good contract, fought for tooth and nail by my rockin' attorney, graham henderson. in it, virgin was obligated to make at least three records with me before they had the option to drop me. and if they really wanted to ditch me before then, they would have to pay me my advances anyway. (note: foreshadowing) the first thing they
did was help pay to press a bunch of 7" singles of “fall away,” with “cold and gray” on the b-side, which came out on slow river records.
so, with the signature, i got some advance money and started touring the east coast with a whole new band in a brand new van. johnny had been lured away from me to play with david in cracker, and steve kirby's priority was jazz, so i got a rhythm section from washington dc. adam wade (jawbox, shudder to think) played drums, and nick pellaciotto, who was really a drummer and soundman but was a lot of fun to have in the band, played bass. my friend from charlottesville, mr. peter griesar--once of the dave matthews band, now of supertanker--came along to play keyboards. it may not have been the best sounding, but it was definitely the most fun incarnation of my band.
adam was sweet and lovelorn. nick was super-bright and hilarious, and they had lots of interesting friends in the indie-rock scene in d.c. peter and i would go shopping for second-hand clothes and drink too much wine. most nights, we'd all share a cheap motel room or friends floor and try various methods of keeping peter from snoring. we were all young and there was very little pressure, we just had fun!
nick and adam recorded “hope you don't mind” and “the cannibal ed” with me and that concluded the tracking. so david, john, and engineer rich hasal mixed the album. but the scene at the studio was a bit chaotic, there were a lot of distractions. the sessions were somewhat rushed and not very focused, and the mixes reflected that. charles (my manager) and andy factor (my a&r guy) thought that the mixes didn't sound professional enough and wanted to have it re-mixed, and after more than a year of working on these songs with the same people, i was happy to bring in some fresh ears. so i took a couple of songs out to los angeles to mix with ethan johns.
david wasn't happy about that… but he was really pissed when we liked ethan's work so much that we wanted to mix the rest of the record him as well. the day we told him that, he called on his cell while he drove his truck into the sunset with my master tapes 'and a shotgun' yelling “yee-haw!” david lowery, redneck-drama-queen. when we finally got the tapes out to LA, ethan and i spent the holidays of 1996-97 reworking material, re-recording “lolita,” and mixing. jon brion came in and played chamberlain and organ and other keyboardy instruments on some songs--and blew my mind… i'd never witnessed talent like that up close before. watching him play is a rapturous, humbling experience that i'm glad to have had… but i am also sorry that i kind of lost david and john for a time in the process.
by the end of january, the album was mixed and mastered, dubbed megiddo, and delivered to virgin. i flew back to the east coast, did the photo shoot for the album art, and started playing shows again, this time as a duo with johnny hott on drums. (we had already broken-up, so this was a slightly odd situation. not to mention that he had also already started dating kristin asbury, the drummer i worked with in monsoon. they are happily married now, actually) as a primer for megiddo, pitch-a-tent put out an EP called the chemist said it would be alright but i've never been the same. the EP included david and john's original mixes of “persphone” (which i prefer to the album one) and “blood,” as well as “termite,” “don't wanna be your girl,” and a cover of john lennon's “mother,” all produced and mixed by david and john. in the looming shadow of the full-length albums release, something in me hid it's tail between it's legs and skulked away… i became terrified of the standards i would be ex
pected to meet, the perfection i thought people would expect from me, and the nonchalance with which i (and my music) might be discounted by people who didn't even know me.
and then megiddo came out.
it got some great reviews and sold about 10,000 copies in france.
i played on the lilith fair tour (the first one), which was great, but virgin neglected to supply the borders' tent with my cd. we made a video for “rock star” with director/graphic designer mike mills, but it didn't get played on MTV because it wasn't a hit on the radio, and it wasn't on the radio because virgin weren't promoting it, and they weren't promoting because it wasn't selling… do you get where this is going?
the seeming futility of the circumstances, and the obvious political nature of our situation depressed not only me, but everyone i worked with.
i was so embarrassed to play in empty clubs with musicians of the caliber of johnny hott and (ex-sparklehorse) bassist scot fitzsimmons; thank god for europe! we had great shows over there. the french branch of virgin believed in the record and promoted us. les inrockuptibles, a french music magazine, wrote a few articles about me and invited us to be a part of their week-long festival in november of 97. but i was already so disillusioned and emotionally dead that before we even went to france, i had already decided that i was 'quitting'.
so, six months after megiddo's release, i 'quit'. i terminated my agreements with my manager and my business manager, said goodbye to my band and went home. i finally had a chance to mourn jeff's death. it had happened very soon after megiddo was released and, although i was devestated, i had had to put all of those feelings away to focus on the record. i didn't pick up my guitar for months. i started looking into going back to school and even enrolled in some classes at the community college. i made plans to go to los angeles and try to get out of my contract with virgin.
and then, unexpectedly, i started playing my guitar again; first i played elliott smith songs… then some of my own… and then, for the first time in over a year, i wrote a new one! i wrote “heavy scene.” so the night before i met with the president of virgin, i lay awake in my hotel room thinking, “well, shit, if virgin's going to pay me to make another record, i might as well make one. i can write stupid songs about whatever. it could actually be fun” when you know that you are absolutely free not to do something, doing it can seem a lot more inviting. and i wrote “song for a boy.”
so i made demos and wrote songs. engineer, moog cookbook member and all-around wicked-cool dude, brian kehew helped me put together a 16-track analog studio, and braved allergies to live in virginia and record my new album in it. we used local musicians and tried to get as many live takes on tape as possible; recording drums, bass guitar and vocals at the same time instead of overdubbing. i wanted it to be enjoyable, low-stress, vibey. i was listening to--and influenced by--a lot of simple, song-oriented records at the time- -madly in love with elliott smith's either/or and self-titled albums.
after spending such a long time on megiddo, trying so hard to make it a spotless record, i really wanted to make an album with humanity and personality. from the blue house is sparse and simply produced. the vocals are way up front and there are very few harmonies or tricks or punches or pitch-shifting. some of the songs are really quite silly due to my 'fuck it, why not?' writing philsophy, but others are very heartfelt and are, of all the songs i've written, the ones i am most proud of. i mixed it with ethan johns again who found it rather frustrating because there really wasn't much he could do on most of the songs but put up the faders, but he did a great job.
needless to say, virgin didn't 'get' it. and i wasn't going to change my work to make it more commercial for them. so letting me out of my contract made sense to everyone involved--especially me and the vice-president in charge of financial at virgin. it happened rather quickly. my lawyer pointed out that they would have to spend a lot of money on me over the next couple of years if i held them to everything in the contract--and probably not make any money on my 'little art projects' that they didn't know how to market. all i wanted was my masters and some money to move on with my life with. they said 'yes', i said 'great!' and i was free!
i used the money to start a label called 'free union records'. i taught myself html and built the first version of this website. i started recording other artists in my studio, like kathy compton (my dad's girlfriend) and karmen buttler, who's album, good alien, is my first effort as engineer and producer. we worked really well together and had a great time. and i think the record's pretty good too! i played bass in her band for awhile and we started a singer/songwriter night at the tokyo rose called shut up and listen.
from the blue house came out in virginia, online, in france and belgium through pias (play it again sam records) and in the UK with pmd distribution. but i never got national distribution for it in the states.
i quickly found out that running a label is a rather difficult job for one to do on one's own, (especially while juggling all of that other stuff too) and after less than 18 months, i lost patience and was going to shut it down. my friend the bad-ass studio technician and punk-rock guitar player, matthew sherwood, took it over for a while and tried to keep it alive, but it eventually died a quiet death in the fall of 2000.
at the moment i'm taking time off from music. so much has happened in such a short time, and i need a break to let the other aspects of my life and self to catch up. i travelled in europe, india and isreal, and spent a summer in london. now i'm a freshman in college, a modern dance major, enjoying life, happy to be with my friends, exploring art from new angles, letting some of my dreams stay dreams--i like them that way. i've said i was quitting before, so i don't think anyone has believed me when i've said it recently, but i think that this project is going on the shelf for awhile. if and when i get back into music it will be in another capacity i think.