Q&A: The Secret Storm’s Lauren Hoffman talks France and “genre-hopping”

WTJU’s Chiara Brown was lucky enough to interview The Secret Storm’s lead singer and performer Lauren Hoffman about genre-hopping, Hoffman’s transition away from her solo act, and the importance giving your feelings a voice.

The Secret Storm performs their hauntingly beautiful melodies and complex lyrics at the final installation of the Levitt AMP Charlottesville Concert Series on Friday, Nov. 6th at the IX Art Park.


WTJU: What influences the music that The Secret Storm writes?

Lauren Hoffman: For me, songs usually come from feelings that need release. That’s why so many of them are about painful internal conflict, difficult relationships, haunting desires, regret, loss, crazy passion, etc… On a sonic level, I have always had very eclectic tastes and influences (The Cure, Billy Holiday, Tom Waits, The Beatles, Guns N Roses, PJ Harvey, Miles Davis) and was lucky enough to find a group of musicians here who are happy to genre-hop with me. I love that we can cater our vibe to suit the song. But this group as a whole also produces a certain flavor of sound and now I choose songs for the band with that in mind.

WTJU: Lauren, I know that you were involved in the music scene as a solo act for a long time but recently joined forces with other band members to become The Secret Storm. Can you talk a little bit about your musical history and what inspired the change?

LH: I have always preferred for my songs to be fleshed out with a full-band arrangement, but for a long time I played solo to simplify traveling and touring. I didn’t love that. I also didn’t like the way that playing solo and using my own name pigeon-holed me in the singer-songwriter ‘genre’. But I felt that it was too late: I didn’t want to lose the small gains and recognition I’d garnered under my own name and so I had to live with it.

Then after taking a hiatus while my daughter was small, I gathered this group of musicians to play songs from my ‘Lauren Hoffman’ catalog and it was revelatory. I LOVED getting to perform my songs with a full band, and not have to play guitar on stage. As we played more and started working on new material, it started to feel like a ‘real’ band and it occurred to me that this was a great opportunity to finally stop performing under my own name. The Secret Storm still performs a lot of older ‘Lauren Hoffman’ songs, so I consider it more of a continuation under a new name than a completely new and different project.

WTJU: What inspired the name, The Secret Storm?

LH: A lot of what motivates me to write and what I love about playing music is the freedom to express the swirly dark stuff inside that doesn’t get an outlet in polite company and day-to-day life. We keep our frustration, our sadness, our sexuality, our fears, our passion tucked neatly inside of us. We put on our smiles and say “I’m fine, how are you?”, “I’m fine”. But songs and music tap into that hidden place and give those feelings a voice and a beat to come out and dance to. That’s what The Secret Storm refers to.

WTJU: I know that the band is set to play Guns-n-Roses at the upcoming Mock Stars ball. What has that experience been like for you?

LH: It has been awesome! Like I said, the band has eclectic tastes and influences, and for Tony and Jordan and I, Appetite For Destruction was one of our favorite records of all time. GN’R was the first band that I was a true fan of – I was twelve and that was the record that ushered me into my teenage years and a rabid music obsession. As a band, we knew it would be awesome if we could pull it off, but we also knew it would be a massive challenge. For one thing, we have a cello and a keyboard, but no (live) second guitar player. So we had to figure that challenge out. Then, well, I’ve had a somewhat understated singing style for most of my career. Belting and growling and screaming have not been tools regularly selected from my toolbox! But the challenges turned out to be exciting to conquer, and this project has given me even more respect for everyone in the band as players. The only downside is that the GN’R stuff is so exhilarating to play, I wish we could do it all all the time!

WTJU: If you could play a show at any venue, anywhere in the world, where would it be?

LH: Well, I’m pretty ambitious, but honestly I wouldn’t want to get huge. Madison Square Garden? JPJ? No, thank you. All the venues I’ve played that I loved were mid-sized, like the Jefferson Theater here in Charlottesville, or small little funky places. Honestly when you ask that question I just think about getting back to France. The French have always been very welcoming to me and I’ve been lucky to play in really cool venues over there. And there is a beautiful place in Brussels called La Botanique. I played the room there called The Rotonde and I would love love love to go back!

WTJU:  You are the producer for The Sally Rose Band’s upcoming album. Would you say the experience of being a musician yourself has helped you as a producer?

LH: Well, let me first say that was a generous and probably misused title that Sally gave me for my role in the record, so, I don’t want to take any undeserved credit there. But I can say that I have co-produced my own records since From The Blue House, and I once recorded and produced a record for an artist called Karmen Buttler. I love working in the studio. As for your question has “being a musician helped you as a producer”, well, I approach them both the same way. Very intuitive and much less technical. My instincts have led me a long way, but lately I am working to bridge the gaps in my technical knowledge as a singer and guitar-player. Production is even more technical and I’m not much attracted to doing more things in front of screens, but the midwifery of songs is what I’m all about in any context. There’s nothing, and then there’s a feeling or an idea or a riff, then there’s the bones of a song – lyrics. Melody, chords. Production and arrangement fleshes it out into a real and complete thing that can move people to tears, or to dancing, or to screaming along. Isn’t that amazing??

WJTU:  What’s next for The Secret Storm?

LH: We have one EP out already, called “In The Sun”, and two accompanying videos, which were released earlier this year, and we just released the first video for the title track of our next EP, The Dragon, which will be out December 4th. That’s all leading toward an album next year. Plus we are working on getting out to play more shows regionally around the state, and up and down the east coast next year too. On a more artistic level, for me, it’s all about going deeper, being more honest, really stripping away all the bullshit. We are living in such highly commercialized times. Remember the term “sell out”? It was a derogatory word but it’s gone now because it no longer applies. Now everyone is “selling out.” I think that’s because it feels so great to connect; we all want that. But it feels much better to connect with a few people when you’re really being yourself, than having tons of approval for something more surface or conformist.


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