Susanna Hoffs, the petite rock singer/guitarist whose band the Bangles remains one of the most enduring all-girl groups in history, has always had an ear for a good cover. "I taught myself music by listening to music," she says. "I would become obsessed with certain songs, and I taught myself how to sing by copying records."
In 2006, she emerged from a semi-sabbatical by releasing an album of duets with power-pop master Matthew Sweet. "Under the Covers, Vol. 1," a collection of '60s songs, proved that time hadn't dulled her ability to harmonize. The album sold 32,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
When Hoffs and Sweet, sometimes known as Sid & Susie, reconvened last year in his Los Angeles studio for "Under the Covers, Vol. 2," they discovered why the diverse sounds of the '70s -- power-pop, glam rock, classic rock and even prog -- had made such an indelible impression on each of their musical progressions.
"The records that we cover are records we love," Hoffs says. "There's out-of-tune singing, out-of-tune guitars, the drum tracks are speeding up and slowing down. Those records are great because they're about the feel; they capture the emotion and they're not about perfection."
The resulting 16 tracks -- plus an additional 10 songs that will be available as a bonus edition download -- cover a range of styles, from hits like Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" to record-nerd favorites like Big Star's "Back of a Car." Hoffs and Sweet even scored guest spots from Mick Fleetwood, Dhani Harrison and Yes' Steve Howe, who re-creates his Portuguese 12-string guitar part on "I've Seen All Good People."
"We try to inhabit the originals," Sweet says. "Both of our voices are so distinct, anything we do is going to sound like us. Most of what we've done is add harmony things that weren't on the originals."
The album will be released July 21 by Shout Factory. That day, Hoffs and Sweet will take part in an onstage interview, audience Q&A and acoustic performance before an intimate audience of 200 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. September tour dates are already booked in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago with more to follow.
While Sweet and Hoffs were longtime acquaintances and mutual fans of each other's music (they were in the "Austin Powers" band Ming Tea together), the process of making the "Under the Covers" albums has brought them even closer. The two plan to spend more time together soon: After the September tour the duo will return to the studio with Hoffs' Bangles bandmates the Peterson sisters to begin work on a new Bangles album.
The Bangles, who split up in 1989 before reuniting a few years later for regular tours and the 2003 album "Doll Revolution," just completed an East Coast tour with more dates planned in the fall. They're three songs into the new album, which they're co-producing with Sweet, who's downright giddy about the project.
"It's going to be really groovy," he says. "I'm super excited about it because I get to play bass, and I get to foster an environment here where those guys really feel comfortable and relaxed and able to experiment."