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Susanna Hoffs

Rickenbacker and bangles

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By Gary Graff  
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True rock nerds know all about Ming Tea, the fictional band that made its debut in the 1997 film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. The group faded into pop culture obscurity faster than you can say Spinal Tap, but it did lay the groundwork for "members" Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs (she of the Bangles) to join forces for Under the Covers, Vol. 1, which, as the title indicates, is a collection of '60s covers that includes well-known songs by Neil Young, the Who, the Bee Gees and Bob Dylan as well as obscurities from the Fairport Convention, the Left Banke, Love and the Marmalade. If Austin Powers were around to review it, he'd likely tell you it's "positively shagadelic."

Q: Not to get too "Behind the Music," but what ever happened to Ming Tea?

Sweet: There was a brief moment where it was almost kind of real, but nothing ever happened with it 'cause they didn't know the movie was going to be big. They started getting uptight about anything conflicting with their soundtrack album and whatever, so we never really did Ming Tea except for the third movie (Austin Powers in Goldmember). But Ming Tea sort of lives on, 'cause it's fictional enough -- if you know what I mean.

Q: You adopt the personas Sid and Susie on this album. What's that about?

Hoffs: It just sort of embodies the spirit of great '60s duos like, in our minds, Ian & Sylvia, Chad & Jeremy. It's sort of that concept. Sid & Nancy -- but not quite. (laughs) When we morph into our Sid and Susie characters, it's liberating for us. Sid and Susie know how to have fun.

Sweet: Mike (Myers) had actually called me Sid, 'cause he knew my name is actually Sidney Matthew, and Matthew's my middle name. I was never called Sid 'cause my dad was Sid.

Hoffs: I was Jillian Shagwell, which was very cool...

Sweet: But we thought Sid & Susie just sounded better.

Q: Why a covers album?

Sweet: It was a way we could have this thing, like the Ming Tea kind of thing, that was fun for us, 'cause it really was supposed to be for fun. Neither one of us really wanted to do some big record biz thing.

Hoffs: It was so fun and easy. And we don't feel like we have to promote it like there's a hit single, or go out and fight like you would for a regular album.

Q: How did you choose the songs for the album?

Sweet: It wasn't very scientific. We didn't have, like, fifty, and then cut them down. We just kind of picked ones we liked arbitrarily.

Hoffs: And along the way we would add some other ones in, like..."Cinnamon Girl" wasn't on the original list. Amazingly enough, we both thought of "She May Call You Up," which is a very obscure Left Banke song. What's great is that young kids these days don't even know this stuff. They don't sit around listening to all-oldies stations. It's just great stuff, and they should know about it.

Q: You've got three Neil Young-related songs on here -- two of his and one Buffalo Springfield tune. Have you gotten a thank-you note.

Hoffs: Oh God, I would be thrilled if he ever heard it. That would make our year.

Sweet: I can't imagine he would send a note. but we tip our hat to him.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.