Lauren Hoffman And The Secret Storm
At first listen, Lauren Hoffman and The Secret Storm seems to contain multitudes. The music itself seesaws between airtight pop melodies and brooding Americana—a landscape where winsome string sections and plaintive piano chords move with ease alongside narratives about doomed romance and obsessive, occasionally all-encompassing, love.
The music is honest, sexy and, at various turns, both deeply intimate and amazingly huge-sounding. Lauren Hoffman—the singer, songwriter, and general force of nature – has lived many musical lives. The addition of a band to her name and earth-shattering live show is but the next step in an already remarkable career, defined by unusual twists. First signed to Virgin records back in 1997, Hoffman has gone on to release four full-length albums of knotty indie-pop, but it’s not until she started performing as Lauren Hoffman and The Secret Storm that she felt she had a completed musical identity.
“I found myself giving advice to a young musician and saying ‘Pick a name that is not your own name…and stick with it,” explains Hoffman. “As someone who has suffered from something of an identity crisis throughout my career, it struck me that it wasn’t too late to take my own advice. I’ve never felt good about recording under solely my own name. The ‘Lauren Hoffman’ that shows up on the credit card receipt at the grocery store and the ‘Lauren Hoffman’ who shows up on Spotify just felt like two very different things. I’ve also never really identified with ‘singer/songwriter’ as a genre, even though I am technically a singer and a songwriter. There is this folky connotation that never quite sat right with me. But the main reason for the change is that working under the name Lauren Hoffman and The Secret Storm creates a psychological distinction between me as a person and the work itself. It’s liberating.”
On her 2015 EP, The Dragon, Hoffman unspooled four new tracks, each brimming with the same kind of sensual intensity that characterizes her best work. “I let my body take the lead, I let my hands go where they please, My mouth has got an aching need to taste you,” she sings on opening track “Fast Car,” a track that establishes the palette for the EP—emotional need, desperate desire, and tangible physical longing. “Loving him has made of me a fool,” she sings on “Sick With Love,” an expertly rendered examination of the literal pangs of heartbreak, “When a girl is sick with love, there is nothing that can be done.” Examining extreme emotional landscapes proves to be Hoffman’s forte, and rather than shying away from hard truths and tricky states of being, she rushes toward them. “I want to feel it all,” she sings at one point, essentially summing up her modus operandi as a songwriter. She goes there.
“I’ve taken a few different turns over the course of my career, for sure,” says Hoffman, “It feels like there is a through line from my first record (1997’s Megiddo) to Choreography to these songs that I’m working on with The Secret Storm. Some of the other records I made were more experimental, but this is much more what I feel is truly ‘me’. Actually, some of these songs are old. After Choreography I had a batch of songs but I put them aside because I was so sick of hearing myself complain about being in love with a certain guy. However, they seem to fit in with the songs I have written more recently. I had put a band together in order to play songs from Choreography live and they are backing me up on these recordings too, so that’s another bridge between the Choreography vibe and the new songs. As a fairly rational, reasonable person, the way I talk about my life out loud to a casual friend is not necessarily the same way that my feelings might speak. Songwriting is this amazing place where you can let your feelings talk, you can express things that you have to keep hidden in your day to day life.”
Tapping into hidden emotional undercurrents seems to be a theme with Lauren Hoffman and The Secret Storm, but nowhere more so than on the new EP’s title track, “The Dragon.” Like so many of Hoffman’s songs, “The Dragon” is exploration of being drawn to the thing that breaks us and the very thin line separating pleasure from very real pain. “You breathe fire to burn the world / And such teeth, the better to eat you with my girl,” growls Hoffman, as a slow burning guitar riff and sinewy violin build towards an explosive climax, the sound of someone desperate to embrace the very thing that will consume them: “It’s the curse of my life,” she intones, “To be the lover of a monster, I’m his dutiful wife.” The song is the kind of delicious paradox that lies at the heart of so many of Hoffman’s best songs—certainly the ones on The Dragon.
For Hoffman—an artist with a long and storied history of being swept along by the complicated and often mercurial nature of the music business—assuming control of her career, her music, and her name has proven to be a watershed experience. The Secret Storm will be an ongoing project in which songs are rolled out in small batches, each accompanied by their own specific visuals. She also assembled a band, The Secret Storm, which not only opens up the ways in which the songs can be played, but also alleviates some of the doldrums that come with touring as a solo act. The freedom to write and record of her own volition, to celebrate her own wily set of influences (“I probably have more in common with goths than other singer/songwriters,” she says, “My favorite band is The Cure.”), is something Hoffman has spent the better part of the last decade dreaming about.
“There were definitely times when I wanted to be done with the music business,” she says, “Times when the business of music became so frustrating, so divorced from the artistic process and such a popularity contest, that I would lose touch with my inspiration. And without that - If the songs don’t come, if I feel cut off from inspiration - what’s the point? But what does give me energy is genuine connection. A couple of years ago I discovered that people – young girls mostly – are tweeting my lyrics from “Broken”, like every day. (“You’re a little bit damaged/I’m a sucker for that”). Knowing that my music has gone out into the world and connected, that my music is the soundtrack to someone’s private life – in their bedroom, their car, their earbuds – that is profoundly gratifying.”
For Hoffman, her work with The Secret Storm in 2016 represents a full-circle creative moment. She has created the kind of musical vehicle capable of channeling and containing all of her influences: from gloomy post-punk to buzzing grunge era alt-rock to quiet, acoustic-driven folk. Lauren Hoffman and The Secret Storm offers a vessel in which all of these aesthetics somehow make sense, in which Hoffman’s narratives of love and light and loss make their own very particular and truly wonderful kind of sense.