by bill biss
Kristian who? If you were of a generation in New York who was a part of the whole music movement of rebellion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the name should certainly ring a bell.
Hoffman landed on the scene at the same time in The Mumps and at the same gigs at CGBG in New York with Blondie, The Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and numerous other phenomenal musical acts.
During those glory days, Kristian Hoffman was musical director and songwriter for Klaus Nomi as well.
In the recent present, he has toured with Rufus Wainwright and collaborated with Ann Magnuson and countless others…his musical resume is truly an endless puzzle of creative energy. His latest solo CD is aptly titled FOP, as he wanted to present an extravaganza of material that is grand and over-the-top in an outstanding way. Hoffman spoke with The Rage Monthly about the new work, his career and proves once again, that if you aren’t familiar with Kristian Hoffman…you should be.
The title of Kristian’s new CD is FOP. The word is defined as “a man who is devoted to or vain about his appearance or dress.” Kristian describes his meaning about the title. “I always thought everyone knew that “fop” was a dandy. For me, one of the stories about the album is the story of the life journey of a fancy man who in various points of his life has not wanted to be accused of being “fancy,” i.e. gay or also being self-consciously fancy…dressing like a rock star or dressing outrageously to get attention. What that journey means in American society right now.”
Continuing, he describes how the music on the new CD ties into the correlation with the word, “fop.” “The title also frees me to make the music more foppish too. I wanted the music to be as grandiose and pretentious as I possibly could or make it as intimate and aching as I possibly could.”
The CD truly is an inspired creation and not something that can be thoroughly enjoyed at first listen…call it a musical odyssey that twists and turns with exploration at each listen. One track though that immediately hooks the listener is the song, “I Can’t Go There With You.” The harmony in the song is reminiscent of something that The Mamas and The Papas could have done. Cheerfully acknowledging the comparison, Hoffman says, “You couldn’t say anything more flattering to me by saying it reminds you of The Mamas and The Papas.
I think John Phillips is the greatest vocal arranger of all time. I’ve listened to his stuff and studied it and what came naturally to him, takes a lot of work for me. He’s a real source of inspiration. I just love backing vocals and I think they are much underused. I like the playfulness of girls and boys singing together. So, that’s a very nice thing to have you say!”
Kristian Hoffman’s musical standards began forming initially as a young gay man living the bohemian lifestyle in New York. He paints a back-story on his musical beginnings. “I lived in New York from 1970 to 1984. Lance [Loud] and I formed a band. We had a band in high school in our garage but after forming the band, we moved to New York to try and find The Velvet Underground…like most of the people who moved there looking for that Andy Warhol scene, that we never became a part of.
But, then we saw The New York Dolls and decided to stay in New York and we formed The Mumps, which was part of the CGBG circuit. We played with Blondie, Television, The Ramones and Talking Heads…all those people. We just happened to be one of the bands that didn’t get signed (laughter). We had a 45 LP that did very well and a second one that did almost as well.
We were a popular live group, but it was one of those things where you can’t go on forever without getting to make an album. So, we finally broke up. There was a conjecture that one of the reasons we didn’t get signed was of Lance being “notoriously gay.” I think there was a chill factor because of that.”
Hoffman at that time became a dear friend and musical director for Klaus Nomi. Nomi’s innovative dressing and opulent voice was a rare musical sensation in the 1980s. Hoffman elaborates by saying, “It’s hard to describe how precisely heady New York at that time was. In every apartment for about a 20-block square radius, there were people who were in bands, people that were making underground movies or opening art galleries.
At the time, it was so inexpensive to live there with no overhead. So, meeting Klaus, we were all so completely floored by his voice and his vision. To get to write songs for [Klaus Nomi] that incredible voice was a dream come true. He was absolutely incomparable. At the same time I was in the band with Klaus, I was in The Swinging Madisons and in The Mumps and The Contortions…everybody was just doing everything at that time at once.”
Describing Hoffman’s songwriting style and talent is not an easy task. His lyrics could be read alone as intricate poetry and yet done majestically with his music, there is an even grander scale that comes together on FOP.
Mentioning this, he responds, “That is what I intend. My favorite kind of songwriting is kind of the songwriting that you can put on in the background while say, you’re paying your bills and it sounds pretty and enjoyable. But…that it bears more scrutiny if you choose to scrutinize it. I try to make my songs live up to that standard.”
FOP is available now.