Girl, interrupted: Hoffman: 'I was just too young'
The lip rings are gone. So are the dreadlocks, although her hair is Parisian black again following a blonde whirl. At 26, musician and songwriter Lauren Hoffman has returned to her native Charlottesville, like a prodigal daughter, after an odyssey of self-discovery, picking up near where she left off three years ago when she announced she was leaving the music business for good.
By 23, Hoffman had already survived a meteoric ride on the rocket of rock fame. Counting Dave Matthews among her early fans (Hoffman's father, Ross, nurtured Matthews' early career), she'd signed a six-album deal with Virgin Records while still in her teens and released her 1997 album Megiddo to rave reviews, performed on the first Lilith Fair tour, and founded her own music label, Free Union Records.
But despite critical praise (The New Yorker declared her "the real thing"), Hoffman got lost in the shuffle of young, rebellious girl songwriters in the late 1990s. Realizing Virgin was letting her album languish without promotion, she cut her ties.
"It was just a bad situation, bad timing, and bad luck. Then I tried to do the Indie thing, and I just got burnt out by trying to do too much." says Hoffman, adding, "and also I was just too young."
So she quit in 2000, opting to remain in Europe after her final tour in France. She marked her departure with piercings, tattoos, and dreadlocks.
"It was partly to distance myself from what had come before," Hoffman reflects. "I also felt like it was an adolescent expression I hadn't allowed myself. I always hedged my bets as a teenager because I'd always wanted to be a good girl."
After traveling to England, India, and Israel, Hoffman returned to the U.S. to study dance at VCU. "Being a freshman in college and being like everyone else," she says, "was just what I needed."
But after a year came a revelation: "At one point, I noticed how the other dancers would come in on their free time and work on things, and I thought, 'I don't feel that way about this.'" Suddenly aware that her passion remained music, Hoffman moved back to Charlottesville.
"I think the break made her hungry for it again," says her friend Andy Deane, who fronts the noted Goth band Bella Morte.
Hoffman is once more writing songs, having formed a new band called The Lilas (Karmen Buttler on acoustic guitar, Mark Goldstein on bass, and Stuart Gunter on drums). Regarding her lyrics, she says, "They're expressions of things I don't allow myself in the social strata. It's almost like Tourrette's syndrome.
"I feel alive again," she smiles, after listing the band's upcoming gigs. "Getting back to music is the best thing."Read more on: lauren hoffman