As a child she was classically trained as a pianist and vocalist, and since been signed to major record labels, shared the stage with groups like The Wallflowers, Feist and Brandi Carlile and has even seen some success on television shows like Dawson’s Creek.
Hoffmann has lived in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg area for nearly 10 years and has continued to expand and evolve her unique classical-style songwriting throughout her life.
I met up with Hoffmann last week on the benches outside of The Lunchbox, a café-style restaurant located at 120 Norman Ave. in Greenpoint, for a unique look at her upbringing and musical inspiration.
How did you first get into music?
I started with piano originally when I was four, and I’m not sure where it came from because there wasn’t a lot of music played in my house. Growing up, my parents were more like political hippies, but starting at such an early age I really felt this drive to do music.
Do you remember what sparked that drive?
We lived in this little house in the woods across the river in New City, and I would just go stand in front of the piano. The keys would be up here (holds hand up to her eyes) and I would spend an hour or so, just listening to the notes and I would just feel this great energy. I think that’s where my interest started.
Other than music, did you have any other forms of artistic drive as a child?
I love art. I grew up doing modern dance. I loved pottery, painting, but all in all, the arts were my thing. I did well in school, but it was never my passion to sit in classes. I was always thinking about what I am going to create.
Did you always want to be an artist or a musician?
I love animals, and when I was younger I wanted to be a veterinarian. I remember that being my first life goal, but actually when I when I was younger there was a lot of pressure in my family, because I became really good at piano really fast.
My dad put the pressure on when I was a kid, so there were a couple years there where I would tell my dad, “I would rather die than be a musician.” (laughs) It was those total rebellion years back when I was like 9, 10 or 11.
Something miraculous happened in my rebellion. My mom would be in the kitchen and I would be in the middle of practicing these big pieces and suddenly I would be like, “ I’m going to play something I made up now,” and that would kind of last about 15 minutes and my mom would catch on and get me back to my practicing.
What kind of music were you playing when you were a kid?
Oh, all the classics. I played a lot of Chopin. I did a couple of the etudes, which were these huge pieces. I played the Revolutionary Etude and the Ocean Wave Etude. I did Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique, which was this crazy 25-page piece, or even more.
Did you have passion for that kind of music?
I did like it, and I loved it when I did well with it. Now, I really appreciate it, but at the time I think it became pretty stressful for me.
It was also in combination with going to a really hard school, and getting home every day and practicing a ton, my mind felt like it couldn’t rest. So, I think I didn’t have the full appreciation for what I was doing. I think it formed a really great base for me. I would say all of the music that I create has very classical undertones and a lot of those chord changes and the melodies have just worked their way into who I am.
Did you take singing lessons?
Yes, I started singing classical voice when I was 13 and then that became my total passion.
When did you decide to combine these two?
Well, around the same age I started writing my own songs. I would wake up on a Saturday, and spend my whole weekend by choice, sitting at the piano and writing songs. There was a flip in my early teens where I switched from where I had to do something to choosing to do it. At the same time I started studying classical voice, I started studying composition with this amazing guy. His name is Rob Mathes.
What kind of influences and inspiration did you get from studying with Mathes?
He introduced my to Joni Mitchell and The Beatles. I hadn’t really studied or analyzed music before and I don’t think I knew who Joni Mitchell was. Rob would sit me down with records and he did a lot of that musical nurturing that some people who grew up in a household where music was played all the time would start to happen.
How did working with Rob and analyzing these songs change your music?
In the beginning I was writing 15-minute songs that had like 20 parts, and I didn’t understand that there’s a verse and a chorus or a bridge. But suddenly, through analyzing these songs, I realized that there is a song structure and that there are certain chordal patterns that make sense.
When did you start writing your own music?
I started when I was about 13, but then when I really started to put together a full-on song, I was about 15. It took me a couple years to put together songs that I think we could still listen to today.
Did you ever perform your own songs back then?
I did. I think the first time I ever performed my own songs I was in 10th grade, and I think I was 15, maybe 16. at the time. We had this big school talent show and I played one of my own songs. It felt so good, and from that point I was addicted.
Is that around the time you started playing your own music?
I formed a band in high school. I had a band of three guys who played with me, and they were amazing. After my junior year in high school, I already had enough songs and we made a whole record and released it my senior year. I actually sold a couple thousand copies, which was really big for me as an 18 year old.
The record after that, I placed some songs on TV shows like Dawson’s Creek and on Palmetto Pointe and some other television shows. I was also on that show Love Monkey, but it didn’t actually get aired.
What does performing music mean to you today?
Music is my vehicle. I love music, but it’s more like my chosen vehicle in this lifetime that I have developed and that I’m good at to share deeper human life messages and hopefully inspire other people to tune back in to who they are. That’s kind of my goal.
How do you write your music?
I write it in all different ways. In earlier years, it was always melody and music first. I would just hear the music and it would just come out. Sometimes I would get into big mental blocks. In creating words to go with the music I would hit a wall.
Over the years I developed some song writing techniques that really worked for me. I approach the lyrics first. I can kind of hear the whole rhythm, I can hear the whole melody in my head and I have these really great techniques that just make me stop thinking. I think the whole key to finding your flow is just getting out of your mind.
What’s the quickest song that has ever come to you?
I have a couple songs that, literally, I just pressed record and the whole song came out.
You have an album out now. Can you explain what The Human Compass is?
The logo is a compass, but unlike most compasses that just point outward, this one first of all is pointing in and out. The idea is that you have to go in their hearts, so you go in with a loving awareness. You’re going to find that you’re always going to be in the right place. There’s no right direction to go in. You just tune in, and you’ll be wherever you need to be. Even if you’re looking at an experience that is really hard to go through, it’s still what you need. Then they point outwards with infinity symbols, so the idea is it’s infinite once you start this life path.
When did you put this out?
It came out in December and my mother passed away suddenly a year before that, which was very intense. I probably would have waited to put it out in 2013, but I wanted to put it out as a one-year celebration of my mother’s life.
So what’s next?
I am working on a remix CD now, so we’re going to reignite this CD and offer some new work. I think it’s going to be called The Human Compass: New Directions. So it’s going to be some new takes on a few of the songs.
Hoffmann will join Italian composer Marco Missinatto for the U.S. premiere of their classical performance of “Unfolding Secrets: A Symphony of the Heart” at Renee Weiler Concert Hall, located at 46 Barrow St. in Manhattan, on Thursday, October 10 at 8 p.m. October 10 also happens to be both Hoffmann’s and Missinatto’s birthdays.