SAN DIEGO — "Sometimes, I don't even feel like a musician anymore. It's hard to keep taking the punches."
That was Todd Hoffman talking two years ago, when the bassist's career seemed at its lowest ebb. In the span of a few months in 1989, his La Jolla-bred band, the Voices, had descended from the high of apparently imminent success to disintegration in the aftermath of a fiasco in which the band walked out on its contract with mammoth MCA Records.
A disillusioned Hoffman had returned home to La Jolla, where he moved into a house out of which his brother ran a boot business. He worked days in the home construction business and shared floor space at night with 300 pairs of cowboy boots. He was not living the rock 'n' roll dream.
"In retrospect, I guess I was reacting to failed expectations," Hoffman, 29, said recently when queried about that downbeat post mortem in 1989. "I just don't like to mix business with music, although sometimes you have to. A lot of the fun of playing music had been taken away by that experience" with MCA.
Hoffman had good reason to be in a better frame of mind this time around. In a phone interview from his current home in Los Angeles, he spoke in hopeful terms about his new band, Fantasy 7, which performs its first gig Saturday night at the Casbah on Kettner Boulevard.
Besides Hoffman on bass, the quartet features former Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, former Outlaw Blood vocalist Mark McCoy (also an ex-San Diegan) and drummer Pete Kelly. Hoffman's enthusiasm was evident in his description of the current project.
"This band is very raw and back to the basics," he said. "There's no hint of any keyboards or extra guitars. The music definitely has a punkish, straightforward spirit and attitude. In a way, it's similar to the stuff Steve used to write for the Pistols--very powerful, but melodic at the same time."
Fantasy 7 represents the first genuinely good news for Hoffman in some time. After licking his wounds in La Jolla for a while in 1989, he moved back to L.A., where he played with the Cult for six months. During his stint with that popular band, Hoffman was involved in a motorcycle accident, emerging with a broken foot and torn knee ligaments. When the Cult gig didn't pan out, he moved furniture and did installations for an interior decorator, for whom he still works.
"Then, about a month ago, Mark (McCoy) called," Hoffman said. "I had been in bands with Mark since we were about 14 or 15. We went to La Jolla High together, and we played in the early '80s San Diego band, Jonny Kat. After Mark finished his obligations to Outlaw Blood, he hooked up with Steve, and, after they'd written a couple dozen songs, they called me."
Although Jones' name is the most prominent in Fantasy 7, the 27-year-old McCoy, it turns out, has a history no less interesting, albeit lower in public profile than that of the former Sex Pistol. McCoy lived in New York's Greenwich Village in the '70s and played in a band called the Stilettos, which was the precursor to Deborah Harry's multi-platinum band, Blondie. He moved back to the West Coast to immerse himself in the late-'70's punk scene in Los Angeles, where he played in the bands U.X.A. and the Mau Maus.
Like his new band mates, McCoy has seen the downside of the Big Time. Earlier this year, Atco Records spent $100,000 on a video for Outlaw Blood, which was played twice on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" segment. But the label wouldn't let the band tour until radio play had reached a certain point of "demographic saturation." In frustration over the delays and the generally impersonal nature of the situation, McCoy left Outlaw Blood. Three months later, Atco Records folded.
From his unusual perspective, he shares Hoffman's assessment of Fantasy 7's appeal.
"It's a return to our punk roots," the soft-spoken McCoy said. "Having just completed a record for a major label, and having gone through this huge corporate maze, I'd had enough. I favor the old-fashioned way of getting in a van and playing every club we can in every city, and visiting the radio stations, and just doing it. A lot of those early punk bands couldn't even play their instruments very well, but it didn't matter. The spirit of the thing was alive and real. And that's what Steve and I wanted to re-create."
McCoy acknowledges that a recent resurgence of interest in the Sex Pistols will probably prove advantageous to Fantasy 7. Guns N' Roses, for example, has covered Jones' song "Black Leather," and Motley Crue's new record, "Decade of Decadence" includes a cover of the Pistols' punk-anthem classic, "Anarchy in the U.K."
But although he allows that there is already interest in a band that hasn't yet performed in public, McCoy is anything but solicitous of industry favor.