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Juliana Hatfield
Boston phone call: an interview with...

 
For All The Fucked Up Children Of This World, We Give You...Juliana Hatfield

Since she stepped out of her semi-legendary first band Blake Babies in early 1992 to launch her solo career, a lot of things have happened in Juliana Hatfield's life. She's moved from Boston to New York, to Los Angeles and back to Boston several times, played with a host of different musicians and bands and the only consistent thing was her music, which varied quite a bit over the years as well, yet is always brilliant. From the rough diamond that was her solo debut Hey Babe in 1992, to the post-grunge-burnout album Only Everything (1995), and now her recent double date with the polished pop effort Beautiful Creature, and the "mean" punkrock album Juliana's Pony: Total System Failure, Juliana's main priority has been to experiment and find her own way of doing things. The two recent releases also mark her first proper releases in Europe in more than five years (her last full European tour dates back to 1993). Right now, Juliana's is busy as ever and even has gotten back together with the Blake Babies who hope to release their already recorded comeback album this fall. I had the distinct pleasure of doing a phone interview with Juliana recently, which was kind of a big deal for me, because it was at a Juliana Hatfield show in late 1993 that I decided I wanted to try to get into music journalism and eventually get to interview Juliana. Getting my first job as a hack took me four weeks, interviewing Juliana took seven years and some 250 other interviews in between. Anyways, here's what she had to say when I called at her home in Boston.

Carsten: I guess as far as Europe is concerned, you released Only Everything in early 1995, cancelled an already booked tour because of your nervous breakdown [she laughs when I mention it] and then you never came back. And if it wasn't for the internet and stuff like that we probably wouldn't have heard from you since...
Juliana: Yeah, I know! I can't believe it has been that long! After I cancelled that tour I sort of spend a long time working on another record which never was released [she's referring to God's Foot] and I left my record company and I kind of started over. But I'm really trying to get over there this year.

Carsten: Gary Smith [Juliana's manager] told me a couple of years ago, that you approached Do Not Disturb as a teaser for what was to become another major label album and I guess in the end Bed was treated just the same?
Juliana: For a while I was sorta looking for a deal, but then I realized it would be better for me to stay semi-independent.

Carsten: I guess with the return to an indie label a change of direction also came along... So was that a result of having more freedom to do whatever you wanted or did your need for more musical freedom "ruin" your chances with the big industry?
Juliana: I don't think I've ruined my chances, I think I just went back underground a little bit. Because I needed the freedom to explore my musical possibilities. On major labels there is a lot more pressure to make hits. But my main goal wasn't to get songs on the radio, because I'm still experimenting and trying to figure out what exactly it is that I want to play. So I wanted more freedom which the independent label gave me. My priority is just to make music I want to make and I don't want to compromise for the sake of the music business. I'd rather be an outside and not sell a ton of records than feeling I have to compromise my integrity.

Carsten: Is it just me or does your career is kinda coming full circle? You seem to work more with Evan Dando again, more than for the last five years or so and then there's the Blake Babies reunion...
Juliana: Yeah, I spend the last ten years doing my thing, experimenting and I've worked with Evan over the years, so he's kinda been there all along and it made sense for him to come and play on the Blake Babies album. And obviously John Strohm from the Blake Babies toured with the Lemonheads, so it's not that we were cut off from each other over the last ten years. We were always kinda hanging out and making music together. The Blake Babies record ... well, we were all just curious to see what would happen if we'd make a record after being apart for eight years. So it's kinda coming full circle, but we all have different perspectives now. It's different than the old Blake Babies.

Carsten: What exactly was the main attraction of reforming the Blake Babies?
Juliana: It was just simple curiosity. We all just talking on the phone and we all realized that we had a one month period where we were free to get together. We hoped that it would be fun and there was never a record label involved, because we didn't know if it'd be good and if it didn't turn out any good we wouldn't have wanted to release it. Fortunately we had a great time and we really love the album so now we gonna look for a record company to put it out.

Carsten: And I've heard there are plan for a Blake Babies tour to coincide with the album's release as well?
Juliana: Yeah, if the record comes out, I think we all wanna play some shows. We're playing one at the end of August in Alabama and Evan will be there as well.

Carsten: I guess when it comes to playing with the Blake Babies, you probably play quite a few old songs as well, but at your solo shows you pretty much stick to the new songs...
Juliana: We'll do a mixture, about half new, half old with the Blake Babies. I get tired of my old songs and I outgrow them and I feel funny playing some of the old songs and I don't want to feel funny, so I don't do them.

Carsten: On the new record you have a couple of tracks who sound remarkably like the Folk Implosion and those tracks actually were produced by the guy who did the last Folk Implosion record as well, Wally Gagel. Was that the idea behind, to use him to make the songs sound a certain way or did that just happen by chance?
Juliana: Wally is a friend of mine because he used to live in Boston and he worked at Fort Apache and I also loved the song Natural One [by Folk Implosion from the famous Kids soundtrack] and I wanted to do something like that, because I was intrigued with the combination of technology and sloppiness at the same time. Not everything is perfect and it still got that natural, human feel to it. So I basically wanted to see what happens if I work with him.

Carsten: In the past you rather did things the old-fashioned way, using as little technology as possible it seems. What made you change your mind. Was it really bands like The Folk Implosion?
Juliana: Well, when I was making these recordings for Beautiful Creature at the time I was thinking of them mainly as demos, so the songs I did with Wally were really just experiments and I didn't know that they would end up on an album. I just was curious to see what it would be like to work with ProTools and computer stuff, just real curiosity, but I liked them, so I put them on the album.

Carsten: Can we expect more stuff like that in the future, or will that be a one-off thing?
Juliana: I don't think I'll be heading in that direction, I just love real drums too much. And real amplifier sounds.

Carsten: When you said that the songs on Beautiful Creature you approached mainly as demos, did that mean you originally had planned to put together one band to do the whole album? Because I believe for the first time since Only Everything you used different line-ups on almost every track.
Juliana: Because the songs were just experiments, I wanted to work with as many different musicians and producers as I could, I was just exploring different sounds and feels.

Carsten: So when t comes to songwriting, the overall feeling you get across is more important than some sort of message?
Juliana: Yeah, it's more the feel and the feeling. If you asked me, if I had a message, I'd have to say no. There's nothing I really want to say so much that I would say it out loud in words. It's more about capturing feelings.

Carsten: So what do you consider main influences when it comes to writing songs? I believe you moved around quite a bit over the last years... did that have an impact?
Juliana: Well, I guess L.A. had an influence on the Juliana's Pony record. But that's the only time that a locale has influenced my songwriting. L.A. is such an extreme place...no, actually I think that the Juliana's Pony record is very much influenced by the United States and modern American culture and not so much a particular place. So what I'm saying is that [laughs] it doesn't matter where I am, I'll be just writing about my state of mind and it doesn't really matter where I am.

Carsten: The two new albums have been called schizophrenic in a number of reviews, because one's obviously very sweet and the other pretty harsh. Are you offended or flattered if you hear people say something like that?
Juliana: Neither! I makes sense to see it that way...It sorta frightens me how different they are and it's surprising that these different sides keep come of out me... out of one person.

Carsten: The guys in Giant Sand told me that you recorded some stuff with them as well. How did that come about?
Juliana: Well, one of the songs I sang on ended up on the new Giant Sand album [that's Temptation Of Egg on Chore Of Enchantment, out on Thrill Jockey] and Howe Gelb does the other projects, OP8 [which is basically Giant Sand, plus a guest vocalist/songwriter, their first album featured Lisa Germano] and I don't know what he's planning but he might use some of that stuff for that record and there are a couple of songs, like a different version of Choose Drugs that I did in Tucson...

Carsten: ...that's my favorite song off the new albums, by the way, so I wouldn't mind hearing another version of it...
Juliana: Thanks! Yeah, I wouldn't mind it either, but I don't even have a copy of it. That might turn up somewhere, on a b-side or something. And then there's another song that I don't know what I'm gonna do with it.

Carsten: Looking back on almost 15 years in the business, do you sometimes think, I'd rather would've had a "normal life"?
Juliana: I don't think normal life would have suited me. I think I would have not lasted very long with normal life. I think that music saved me and I would have no life without it, and most of the friendships that I have and the people that I know - I've come to know them through music. So music has been a powerful positive force in my life. I'm on a path, a musical journey and it's not finished yet and nothing will stop me and the industry is not gonna stop me from making music either.

Carsten: I know a lot of bands think it's good to have a budget and to have somebody step on their toes when they are in the studio. That's something that does not seem to apply to you, especially since Fort Apache is co-owned by Gary Smith, your manager...
Juliana: Yeah, but it's not completely free, I don't have unlimited access and I do have to pay engineers and stuff, so I do have some boundaries, which is good. But it is kind of a dream of mine to have my own studio in my house someday, because I think that unlimited time and freedom for me would only be a good thing.

Carsten: Is that because of financial reasons that you don't have it yet?
Juliana: It's that, but it's more that I'm still to restless to settle down and get a place. I'm still moving around a lot and I'm afraid of commitment, I'm afraid of buying anything big like that.

Carsten: Do you think you'll ever reach the point....?
Juliana: It's possible that I'll always be restless, but I hope that one day I'll calm down and be able to sit still for a minute [laughs].

Carsten: To finish off, I wanna throw another really old quote, from an 1995 interview at you. You said back then that you didn't consider yourself a great artist, because great artists needed to be fucked-up and you weren't fucked-up enough. So how do the very good new albums fit in?
Juliana: I've changed my mind now. I'm definitely fucked-up enough. The more years pass the more I realize how truly fucked-up I really am. And I feel pretty good about that! I think I'm definitely screwed-up enough to be a good artist eventually. I still haven't reached my full potential as an artist and an insane person, but I will one day! One day I'll do my masterpiece and go completely insane at the same time.

Carsten: I'll take you up on that promise and that also proves it: For all the fucked-up children of this world, we give you Juliana Hatfield!

At the very end, here's a list of five (underrated) records, that Juliana has been listening to a lot lately:

VERBENA's Souls For Sale : This is their first album and it's a masterpiece, it's this amazing kind of sleeze, stonesy, sexy rock'n'roll music from Alabama and it's a guy and a girl singing.
WHEAT's Hope And Adams : People in the United States don't know who they are. They are from Boston, but I think they are more popular in the UK.
SHELBY LYNN's I am Shelby Lynn : [asks me if I know it, to which I replied that she mentioned it in the recent Improper Bostonian already]. Oh good, I'm repeating myself. She's also from Alabama I think. I like Alabama music, she's like this white girl, who has a really soulful voice. It's a mixture of sould, r&b, rock'n'roll, pop... she's pretty badass.
QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE's Rated R : They are just a bitcin' rock band, who don't take themselves too seriously.
CATATONIA's Equally Cursed And Blessed : I really love their new record, they are not really well know over here [not very surprising for any welsh band, I assume].

Copyright © 2000 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

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