I’m awesome. I wrote a book. It’s got little to do with movies. Download and read “Thank You, Goodnight” right HERE for free.
This is one of the issues with conducting an e-mail interview: you could get one sentence answers.
I’ve been vacillating between being thankful that Juliana Hatfield, whose new album “How To Walk Away” and new book “When I Grow Up” is now available, answered what I punted over to her in-box and downright disappointed at what followed. Yes, maybe she’s just not that into what I was asking. Maybe I was a wretched question asker. Maybe it was just me. What I am positive of, though, is that Juliana was at the nexus and genesis of a musical shift for me. I went from listening to Top 10 radio to being ensconced and swaddled in rough power chords that connoted a youthful sensibility that just spoke to me.
On that same note, though, there is a trap you can fall in if you look at acts like Juliana or a host of other bands that just happened to be fronted by women. It was seen as a movement of sorts but no one asked those labeled as such if that was the intention. Many times it wasn’t. Juliana happened to be lumped into that group that was looked at with a feminine eye. She just wanted to express herself. And that she did as she scored big with “My Sister”, “Spin The Bottle” on the Reality Bites soundtrack and enjoyed a “guilt by association” lifestyle until the fickle tastes of music lovers went on to something else. Juliana didn’t change, though. Unlike the musical stylings of Jewel, changing from folksie to dance (!) to country, Juliana kept refining and experimenting with her sound. Her live shows were, and still are, unique in that she’s a true musician insofar that her concerts are shockingly more focused on the music than they are on the theatrics. While many of those acts many would remember from the 1990s have long since ditched their guitars for day jobs Juliana has been on an even keel of sorts in releasing music in the years following the alternative craze.
This interview came about for the reason that, like the Remington pitchman, I’ve been financially supporting her operation one release at a time since 1992. I’ve become a lot less obsessive since my days in college when I had to absolutely, positively needed to own anything she put to CD and being able to promote her latest effort which is simply solid in every regard. It almost makes the rather brief responses worth it but I am still wondering it had anything to do with my delivery.
Here, now, are the questions I sent out and what I received in return:
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: After listening to the first song of the new album, How To Walk Away, I was struck by the guitar bridge near the end. (It made me think of Fleetwood Mac back in their heyday) I’m curious to know a little bit about how the song came together. Did the melody come first or did the lyrics define where you wanted to go with this?
JULIANA HATFIELD: Melody and lyrics kind of came together together, if I remember correctly. I probably had a chord progression before anything, though.
CS: You’ve mentioned that when you look back at the 90’s you wish you would’ve kept your mouth shut on things. You were young, you didn’t know better, etc… Is it really possible to just stick these songs out into the world without anyone knowing about the artist who is putting them out there? I ask this because your music, for the most part, has never strayed into superficial territory and there seems to be a complexity with your lyrics. A little background about the process of making the album, I would think, would help frame it as a whole.
HATFIELD: Yes I think it is possible for an artist to maintain total privacy and/or a shroud of mystery or non-information. Look at, say, Jandek, or Bonnie Prince Billy. What do we know about them, really?
CS: And, as a follow-up to the above question, what part of you wanted to make this album at this time? It seems a little more hopeful, if not melancholy, than previous efforts.
HATFIELD: I feel a little more hopeful and a little less melancholy with each passing year and so the music is a reflection of that- of where my head and heart are at.
CS: I haven’t been able to read your book but as a card-carrying member of the Juliana Hatfield Fan Club I will have to allocate money to buy it. I know you want to be able and give people a better idea of who you are and your reflections on what has come before this but what prompted you to break through the notion that your life is your life and no one needs to know anything more than what you give them, i.e. your albums? Was it liberating to write the book?
HATFIELD: I really just wanted to write a book because writing prose is fun and exciting and so challenging.
CS: I was, and still am, a huge fan, huge fan, of the video for What A Life. I managed to record it on my VCR during a rather good episode of 120 Minutes on MTV eons ago. You getting knocked around by unseen forces, the blood, it was stark. Where have these creative videos gone? I don’t care to watch dudes in their hoopties, sipping on champagne or women exploiting their sexuality to move a few more units. Surely you have a thought or two about the modern business model of music. It’s sad that I have to work really hard to find original music out there and it’s no longer the MTV’s of the world that are helping this situation out. By that point, and it should be obvious that I’ve been saving this question for years, over decade in fact, did you enjoy the video making process?
HATFIELD: I did not love the video making process back then- I felt I was not a good actor and one must act in videos. I felt a bit like a fish out of water.now, though, the process is more fun for me, if only because I have more control over it and there is less at stake- I can mess around and do what I want, low-budget-style, and it’s just fun and another creative outlet. No high-profile directors or record companies breathing down my neck.
Though I did make cool videos back then- I too love the What A Life vid. And I still can’t believe the record company paid for us to do that. The video’s really sort of shocking and subversive, don’t you think? I have to give the label (Atlantic) a lot of credit for bankrolling that sort of sick vision (the director’s vision, mostly. He is and was a good friend of mine.)
CS: How has touring been for you through the years? I have to imagine that through the early 90’s you were seeing a much different crowd than the ones you’re seeing today. I remember going out to see a lot of different bands back then and I’ve seen that opportunity slowly evaporating as all those who I followed back then have stopped making music?
HATFIELD: Touring is tiring and physically draining, over the long term. But playing shows is fun and cathartic so I guess it all works out in the end.
CS: Speaking of that, a lot of your contemporaries have stopped churning out music at the rate you still do. One artist in particular, Tanya Donelly (who I interviewed last year and was an absolute gem to talk to), has taken a longer time between albums. I know you can’t speak to anyone else besides you but it seems to be a recurring theme with a lot of older bands; they just stop producing music. You, though, seem to be blessed with the ability to have new perspectives, thoughts and ideas. What do you do to keep things going, creatively?
HATFIELD: I just try to work hard and work all the time. Writing, looking for ideas, reading, looking at art, keeping my mind open to new things and inspirations.
CS: What things do you find comfort in with regard to making music? What makes you happy to put something to tape, CD, etc…
HATFIELD: Writing is like worshiping or meditating. it’s spiritual. It takes the place of church/religion in my life.
CS: Does performing live still hold a thrill for you?
HATFIELD: See question/answer #6
CS: I know you hate the notion of being a part of the women in rock explosion in the media landscape, Lord knows I didn’t know better but had it not happened I’m not sure I would’ve stumbled upon My Sister, but years after hearing that song I now find myself with two girls of my own, 2 and 5. I now have something vested in the way my girls come to know what it means to be a woman through the pop culture they’re going to be exposed to. You’ve managed to eschew attempts to co-opt your music though making you something you’re not (the video for What A Life is an excellent example of this) but do you think women are in a better place today than they were in the 90’s in the music industry?
HATFIELD: Yes and no. it seems there are fewer females being played on the radio and in fact there just are fewer all-girl bands. Remember Luscious Jackson, L7, Babes in Toyland, Scrawl, etc. etc., etc? Where have all the all-girl bands gone?
But on the up side , I guess, being a girl and playing guitar is not seen, anymore, as a novelty or as something out of the ordinary. It’s commonplace now for girls to play in bands. That is, I suppose, progress.
But definitely not as much girl action on the airwaves today.
CS: You listen to a lot of NPR. I do too. I think some of them are a bit smarmy at times but, on the whole, you can’t beat it. Are you hooked on any programs in particular? I was equally surprised to see you listen to a lot of baseball. Any teams in particular? I’ll share that I’m a Cubs fan so any other team listed from their division that you list will be promptly deleted and a “Refused to Answer” will be put in its place. Oh, and if it’s not too much of a problem, can you list one book you’ve read this year that you just have to recommend or talk highly of?
HATFIELD: I like the Red Sox. I’m from Boston. ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy was pretty devastating. Probably my favorite of all his books. But was that last year or this year?
CS: It’s your life, it’s your career, you can obfuscate all you like if you so wish, but reading about whether this is something (making music) you want to keep doing is a bit disconcerting when you’ve said this might be your last album. I say this only because I don’t know where else I might spend the money I hide from my wife in order to buy things like your albums (I waited two weeks for the official release, with the b-side album…and the poster…I am officially uncool for admitting all this publicly) so that’s a bit of alarming issue for me, but, honestly, and seriously, does making music not hold that same kind of ambition to best your past efforts anymore?
HATFIELD: I’m not as desperate to be heard and loved, anymore. Now I just want to make music for my own pleasure.
CS: Lastly, and this is just something I’ve asked people over the years, when you’re accosted by some random person who tells you that they’ve enjoyed your work or they really enjoy X CD you’ve put out is there a point where that becomes white noise? Do these chance encounters or moments after a show do something inside of you that would have you believe that what you’re doing means something to someone out there?
HATFIELD: It’s nice to be told that your work has had meaning in someone else’s life.
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