Extended Q & A with Juliana Hatfield

MRB: I got the new album, Peace & Love, just a few weeks ago and have been totally digging it.

Hatfield: Thank you. It’s good to hear that because I haven’t heard from any real people about what they think of it. By "real people," I mean people I don’t know. I have only given it to a few friends and the publicist. I have no idea how people are going to react to it.

MRB: It’s a bit of a different thing for you. Are you concerned about how people are going to react?

Hatfield: I’m not concerned at all. I mean I’m not concerned in that if people react negatively or that they’re confused or bewildered—that’s fine with me. I’ve stopped caring what people think of me. But, I’m curious. It is sort of a different thing for me; it’s 180 degrees from the last album I made, which was very glossy and very produced. So I’m just curious to see what people think.

MRB: What led you to doing the whole thing yourself?

Hatfield: Every album is a reaction to my last recording space. The last album, How to Walk Away, was done in a nicely equipped studio in New York City with a producer and engineers and musicians. …It took a long time and a lot of money, and I don’t like to repeat myself. I don’t like to do the same thing every time. I just wanted to do something very different than the last record, which was you know, have no one involved and make it sort of dry sounding.

I’ve always had this fantasy of recording completely alone and I’ve never done an album like that. I’ve always been in studios or home studios with other people, with engineers. I’ve never done a record without an engineer before. I’ve always wanted to do something completely alone to see if it was a different experience, and it was. It was very freeing. I just felt really unencumbered by anyone else’s opinions or anyone sort of pointing me in any kind of direction. It wasn’t really planned, the end result. It just kind of came out of me, and that’s the dryness of it: The raw production is a result of me not really knowing what I was doing. Not using a lot of the technology that I could’ve used gave a new aspect on things. There is no reverb or anything on any of the tracks.

MRB: You mention it was really freeing. Was there any part that was intimidating? Was there a best moment—and then a moment where you had to throw everything down and walk away from it?

Hatfield: I had many of those moments. There are a lot of frustrations in the recording process, like with the song "Let’s Go Home." I was initially working with this different arrangement, and I had a completely different rhythm. It wasn’t working, and I didn’t know why. Sometimes you get in these ruts where you are working on a song, you’re adding to it and it’s not working right, it’s not grooving and you don’t understand why, and you get more and more frustrated. So I had to throw it all away and start over, and I decided to start with a drum beat, and that completely changed the approach and I came up with this totally different rhythm and the song changed and it came to life. Just little things like that would happen.

But I was never afraid that I wasn’t capable of doing this myself. I have a strange confidence in myself when I don’t know what I am doing. I always believe that a person can learn so much by just jumping into something and trying to do it rather than having someone else teach you everything. You gotta learn by doing, and I already knew a lot. I mean, I have been making music for 20 years so I knew how to sing. I know how to write a song, I know how to play guitar, and I know what I like in terms of sound. It was just a question of getting it on tape—or on hard drive. [Pause] A really exciting thing for me was playing piano.

MRB: I noticed that, actually. I didn’t know you played piano.

Hatfield: Yeah, I played piano before I played guitar. I started playing piano when I was about five years old and I studied it for a long time. So I bought this eight-track machine and I brought it down to my mother’s house. She has a grand piano, and I got a piano tuner and everything. I’ve never miked a piano, so I really didn’t know how to go about it and I just experimented with my one microphone. It was a little bit frustrating because it took a while to get a good sound on the microphone, but I figured it out and that was pretty thrilling to record myself on a big piano. I loved that.

MRB: So aside from that—this record was mainly you, or was it all you?

Hatfield: All me.