Lovers Lane
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Hello My Name is Juliana Hatfield

| May 31, 2021



Juliana Hatfield (Photo: James Doobnin)

No man is an island, John Donne once wisely noted. Juliana Hatfield would respectfully like to disagree. At 53, the charming Boston folk-rocker is quite happy just kicking back at her Cambridge home with her beloved 11-year-old chocolate lab, Charlie (who’s actually female, she points out), sans any unwelcome interlopers. And while other people’s pets have grown neurotic during the pandemic lockdown, so accustomed to your presence that they experience severe separation anxiety if you step outside to get the mail, Charlie is still cool as a cucumber. “She hasn’t gotten neurotic at all because nothing’s really changed for me,” reports Hatfield, phoning to discuss her new lockdown-conceived album Blood. “So my dog’s not seeing Juliana anything dramatically different — it’s still just her and me, relatively isolated here.”

And you might think this ex Blake Babies anchor has done it all by now — launched a successful solo career with 1992’s Hey Babe; formed offshoot duos like Minor Alps (with Matthew Caws) and I Don’t Care (with Paul Westerberg) as well as her on-again, off-again band The Juliana Hatfield Three; cut two tribute albums to The Police and Olivia Newton-John; and maintained a cottage industry selling personal artwork on Etsy. But she bravely conquered new frontiers during lockdown, just to record musically-jangling, lyrically-dark Blood anthems like the bouncy “Splinter,” a punk-poppy “Suck It Up,” and the dinosaur stomper “Dead Weight” — with a Connecticut engineering friend’s help, she taught herself the intricacies of home recording via laptop. “And I have to admit, there were times when I almost threw my computer through the wall,” she chuckles. “But I actually figured out how to make an entire album on my computer. And if I can do it? Hey — anyone can!”

IE: You’re happy on your own. Have you ever stopped to analyze why that is, or do you just accept it at this point?

JULIANA HATFIELD: Well, both. I spent a lot of years agonizing over it, trying to take part in socially approved life activities, and I just realized that the stuff that works for the majority of people just doesn’t work for me. So I stopped beating myself up about it and just embraced my true nature, which is solitary. I’m a loner, and that’s just the way it is for me. So yeah, I’ve thought about it a lot. But at some point, you have to stop fighting against yourself and stop torturing yourself, and just live the life that feels like it makes sense.

IE: Isn’t there a line on the album about that? “All I ever wanted was to revel in my loneliness”?

JH: Yeah, exactly. I guess that’s a way of putting it, yeah. People always think that I’m lonely, but to me, being alone does not equate with loneliness. Some of my loneliest times have been when I was with someone else, and we were not getting along. To me, that’s worse than being alone. So I am post-love. I’ve evolved into a more highly-evolved state — I’ve evolved past needing or wanting that in my life.

IE: How would the average person out there who’s starting to feel that way get over that hump?

JH: Well, if it feels good, why fight it? Or if it feels more natural, then why would you want to live any other way? Unless there are other things that come into it, like financial reasons, or if you actually need help, like physical help. I mean, if you need that stuff, then go for it. But some of us don’t need emotional support as much as others do, so they’re lucky enough to live alone by choice. So there’s a question authority aspect — question the authority of the norms, you know what I mean?

IE: In the song “Dead Weight,” you sing, “Why do you love me?/ You must be mad.”

JH: Yeah, and I talk about why someone would see me as attractive and how stereotypes about women figure into it. Like, maybe men have had an idealized version of me because they were projecting onto me what they thought I was or what they wanted. Someone who was nurturing and loving and all that stuff, which is maybe not who I am. So I’ve definitely felt like I was not being seen as the person I really was — people saw what they wanted to see in me, not who I really was. And it’s not terrible — it’s just the way it is. Everyone does it. Everyone projects something onto other people, and that’s just part of how all that works. It’s a game, I think. Romantic relationships are a game — they’re a negotiation and a constant compromise. And it just became impossible for me to navigate all those complicated situations — I just decided, “Why am I even bothering, if it doesn’t make any sense to me? Why am I bothering playing this really complicated game that I’m always losing?” So I’m happy. And I’m happier now than I ever have been. I’m free, finally. I don’t have anyone demanding anything from me; I don’t have anyone to decide for me. Personally, I don’t have any kind of pressure and no demands on my time or my brain. There’s no one bothering me, and I don’t have to compromise my integrity every step of every day. And you might think I’m selfish, but I really don’t see what the problem is.

IE: In all the times we’ve talked over the years, I always wondered if you were in a happy relationship with some or not. We’ve just never discussed it.

JH: And I’ve never talked about it because I never was with anyone, seriously. I don’t have that desire or that need — I don’t have that pair-bonding instinct. To me, being part of a couple just seems like the most bizarre situation. For me, at least — just connecting with only one person over a long period of time just doesn’t make any sense. It feels so unnatural to me, and it always has. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. There are people who try to tell me that there’s something wrong with that and that I need to fix myself, so there’s pressure from the outside to change, but I don’t agree with that. And I don’t think I should change. Because often people who pair up will start getting divorced — they start hating each other, and they end up getting divorced.

IE: But given the fact that you’re an observational writer, how was it going into the pandemic with nobody around to observe?

JH: Oh, there was plenty to observe! We’re living through a pandemic, a worldwide pandemic, and that’s a situation. And we’re living through four years of corruption, dishonesty, greed, ugliness. There’s a lot of material in there. Hatred, racism, sexism — it’s all out there in the open.

IE: “Had a Dream” sounds specifically Trump-inspired.

JH: Well, YOU can say that, but I wouldn’t say that. I like to leave it open because I think that from the beginning of my songwriting career, I’ve been writing songs about doling out justice to the bad people. From the beginning — like, a song like “Cesspool” was about people who were polluting the ocean with industrial and medical waste that was washing up on the beaches. Stuff like that — I’ve always had this urge to punish people in my songs, and I think that wanting justice is a theme throughout my songs, and there’s violence in my songs going back to the beginning. And I think art and music are a safe place to explore things like that —It’s safe to those places.

IE: Why the explicit title Blood?

JH: There’s a lot of blood in the songs. When I listened to them, after they were all written and recorded, I realized there was a theme. Almost every song has blood in it — “Chunks,” “Gorgon,” “Torture,” even “Nightmary” — “The whole world is controlled by Fascist bloodsucking thugs,” Yeah — blood! My blood was boiling when I wrote these songs. And my blood’s been boiling lately.

IE: Well, in “Mouthful of Blood,” you’re trying not to say anything. But you’re biting your tongue until it bleeds.

JH: So the blood is metaphorical, in that case. It’s all metaphorical, ultimately. And I’m trying not to get myself in trouble — we try not to say the wrong thing, so we don’t get attacked by the mob. You try to control the words that come out of your mouth because it’s just safer that way.

IE: I like what Lucinda Williams said at the beginning of the pandemic, how she refused to have a conversation with anyone uninformed or even ill-informed — No more agreeing to disagree. They should get out of her face and fuck off.

JH: Yeah, that’s how I feel. It’s like, I don’t want to even start. I don’t want to engage in those kinds of conversations because there’s no point. There’s nothing to be gained at this point because it’s clear — you’ve already had to pick a side, so we’ve all chosen sides at this point.

IE: And social media, of course, has been complicit in all this> What’s your take on it?

JH: Well, I don’t do Facebook — I think it’s a horrible place. I do a little bit of social media just to keep the word out that I’m still putting out records. I want to inform people that I still exist and that they can share in the music. Otherwise, people would just think I dropped off the face of the Earth. Because I kind of LIVE as if I’ve dropped off the face of the Earth. So I’m just trying to keep my career going, you know?

IE: I hate to say it, but when this whole pandemic thing went down, I already loved being on my own, staying indoors, reading books, and watching tons of movies.

JH: I know. I hate all the suffering, but I kind of love it. I’m reading a lot, I’m being very productive. I’m doing these live streams now, which are great.

IE: And it’s interesting to note that book sales never flatlined during lockdown — they stayed high.

JH: I know! And I bought a ton of books from my local indie place, and it’s been great. I’m trying not to use Amazon anymore. I read something the other day that 100 million Americans have Amazon Prime accounts, which was completely horrifying — that’s like a third of the population. So a third of the population is contributing to the decline of society, in just the way that Amazon is eating up everything, monopolizing everything. And people don’t care. People are like, “Oh, yeah — I just want stuff delivered quickly and for free.” And they don’t care about anything else that’s involved. So it was shocking to me that many people were signed up because I’m actively not ordering from Amazon because I’m taking a stand. I don’t want to contribute to the mobster. So why don’t more people think like that? I don’t get it. Is convenience more important than anything? Apparently, it is, I think.

-Tom Lanham

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Category: Columns, Featured, Hello My Name Is, Monthly

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